Sunday, 21 March 2021, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This year’s theme is “Youth standing up against racism,” and the hashtag is #FightRacism. The Irish Network Against Racism’s campaign is also using the #TogetherAgainstRacism hashtag.
This year’s theme also follows the mostly youth-led Black Lives Matter movements, which included last summer’s protests in cities around the world, including in Dublin.
It is up to each of us to stand up to racism – to be actively anti-racist – especially those of us who are privileged enough never to be subjected to racism. So, we have an obligation to do what we can to change that. For a myriad of historic and current reasons, we live in a racist society. To borrow from Panti’s ‘Noble Call‘:
To grow up in a society that is overwhelmingly racist and to escape unscathed would be miraculous. So I don’t hate you because you are racist. … I admire you because most of you are only a bit racist.
So yes, that means white people stepping up, both to challenge ourselves and to call out racism where we encounter it.
Cycling? Anti-racist? Really?
What has this got to do with cycling? Does Monthly Cycles think that a bike is a panacea for racism and society’s problems? No. But it can be a tool to help shine a light on some of those problems.
When we set up Monthly Cycles, we had all gone through experiences in cycling advocacy of having our needs ignored and our voices spoken over. We wanted to build solidarity and support through a movement which would build cycling advocacy out beyond the traditional white male voices that have dominated up until now.
We haven’t gone far enough – we know that we’re not as diverse as we can and should be – but we also know that we can’t stand by while important voices are drowned out. We have to stand up in support and solidarity.
These experiences have also informed our wider work. Through our work, we’ve explored how transport planning and designing of public spaces are often exclusionary and cater for the status quo, which is typically settled, wealthy straight able-bodied white men.
We acknowledge that Monthly Cycles is overwhelmingly white – we’re founded by three white, settled women – and that this needs to change. Part of our work this year (and as Covid restrictions allow) is to make these changes happen, to pro-actively include and work with more women from more diverse backgrounds.
We have learned from others, such as Majo Rivas’ apparently simple example of how traffic lights function. Something which may appear mundane and ‘neutral’ has in fact a disproportionate and adverse impact if you are a person of colour, a Traveller, or are a migrant, for instance.
We know that Mincéirí women and women of colour face multiple discrimination. Add to that factors such as disability, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socio-economic status.. as the list goes on, the discrimination can become compounded.
And if our feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not feminism.
As mentioned, we also know there’s a problem in cycling advocacy in Ireland.
It’s overwhelmingly dominated and represented by settled, wealthy white men. I have seen settled, straight white men claiming that abuse of people cycling is a form of hate crime. I have seen white men attempting to compare cycle lane objectors to Enoch Powell, and attempt to compare cyclists with his targets, people of colour. I have seen straight white men referring to verbal abuse as “cyclophobia.” And I have seen, to my disappointment (if not surprise) white women agree with these views.
These attitudes and appropriation deserve to be challenged, and have been. There is simply no comparison of road violence and abuse based on transport choices, with the systematic and structural direct and indirect violence of racism that spans centuries and generations.
Attempting to make these comparisons is a problem and must stop.
Compare it to anything, but I do not think it is ever okay to compare the hard time we get cycling to 100s of years history of oppression and violence to which people were subjected bc of their gender or race, something they can’t leave outside attached to a sheffield stand.– Majo Rivas.
If these are the attitudes among cycling advocates, then what hope is there for the rights of people of colour who cycle? What of the undocumented migrant who cycles, who is not in a position to advocate for themselves or attend a demonstration because of their precarious position? What of those who cycle for a living who are in precarious employment? And those who may have an immigration or visa status contingent on unspecified “good character” as assessed by the State?
Are there limits to anti-racism? If you’re not white, probably
When called out, the push-back and resistance to criticism and critique is where a problem becomes serious. At that point, it is time to question whether it is worth giving time and energy to those who are unwilling or unable to change their own thinking. If you’re white, and therefore have basically nothing to lose, keep going. A person of colour, however, will probably ask themselves whether this gobshite is worth their time, their energy and their labour.
So, if you’re a white person, don’t think that just because a person of colour isn’t calling you out on your shit that everything is fine: they may have already tried and have given up. And don’t get me wrong, we all have shit to be called out for – again, we live in an overwhelming racist society.
But if someone does call you out, then it’s time to sit down, be quiet, listen and reflect, and do the work of understanding. It’s more than a question of who said what: it’s a question of change. For there to be change at societal and structural levels, there must also be change at the individual level.
Otherwise, at a certain stage, Maya Angelou and Reni Eddo-Lodge are instructive:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.– Maya Angelou.
Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.
I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the existence of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.– Reni-Eddo Lodge.
- My sincere thanks to all who helped with this article and feedback.