02 September 2014

Biking and Privilege

A fascinating blog entry comparing biking and white privilege has been passing around Facebook. Through comparing white privilege to the "privilege" that cars have on the road, it provides a helpful analogy. It's not that whites are oppressive to blacks or even necessarily racist, it's more that there are systems set up that benefit whites and make life more complicated for non-whites. It's worth reading to help one think more about the issues.

What makes the article more interesting for me is that the person writing it bikes in Lansing - my new city in which I also bike. Most fascinating to me is that his experience has not been mine. Perhaps it is because I have come from a place - Amsterdam - where the system is set up for bikers. It is there that I learned how to pay more attention to others on the road because even if the system was set up for me there would always be those who broke the rules, whether that be bikers running through red lights, tourists on bikes, or taxi drivers. That is not something that I had learned previously, making me realize that we North Americans have developed a system/attitude that is less safe for pedestrians and bikers. We have also not learned how to share the road well, whether that be with (other) bikers or even other cars (e.g., merging or letting others in). Because I have lived in a difficult culture, it is more obvious to me what we are missing in this culture. I expect the same to be true when it comes to white privilege and racial issues.

Reading his article has also reminded me that not everyone experiences white privilege (as a white or black) in the same way. Different from him, I have found that most cars have given me much room, erring on the side of the caution as their uncertainty of how to relate to me becomes apparent. I have found roads and areas that are bike friendly, even making their proximity a criteria for my new place. So even as I miss the bike culture of the Netherlands, I have felt safe and welcome here - a very different story from that of the other biker in Lansing. I think that is also what makes white privilege complicated to understand: because everyone has different stories and experiences, it is hard to see the difficulties clearly.

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