The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, and the brutality inflicted—or enabled—by police every day on Black people is appalling. This violence is part of the same racist system that has sanctioned Black people being murdered or brutalized by white supremacists with impunity for hundreds of years. It still sanctions, today, the violence and brutality that isn’t caught on video. Fixing that system is our responsibility, and yours.
Based on what we know from membership surveys, if you’re reading this, there’s about a 75% chance that you’re white. If you’re not, feel free to skip ahead.
White folks, (I’m going to use “we” here, because I’m a white person), we need to talk about what we mean by “safety”.
Most of the time, you and I can move through public space without fear of harassment or police violence because of the way we look. People of color do not have that privilege while walking, or biking, or driving, or running, or taking transit. When we, white people, demand safe places to bike and walk, but only talk about infrastructure, we are perpetuating an incomplete definition of safety.
Here is the uncomfortable reality of our own complicity: in America, whiteness is a prerequisite for safety in public space. When we advocate for more bike lanes, better trails, and bigger sidewalks, we are creating more places where white people are safer than people of color.
Whether we intend to or not, we are reinforcing white supremacy in our society unless we are actively pursuing anti-racist policies. I don’t want any part in white supremacy, and I’m sure you don’t either.
Does that mean we should stop working for a safer, more sustainable transportation future? No. Our transportation system is still deadly and unjust, and climate change is already wreaking havoc across the world. Communities of color suffer a disproportionate burden from both these crises.
What this means is that we cannot remain passive about racial injustice. It’s not enough to feel like we’re not personally racist, and let Black and Brown people do the work of dismantling racism. To avoid perpetuating injustice with the change we seek to create, we must be actively anti-racist. We have so much work to do.
What does that look like in practice for white bike advocates? It’s an ongoing cycle of education and action. It means that if we’re not talking about racial justice every time we talk about bike lanes, we’re perpetuating injustice. If we are not seeking out and centering non-white voices whenever we are planning, we’re perpetuating injustice. If we’re not actively supporting the groups and people leading the fight for racial justice, we’re perpetuating injustice.
How do we do that? Here are some great places for us to start:
Things to read and watch:
Planning While Black, Tamika Butler (video)
The Urgency of Intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw (video)
Being Antiracist, National Museum of African American History and Culture (online resource)
So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo (book)
How To Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi (book)
The Anti-Racist Reading List, Ibram X. Kendi (pdf)
Police have always limited Black people’s mobility and freedom in public spaces, David Zegeye (News Story)
Untokening Mobility: Beyond Pavement, Paint and Place, The Untokening (online resource)
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh, (pdf)
Do Bicycles Cause Gentrification? Dr Melody Hoffman (podcast interview and book)
Bicycle/Race by Adonia Lugo, PhD (book)
Seeing White, John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika (podcast)
Intersectional Riding, Do Jun Lee, PhD (blog)
Bike Advocacy’s Blind Spot, Adonia Lugo PhD (interview with CityLab)
Organizations to get involved with or donate to:
For folks in this community who are people of color:
We see you and hear you. We stand with you in this miserable time, but I know that’s not enough. WABA’s work is so fundamentally entangled in the racial geography and politics of this region, and for so long we have not meaningfully grappled with that reality. We have to change the way we do many things. That will take some time, and we will surely make mistakes along the way.
I hope the paragraphs above are a first step. Dismantling white supremacy is a white people problem, and the majority of WABA’s board, staff, senior leadership, membership and supporter base is white. So my job, and WABA’s job, in the coming months and years, is to help this community of tens of thousands of inspiring, engaged advocates for better biking also become inspiring, engaged advocates for racial justice.
What’s going to change?
This is all just words if it doesn’t change what we do every day. While we’re proud of some of the work we’ve done on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have a lot listening, learning, and growing to do to be anti-racist in all of our work. Below is a not-remotely-exhaustive list of new work, existing work, and places we see ourselves continuing to fall short. Please tell us when we fail to live up to these commitments.
Active Anti-Racism: In the past, WABA has seen our work’s relationship to racial justice in the context of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Those values are still important, but they are not enough. We must be part of the active fight against racism. This will play out in different ways across the organization, but some things you might expect to see include action alerts to support anti-racist policies not directly related to bicycling, more explicit anti-racist content in our education and outreach programming, and a code of conduct for participating in WABA events.
Supporting partners, peer organizations, and coalitions: WABA has a voice, an audience, and a network of amazing volunteers. In the short term, we can use these resources to support and amplify the organizations and networks that are already leading on racial and social justice issues that intersect with transportation. We also continue to seek places where we can lead ourselves. We have been working with some new and existing partners to create a framework for coordinating and supporting transportation equity work in the region, and we’ll have some additional information to share soon.
Investing staff time: We have three full-time community organizers working almost exclusively in DC’s Wards 4, 7, and 8, where most of our Black neighbors live. We focus our outreach on communities of color around the region. We know we’re not showing up to the extent we need to in Prince George’s County.
Changing policy positions: WABA abandoned all calls for additional police making traffic stops, and we changed our approach to automated enforcement. We also push back on helmet laws and bike registration laws, both of which create unnecessary barriers to entry for low-income communities and provide a pretext for stop-and-frisk or other forms of police harassment. We know we still need to conduct a thorough, anti-racist audit of all of our policy positions.
Ongoing staff and board work: We talk about anti-racism a lot internally, with medium- and long-term goals about changing and modifying our programmatic work and internal processes. We need to fast track that, which we hope we are well positioned to do: WABA’s board finalized our DEI statement in early 2018 (it’s here). A staff-led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group launched in fall 2018. It meets weekly for learning discussions and action on our organizational DEI workplan. We are grateful to have that foundation as we revise our DEI statement to explicitly incorporate anti-racism, and share more anti-racism resources with our white supporters, and build out more space to listen to our BIPOC constituencies.
What we can all do, together:
- Admit when we are wrong.
- Acknowledge when we are complicit.
- Amplify the voices of people who know more about this work than we do.
- Keep seeking new and deeper understanding.
- Keep listening.
- Educate the WABA community to build continued support for anti-racism.
- Keep talking about this, especially when it makes us feel uncomfortable, and when the news cycle moves on.
I hope you will join us.