RESPONSE TO: What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

I did *not* write the original post about how biking teaches people about white privilege. This post is my response to the original post.

This blog post has been getting a lot of attention this week. The author argues that for many privileged white people, riding a bicycle is one of the few times in our lives where we can feel what it is like to be marginalized (he brings the analogy to a racial conclusion).
I have heard this analogy before. It is true that it is a rare form of “-ism” for middle//upper class white folk to deal with.
BUT (and the commenters also point out a lot of buts), us white people cannot handle such marginalization! No we cannot. And so many of us run to city planning meetings demanding our bike lanes and paths. And the city planners listen to us because we are WHITE. And then we get what we think we deserve.
And so you can begin to see the problem not with this analogy so much but with this false pretense that we are indeed marginalized. We may be marginalized riding down a busy street but a lot of us know that we can fix our predicament. And that is a notion no one else shares with us.
With that said, if I had more time, I would run down a list of articles discussing EQUITY in bicycle planning. It is happening so fast I can barely keep up with tracking it all.

More later.

A Little More Sauce

The phrase “white privilege” is one that rubs a lot of white people the wrong way. It can trigger something in them that shuts down conversation or at least makes them very defensive. (Especially those who grew up relatively less privileged than other folks around them). And I’ve seen more than once where this happens and the next move in the conversation is for the person who brought up white privilege to say, “The reason you’re getting defensive is because you’re feeling the discomfort of having your privilege exposed.”

I’m sure that’s true sometimes. And I’m sure there are a lot of people, white and otherwise, who can attest to a kind of a-ha moment or paradigm shift where they “got” what privilege means and they did realize they had been getting defensive because they were uncomfortable at having their privilege exposed. But I would guess that more often than…

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MLK: Travels on Black America’s Main Street.

This is an excellent follow-up//complimentary photo-blog post about a parallel street to N. Williams Ave. (Portland), both literally and figuratively. MLK in Motion is a blog that is proactively tracking the rapid changes on the boulevard. Same story, different street.

MLK in Motion

These two signs appeared on the Vanport lot at MLK & Alberta recently:

tilove2tilove1

“Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street” is Jonathan Tilove’s photojournal of his visits to various Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevards in the U.S., published in 2003. He writes:

The second question [“Are there any nice ones?”] has become more nettlesome as time has gone on. The implication of this question is that the streets might do more honor to King is they were nicer, a point of view expressed even by many folks on King. But why? If we wanted nice we could have undertaken a journey along Pleasant Street. Gentrification is about making a street “nice.” King’s life was not.

The genius of King streets is how they honor Martin Luther King in precisely the way that the national holiday cannot, by provoking passions and controversy and conflict, by stirring fervent debate…

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Funeral: Revis(it)ing N. Williams Ave.

My dissertation research included ethnographic work on N. Williams Ave. I revisit often. My most recent visit this week revealed yet another jarring tour of how rapidly this street is isolating and then removing longstanding, people of color-owned businesses and their clientele. 

Graffiti on closed business, surrounded by new development construction

Graffiti on closed business, surrounded by new development construction

 

Bicycle infrastructure does not exist in an urban vacuum. Every stripe of white paint or paved railroad has social context. This I know from my quest to understand why some residents are reluctant/resistant to support particular types of bicycle planning. Specifically, those who highlight historical class, racial, ethnic, and cultural disparities as reasons to fight against a bike lane.

 

A few years ago, the Albina neighborhood was the site of a very public debate about how bicycle infrastructure and gentrification are linked. (white) Bicycle advocates struggled to see the link, but longtime African American residents knew what was about to happen. It was merely a predictable cycle.

 

The City of Portland ignored/disinvested from N. Williams Ave. for a long time. For many decades, Black businesses thrived. Then when developers and the City got antsy about “cleaning up” the area, the businesses and nearby residents disappeared at varying speeds.

 

This is what remains.

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