Let’s talk about racism in cycling

July 2, 2020 § 10 Comments

I got an email from Robert Efthimos, the deposed president of Velo Club La Grange, and it wasn’t a plea for me to take up his appeal to get him reinstated. Robert knew that the statute of limitations had long passed, and as an attorney he was well familiar with Bush v. Gore, which holds, and I quote:

Any time a President appoints someone to the Supreme Court, that appointee is obligated to twist the laws in the appointing President’s favor.

Bush v. Gore, 2001

So, SOL.

Rather than requesting legal services, Robert wrote to ask if I’d give some digital oxygen to an upcoming Town Hall Meeting that’s going to feature black panelists who talk about racism in cycling.

My first objection was simple. “Is it going to actually be in a town hall?”

You see, I hate it when things are called “Town Hall meetings” when in fact they are a bunch of people on Zoom sitting around in their undershorts with the camera trained above the waist. In fact, if actual town hall meetings had panelists and attendees in their underpants, I’d probably go to all of them.

Robert confirmed that although it wouldn’t be in an actual town hall due to the covids still running around and biting people on the foot, he assured me that no one would be in their underpants. I wasn’t sure how to take that.

But hard as it is to set levity aside in the time of the covids, I’m writing to say that Velo Club La Grange has taken a step that is long overdue and that is a model for every other bike club out there. They’ve issued an unequivocal statement about violence and racism and they’ve committed club time and resources to doing something about it.

Here’s their statement. Its bullshit content is exactly zero. Please listen up.

Velo Club La Grange believes all Black lives matter.

The senseless killing of George Floyd in Minnesota followed a long line of acts of intolerable violence against Black Americans. As cyclists and persons of conscience, Velo Club La Grange stands together in solidarity with our Black members, other Black cyclists, and the entire Black community, as we commit as an organization to address violence and racism against Black Americans.

As a club, we will not be passive in our condemnation of racism, injustice, and violence. It is in times like these when we need to come together to drive essential change. As the first step in our efforts to listen, understand, and take action against racism, on Tuesday, July 7 at 7 pm PDT, we will be hosting a virtual Town Hall where a number of local Black cyclists have agreed to share their perspective and experiences and then engage in an interactive question and answer session. While hosted by La Grange, the Town Hall is open to all. Please make a note on your calendar to attend the Town Hall on Tuesday [July 7, 7:00 pm PDT] at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83247567737. We hope you will join us for this critically important conversation.

Velo Club LaGrange Board Statement, July 2020

I plan to attend, and I hope that you do, too. Whether you’re in California or not, if your club hasn’t taken a stand on this issue, this will be an important and helpful example of how to go about turning the lens of racism away from “others” and onto yourself. It is crucial to understand that George Floyd wasn’t simply killed by a few bad cops. He was killed by all of us.

Because to be blunt, La Grange desperately needs this. It is an overwhelmingly white, West Side club that has incredible resources, few of which are directed to recruiting black members or building alliances with black clubs–of which Los Angeles has innumerable ones. Even though the La Grange board has unstintingly supported the All Clubs BBQ for the last two years with participation and cash on the barrelhead, and even though VCLG has done far more than most other white clubs, that’s a low standard and this Town Hall meeting is a recognition of that fact.

“It’s always someone else who’s a racist,” I once heard a black woman say, and she’s right.

This type of engagement is also a challenge to South Bay clubs like BCCC, Big Orange, Ironfly, Southbay Wheelmen, Origin, and numerous others who do little or nothing to build alliances and provide financial support to black cycling communities. Of all the things that the covids have done, they’ve smashed the reason for being that has driven so many #profamateur clubs, which is to preen for the weekend beatdown/beatoff.

Black clubs too have an opportunity. Clueless white people are becoming dimly aware that this thing called racism may actually be part of their cherished cycling club. “I don’t see color” asshats who lurk, troll, infect social media, and quietly maintain the lily white status quo of so many clubs are getting some sunshine and they don’t like it. This is where black cyclists can speak up and do it forcefully.

For years the South Bay has had one black voice that is unapologetic, undiplomatic, always willing to tell it from the black perspective, and the more white people it offends, the better. That guy is Elijah Shabazz. A chorus of black voices willing to talk in a straightforward, uncompromising register is exactly what we all need to hear.

And then after hearing, we need to do something the fuck about it.

Thank you Robert and the VCLG board for putting yourselves in the crosshairs, and even more, thank you to the black panelists willing to lead the way.


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