Segregation: Are You Sure You Know What That Word Means?

two pieces of information passed my desk at the same time a few days ago:

  1. Raven’s Eye’s reference to the Freedom Bike Rides for African-American Riders
  2. Bilerco proudly discussing a queer blogger meet-up outside of Stonewall (sorry can’t find link)

0-BlackWomenCThe goal of the Freedom Bike Rides is to encourage African American’s in Los Angeles to ride bikes and to encourage African Americans who already ride to ride more often. These simple goals are things one would think would excite the entire biking community b/c at heart most people who bike do so both for health and environmental reasons. In other words, we’d all like to see people bike more. The focus on African Americans also seems like something that the mostly liberal biking community would get behind with all their stated enthusiasm for “a better planet” and diversity. And yet, members of LA’s Fixed Gear Biking Community called the black only rides “segregated” and “racist.”

Freedom Bike Rides founder James Spooner responded with:

Ever been on one of the many organized bike rides in LA, seen another black person and thought “Would it be weird If I say hi?” (Spooner’s MySpace 2/11/09)

As I, and anyone familiar with actual racism, suspected, Freedom Rides was born partially out of unexamined 0-grouprideGdiscrimination in mainstream liberal environmentalism and social circles. His statement implies that there were very few black people coming to other LA ride events, events often organized thru websites like LA Fixed Gear’s. Worse, the milieu at these events made at least some black riders feel uncomfortable talking to the handful of other black riders for fear of making the white riders uncomfortable and thus being ostracised or given too much “friendly” attention for the rest of the ride.

Spooner also points out that other groups have rides, like women and children (and I would add lesbians to the list), and no one questions their right to ride together.

Even before I read Spooner’s comments, I assumed this was the case. The bike community is one of the most segregated I have been around b/c, unlike the feminists who at least talk about diversity every other day, bicyclist have no pressure to examine the absence of diversity in their rides or meetups and like most liberals, they assume that their politics exempts them from being participants in oppression.

The criticism of the bike community’s unexamined racial dynamics also prompted black folks in St. Louis Missouri to start their own biking information website and scheduled bike rides. Grouptrails has some of the most extensive information on health and wellness through biking for black people I’ve seen online. On those days when I go into a bike shop and get treated like a welfare queen (ie I cannot afford anything so stop touching stuff) or the invisible woman, I am grateful to sites like this to keep me biking and informed. (I am also grateful to the makers of Electra who take my long distance phone calls all the time about my two bikes without ever asking why I can’t get this info locally; which when I am visiting my cousins near one of the largest biking communities on the Left coast, as I am now, I really can’t, except at a great bike shop in a semi-downtrodden part of the city that has nary a poc employee but lots of friendly staff.)

stonewall bloggers pride 09-thumb-480x360-6456

Above is the image of the queer blogger meet up outside of Stonewall. It was this image w/only one woman and only one person of color in it that actually triggered the decision to write about the LA Fixed Gear comment. For those who do not know, Stonewall was actually started by drag queens, transgender people, and queers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Some of the most prominent figures of the Stonewall riots were Boricuas (both black and brown) and black drag queens and by all accounts two of the most vocal people galvanizing the crowd were women (Sylvia Rivera and Marlyn ). Despite these facts, the collective queer imaginary quickly white washed Stonewall, replacing its diversity with white gay men.

The image above, while an exciting chronicle of how many white gay male bloggers (and one white woman and one Asian-American) came out for Stonewall’s anniversary, accomplishes the same thing. There are innumerable queer bloggers of color from the NYC area not to mention around the nation. Many of them blogged about Stonewall in commemoration and several talked about what it meant for them as queer people to look back to that historic event as a place where queers of color took the lead. And yet, with the exception of one Asian blogger in the corner of this photo, none of them were present at this meetup of queer bloggers.

Was it that they were not there? Or worse, that they were and no one snapped a photo of them to commemorate on one the largest queer blogs in the nation?

Regardless of which version of erasure occurred, the overall effect is a hegemonic process of erasure that continues to posit whiteness as normative in the queer and progressive movements in this nation. This helps to foster an imaginary in which progressives participate in liberal events regularly, be they bike rides or blog meetups, in which very few, if any, poc are present and yet they look to those events where poc have explicitly organized themselves and call them “segregated” and “racist.” And it allows white liberals to think of themselves as more committed to the environment, gay rights, social justice, etc. than communities of color and thus exempt themselves from implication in local, national, and even international forms of oppression that by nature of their power in this nation is overwhelming authored, funded, and perpetrated by rich white conservatives not communities of color.

Looking at the image from Bilerco and then at the image from critical mass NYC below, does the definition of segregation hinge on a stated decision to include only certain people who are traditionally excluded from participation or a consistent pattern of excluding already marginalized groups?

crit_mass_bk_bridge

One of the ways in which hegemonic racial narratives manage to exist in liberal and “progressive” circles is because they do not state “whites only” and actively spout the multiculturalism and diversity language most learned in college. This helps distinguish liberals from conservatives who are often quick to name the people they do not associate with and do not want at their events. But are the images of their parties, political, and recreational events any more homoegeneous?

There has been a lot of talk about segregation and oppression in organizations and organizing. But today, I am going to ask you to think about your recreational activities. Do you participate in biking, hiking, knitting circles, reading groups, etc. that are homogeneous or nearly homogeneous? Have you ever noticed the absence of people of color before I asked you to think about it?

Now ask yourself this: what kind of world is your liberal politics building if neither your institutions nor your social or political events creates space for, fosters, encourages, and/or cherishes actual diversity? Ideology is nice but reality is the true test isn’t it?

3 thoughts on “Segregation: Are You Sure You Know What That Word Means?

  1. Terrific posting. I regularly hear and am quite sick of the “reverse racism” argument and the “real diversity means we can ALL go to (insert conference, club, bike ride etc here).” Of course what this overlooks is the explicit vs the implicit. No particular club would say explicitly that it is for straight people, white people, able bodied people etc because most people know that is not ok to say. But, in our culture it is implicit when an organization is not for those in non-dominant groups. They don’t need to tell us.

    Second, on a practical, human and compassionate level, when there are traditionally white activities like biking recreationally, hiking, blogging etc, I’m all for folks getting together to enjoy that activity minus feeling like the “Diverse Person.” Being the “Diverse Person” sucks. It can feel lonely, annoying, infuriating and just plain exhausting. Supporting all people to get outside & exercise, or read, knit, blog, play scrabble, cook or whatever without the emotional stress of discrimination is a beautiful thing and fully in line (to get back to my own professional focus) with increased mental health and sense of power in the world.

    When we have community, we are more able to engage with the rest of the world with pride, good health and optimism. This is what youth tell me, anyway.

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