I had no idea who Harley Johnstone aka #durianrider was until yesterday.
He is an Australian bicyclist who comments on anything and everything. After watching his YouTube channel I concluded what I’ve always concluded: There are better things to do than watch YouTube channels.
Lately Johnstone attacked Cory Williams, setting forth some of his opinions on racism. Johnstone let everyone know that he wasn’t racist. No, sir, not he, because he “doesn’t see color.” No medical certificate of colorblindness was attached. Nor was there an explanation about how, if he didn’t see color, he was able to post the photos of “colored” people on his Instagram feed.
Johnstone simply wanted to lay down some scorching opinions on the topic, including opinions that were highly critical of the Williams brothers and their work to bring cycling to poor communities. One of the attacks insinuated that Cory is unfairly benefiting from his race as African-American; that is, using the “race card” to build his own business and personal profile. Proof? $500 racing shoes and high-end bike racing component/frame sponsorships.
If Cory were white he’d be patted on the back for making a buck in the cash-poor world of bike racing. But because he’s black and because he has been vocal about racial inequality, those pluses are converted to negatives by racists like Johnstone.
It’s hard to fathom this kind of attack unless you’re African-American, for whom I’d guess this kind of attack is an everyday thing. As soon as an African-American succeeds in his chosen field, he is berated (by a white guy) for succeeding as an African-American. The white idea is simple. If you are white it isn’t using your race to benefit from white privilege. But if you are African-American, anytime your race confers a positive benefit, it’s reverse racism or a cynical manipulation of racial identity.
It’s okay for #durianrider to benefit by the theft of Australia from its original inhabitants but it’s not okay for an African-American guy to use his black identity to build support in black communities.
I don’t know Mr. Johnstone, but I do know Mr. Williams. Where Mr. Johnstone’s YouTube commentaries are generally filled with self-congratulatory, Trumpian praise for himself, Cory, Justin, and CJ are humble, circumspect about their achievements, and extremely self-aware. If anyone knows that U.S. bike racing champions aren’t NBA superstars, it’s the Williams family.
The great thing about #durianrider’s hostility to Cory over the issue of Black Lives Matter is that it proves one of the main points that #BLM is trying to make, i.e., there are many, many white people who refuse to understand that there are millions of non-white people who have been silenced because of their race.
People like Johnstone and me have, in the words of BabySeal, “Spent your whole life being heard. You may not have gotten what you asked for, you may have had people disagree with you, but you’ve been heard. You have always had a voice, and whether you admit it or not, a whole lot of your life you have gotten your way–in school, at work, on the bike, and most especially when you’ve run afoul of law enforcement. What’s happening in the U.S. today is that people whose voices are never heard, well, they’re making America listen.”
Of all the battles that a YouTube person could fight, why would you fight this one? Why would you target two African-Americans doing their level best to support struggling communities as role models for a way that kids can live healthier, happier lives?
The answer is simple. Of all the things that white people can’t stand, it’s losing the narrative. What makes the George Floyd protests different is that they are branded with Black Lives Matter, an African-American voice that welcomes cooperation with whites but that insists on keeping control of its own story. This is different from the Civil Rights Movement, where the narrative of African-Americans demanding their rights under the Constitution still had to be translated by white journalists for white liberal publications in order to “tell” the African-American story to whites.
Whites weren’t ready to hear the truth. They weren’t ready to hear the full brutality of the unexpurgated story of slavery, the horrific oppression of segregation, and the victimization of millions in the words of the oppressed.
This time, Black Lives Matter and organizations similar to it have accepted alliances but have refused to sell the narrative as the price for support. As a result the story, the real story, is raw, brutal, bloody, enraged. And people like Harley Johnstone sense, even if they consciously refuse to understand, that this narrative isn’t going to be co-opted by white media, white journalism, or least of all by white Aussie YouTube hobby bicyclists.
“The victor writes the history,” Johnstone may be thinking.
If so, he’s right. So it’s up to us to make sure that this time the victor isn’t he.
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