I bike to work. Twelve miles in each direction, sometimes in very hostile environments, but always cautiously. Because, you see, as I am one of the few people who travel by bike down this thoroughfare, often drivers and their vehicles do not know how to approach. And so I – like many other bicyclists – can get angry when it comes to my personal safety. I’ve many times considered carrying a slushie and turning it on whatever car makes a quick right from my left in front of me, or pushes me to within one inch of the curb. I used my longest fingers to salute to a truck driver this morning when he felt that going down a steep, long hill wasn’t scary enough with traffic to my back, but that he should come within a few inches of my body. I get angry. And I’m glad that I get angry. It’s a survival tactic.
Ever have a pedestrian jump out in front of you? Or a bicyclist chomping down the sidewalk where your preschool daughter was preoccupied at spring? Or a junk truck driver making a quick right while you’re walking straight with the stroller through the Walk sign that the traffic gods have given you – and then the stumped driver is miffed that you dare exercise your right-of-way? These are not acts of principal nor opinion. The very steps one takes, the very movements one makes while driving, the slightest deviations on a bicycle could be an issue of life or death. Could mean breaking a neck. These are not trivial pursuits – life can sometimes be dangerous.
It’s one thing to honk at a guy you think cut you off in traffic. It’s another to hunt them down to teach him a lesson. That’s probably going over the line, as it may get both drivers, passengers and on-lookers seriously injured. But yet commuters are constantly hounding cyclists for their reactions to speedy, reckless drivers being in their path. Look at the vehicular homicides of bikers and I can guarantee it is no overreaction. While bicyclists only account for 0.6% of commuters, they account for 2.1% of road deaths and injuries. In New York state, they account for roughly 0.5% of commuters and 4.9% of road fatalities. A twenty pound bicycle will not protect us from your two thousand pound Ford Escort, let alone a 15+ ton Mack truck. Oftentimes, the margin of error that pushy drivers will lead a bicyclist to is close to zero, which convinces me that my own existence on a road that I legally share, is not welcome – that some people would prefer me to be dead than to have to negotiate for my presence or even be aware of my presence. I do not ride for them, though. And I do not need their permission. But I do seek their compliance, even if it comes by shaming and marginalizing their behavior.
I hate to get #NotAllMotorists, but yes, the majority of drivers are kind, give plenty of leeway, wait when necessary, give room for me to navigate tricky potholes, double parked cars, and other potentially dangerous obstacles. Most wait a little extra for me to cross the intersection before they head out. Most also are cautious about opening their doors. The vast majority do not make left turns coming my way when they see me speeding up to that intersection. The vast majority do not honk at me, sending my heart racing, while they are behind me and for no better reason than to tell me I do not belong. And I thank drivers when they are kind. But I’m not going to thank everybody for doing what they’re supposed to by way of law and rights. #sorrynotsorry
Bicyclist safety is integral, and I will not apologize for thinking my life on the road matters, for getting exercise and cutting down on fossil fuel dependence, for losing weight, for saving money. I will not apologize for my body on public roads that are ostensibly made for all. And I will not apologize for using my body and self to raise awareness that cyclists share the road as well and deserve dignity and respect.
Likewise, heterosexual Religious Right Christians will consistently try to run LGBTQ Christians off the road. When they aren’t outright demonizing LGBTQ people and erasing LGBTQ Christians, they often frame the issue of LGBTQ people asserting their own rights as an issue of “opinions” and “thought policing.” One formative and integral theologian and speaker whom I have, until now, admired, made an analogy about the word “marriage” being changed in much the same way that Nazis and Communists have changed words to erase people. Seriously. So when GLBTQ Christians spoke up about this and examined his theology and rhetoric, they were ridiculed and mocked, sidelined, deliberately misinterpreted, heads compared to “empty space.” Their thoughts on their own embodied experiences were, apparently, wrong. And White, cis-hetero men know best, amirite? /sarcasm/
This is a way of curbing, of threatening with big trucks, of trying to scare marginalized people off the road. It’s an abject disregard for the safety of already marginalized people.
Relatedly, people should not apologize for making their presence known online. I’m thinking here specifically of the harassment that women of color, transgender people, and others get just in trying to speak of their existence, make their presence and worth known in a corner of the internet. When White men barge in and say “not all men!”, we tell women that their experiences aren’t valid. As well, we tell them something they already know in a patronizing way that ironically proves a point about the effects of patriarchy and misogyny upon men. Conservative and progressive men (and sometimes women) interrupt, dominate, ridicule and threaten the lives and work of women of color online who try to create their own space and have every right to the *ahem* Information Superhighway that White men have even though we often feel that we are entitled to it and that the road is ours.*
Although black people make up a fairly large (proportionately-speaking) percentage of Twitter users, they are a rare sight in media. In US culture (and elsewhere), they have been effectively silenced from the mainstream. This is doubly true for black women. And more so for GLB women. And tremendously so for transwomen, particularly transwomen of color. Look at how RuPaul – who is a male drag queen – treats trans people, by using slurs and defending his use of slurs. These slurs turn into threats. These threats turn into violence. These tactics of writing them off, calling them complainers and toxic are means of curbing Black, Asian, Latina, and Indigenous women and running them off the road.
Marginalized people pushed to the curb have every right to speak up. I believe it is our fundamental job as progressives to give them an ear, and sometimes a horn. This is how we lean forward – in solidarity.
*And I know this is where conservative and progressives alike will say that I’m talking in conspiracy theories or whatever. No, study sociology. Racism and misogyny and patriarchy and queerphobia aren’t just about individual attitudes, they’re institutionalized and in many ways a part of who we are as a society. It is an institutional change that needs to happen and will be stunted as long as the dominant groups are insistent that we “are not like that.”