Saturday, December 29, 2007

Be My Guest

I just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X (with Alex Haley) in which Malcolm X, even after he has softened a bit in his assessment of all whites as devils, limits participation in activist meetings to black people.

The presence of white people, even the most supportive white people with the most sincere, best intentions, changes the dynamic of the meeting.

In Malcolm X's view, the change is counter-productive.

In Boise some years ago, I was a spectator at the immensely popular downtown criterium stage of the Women's Challenge, a multi-day stage race for women. At that time the Challenge was the biggest sporting event in Idaho. Variously sponsored by Ore-Ida, PowerBar and Hewlett-Packard, it was a terrific event, one of the few cycling events exclusively showcasing women.

Mothers in big-and-small-town Idaho would bring their daughters to watch the races and to see women shoulder-to-shoulder on the various podiums.

Look, Ashley, women heroes.

Behind me in the criterium crowd I saw three women, one of whom wore a sweatshirt from a college I'd attended. I turned and asked her if she'd gone to school there or just found the shirt, as the bumper sticker would have it. She did not respond.

Surprised and mistaken in my feeling that she must've not heard me, I asked again. One of her friends told me that the women I'd addressed had not in truth gone to that school but had been given the shirt. I chatted with the responsive woman.

After a couple of minutes, the first one, the sweatshirt-wearing one, responded to a question I'd asked.

I realized in a flash that she didn't choose to speak with men, and maybe to avoid any contact with men that she could. I learned later that there was (and perhaps is) a women's commune near Boise; perhaps the three women lived there.

I didn't resent the first woman's attitude, nor did I want to soften it or try to "reason" with her. I could see that, just as Malcolm X suggested, the presence of the "other" changes the dynamic in ways that I cannot perceive, and ways that may seem unpleasant or counterproductive.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I have the same feelings about people who drive cars, especially those who drive without a second thought, who ignore the alternatives, who drive as if they are the only people on the planet, the parking lot or the street, the only human beings who matter, anywhere. I'd just as soon not be around them.

Malcolm X knew he could not live without encountering white people. And the lesbian in Boise knew she couldn't avoid every contact with males. Given a choice, however, both would opt to limit contact with the oppressive "other." The "other" who was never going to get it.

Me too.

Tamar says that if we drove cars, we'd become impatient and callous - distressingly like people who tailgate and block the crosswalk and drive 30mph in parking lots.

Seductive as easy access to a car seems, especially in sub-freezing Rocky Mountain wintertime, we cannot tolerate thinking that we'd ever behave the way they do.

We don't want to be like them and we don't much want to be around them.

I reserve a particularly virulent distaste for folks who want to be thought of as cyclists or motorcyclists but who drive everywhere, even to places to ride, before unloading their immaculate mounts and posing as riders.

I lived for decades without realizing that there were people who'd just as soon not be around me for one reason or another. Perhaps you are a regular driver like most of your neighbors and did not sense the reaction of others of your neighbors, notably those who walk or ride.

If you feel offended by the attitudes of people who question your awareness and your other-directedness, please do as I do. Avoid contact with those people. Aware as you are now of my feelings about your driving, you are free to avoid contact with me. More than just free. You are encouraged...

2 comments:

geoffrey said...

I see your point and I'll add that by isolating oneself from those who lightly take to using motorvehicles one avoids being "poisoned" by their views. However, in so doing you also relinquish the opportunity to expose the same to the joy of cycling and the viability of other transportation options. Motorists don't see an option and discount cycling as one. Seeing cyclists on the road is not enough on its own. Knowing cyclists to be real human beings and not some form of social misfit or genetic mutant will do more to convince these cycling is indeed a viable transportation option.

Salvagetti Bicycle Workshop said...

I once saw Maya Angelou speak and said this of racists: If a racist makes himself known, you should leave the room. Zero tolerance and zero contact.

Every religious icon, however, from Buddha to Jesus Christ has thought differently: Compassion and understanding are their way of changing the world.

For a lot of us in the industry, we allow some room for jerks to become cyclists. I've seen it happen from our enthusiasm multiple times. But, we aren't exactly religious icons... or are we?