It’s been a pretty cool but intense semester, both online and off. I’m in a couple of postcolonial theory classes, so my offline writing has gotten way too cultural-lit, although there’s been a lot of valuable reading that I eventually hope to incorporate. One of those po-co theory classes has been particularly tense, because it’s an anthro class full of defensive white anthropology students who are “interested” in Africa.
So when the weather turned nice around mid-March, I got on my mountain bike and went riding. My unconscious plan was to ride away from all this for a while, to ride deep into the trails where there are no people, and to get away. I’d only read bicycle blogs and discussion groups and just go into bicycle stores and I will totally avoid arguing about race or class or gender or sexuality and just ride ride ride.
Hala, that was just privilege on my part, because you don’t get away from this. One of the most obvious points–there are hardly any people of color riders. Okay, I take that back. There’s me, there’s a Black rider, there’s my partner. A few more poc here and there, but this is Los Angeles, so the dearth of people of color on the trails is quite noticeable. The cost of a good mountain bike and the lack of proximity to the trails are factors that immediately come to mind. Not everyone has the luxury of spending hours on the trail. The necessary accessories like a good helmet and padded shorts can also be expensive.
But for many of the riders on mountain bike boards (where I retreated because I thought they’d be more sane than the feminist blogosphere, silly me!), those factors are just invisible. Supposedly, anyone could get a second job to afford a beginner $500 hardtail. Anyone could drive to the trails. Haha, look at those idiots who blow their money on bad bikes from Walmart, instead of heading into their local bike shops where we could snicker at them in person. Girls don’t like to mountain bike because they don’t like getting icky and dirty. No, I don’t notice a person’s race or color when s/he’s on a bike, that does not matter to me at all. We’re all the human race. Perhaps the government should have affirmative action to get more minorities into this sport, huh? But anyone can get into this sport, if they really really wanted to. The reasons they do not are cultural.
Someone introduced the phrase “white privilege” on the mountain bike boards and got called a racist. Sigh.
Why is it so hard to recognize that there are factors that affect people of color differently, make it prohibitive for poc to participate more in mountain biking, and in the great outdoors in general? I tried participating in a thread about women riders, disputing the “girls find it dirty” argument by pointing out that low-status “icky” jobs in this country are done mostly by women of color. But I wasn’t really inclined to pursue the discussion, because the hell? In the spirit of picking your battles, I’d much rather ride.
In the context of the other social justice struggles that we’re involved in, the dearth of poc riders is perhaps not the biggest deal. But I’m struck by how the idea that mountain biking is all about self-determination mirrors how this society valorizes merit and personal responsibility. The fact that these myths are so difficult to dispute, even within the small circles of mountain biking, shows just how insidious systemic oppressions remain.