Velo Club LaGrange hosted a meeting on Zoom last night to discuss racism and violence against blacks in the context of Black Lives Matter. They began the day before in style, with one of their board members re-tweeting a message that said something to the effect of “If black people can say ‘black power,’ why can’t white people say ‘white power’?”
The answer of course was that they can, and if they re-tweet such things they will be swiftly encouraged to resign and then the remaining board members will dance around a camp fire with the offending member’s head on a stake.
Which is pretty much what happened.
And although some people might think it’s a bad sign when a mostly white club warms up an anti-racism discussion with a good ol’ fashioned racist re-tweet, I think it’s perfect because it shows how profound the problem really is. You can’t even talk about racism as a problem without some bonehead modeling his Thin Blue Line license plates, or unrolling his Confederate flag, or showing everyone the KKK tattooed on his armpit.
VCLG’s ex-president Robert Efthimos did a good job putting the meeting together, but no one really wanted to talk about racism in VCLG except in vague terms; i.e. no names were named. Moreover, when I asked the black panelists about racism in local cycling clubs and what could be done to address it, Anthony Freeman said something to the effect of, “Racism isn’t just in cycling clubs, it’s everywhere.”
I could almost hear the collective Zoom of white cyclist relief. “Whew. It’s everywhere. And goodness knows we can’t fix everywhere.”
And that is the problem. Any time a white person talks about racism in an open-minded way, or tries to listen to the plight of blacks in the U.S., that white person then immediately pats herself on the back. “See? I’m listening to these black people. I’M NOT A RACIST, EVERYBODY. SEE?” And then the white people and the black people all shake hands and the white people are happy AF and go home and have a nice bottle of anti-racism wine and the black people go back home and get murdered by a cop.
Not a single person brought up the racist re-tweet by ex-board member Joe Duerr. Not one. Not a single person said to Jaycee Carey, Robert Efthimos, Rich Hirschinger, or the other board members at VCLG, “What the fuck is wrong with you people? Everyone knows that Joe Duerr is the world’s nicest guy and also the world’s staunchest supporter of the cops, appears to be a hard-core Trump supporter and arch conservative, and has never done one fucking thing to use his vast wealth to meaningfully address racism in his own cycling club. And this guy is your board member? And you’ve tolerated him for this long? What the fuck does that say about you?”
I’ll tell you what it says.
It says that that as an organization, VCLG is racist.
It says that Joe Duerr is racist.
And here’s the other thing: It says that I’m racist, too–I’ve belonged to VCLG and never showed up to a board meeting demanding that my membership money be used to recruit blacks or fund blacks in cycling. If you’re going to hang Joe Duerr out to dry, and brother does he ever deserve it, what about everyone else? Do we get a pass because we logged onto Zoom in our underwear?
Until we all come clean and quit talking generically about the racism of other people and start talking about our individual complicity in racism and our personal duty to fix it, it’s all a big steaming pile of bullshit. Black people have been robbed at gunpoint for over 400 years and they’re being robbed at gunpoint today. What’s your individual commitment to giving them back the money that your forebears stole, and that you are stealing right now, today?
The black panelists let VCLG know they appreciated the forum. They thanked the white people for taking this important step. They moderated their feelings. They kept the racism impersonal. They kept their comments within the paramenters of “at least we’re talking which is better than being ignored or killed.” But I think there comes a point when white audiences also need to hear this:
- You are all a bunch of fucking racists and we’re sick and fucking tired of your shit.
- Give us the money now.
The stories that the black panelists told were gut-wrenching. Stories about the daily grind of harassment and abuse, the emotional toll of being constantly beaten down, the humiliation and anger at being told a pool was for “whites only” or that an obviously functioning toilet at the Ranch Market in Palos Verdes Estates wasn’t working. They told of the bitterness at not having a single white “friend” reach out to talk with them about the murder of George Floyd, of the personal breaking and despair at the police murder of Elijah McClain, a 140-lb. self-taught violinist who played music to abandoned animals in a shelter. They told of being forced to whitify their language, their clothes, even their earrings to conform and deny their blackness, even as white society steals their culture, adopts it, makes millions from it, and leaves its progenitors broke, in jail, or dead.
Some of the panelists talked about the small pieces of racism in local cycling. The South Bay racist who told Tony Sells to “get his ass to the back” after taking a pull; the unfriendly reception of a sole black rider at an all-white ride, and of course, saddest of all, the gratitude of a new black cyclist at being treated well and having someone buy him a cup of coffee after the ride.
Why saddest of all? Because the exclusion and marginalization of blacks in cycling is so great that simply buying someone a cup of coffee is a powerful and memorable statement, a reminder that even though most people are complete fucking racists, one or two can break out of the role and be decent every now and again.
The panelists spoke strongly about the offensiveness of “I don’t see color,” about finding “She’s black, put her in the back” being scrawled on a job application, and about the daily fear for a child’s life because he’s a large black male. It was a brutal cascade of reality that represented only the tiniest sliver of black reality in 2020.
On an extremely positive note, Anthony and Ken Vinson told listeners that white clubs should spend their money to recruit black cyclists, to support black businesses and black race teams. There was at least the beginning of a discussion of specifically, what money should be spent where. And that’s not only positive, but VCLG deserves credit for doing what no one else in the cycling industry has done, which is try to fix their own shit.
As they say in the drinkypants world, you can’t fix your problem until you admit you have a problem. VCLG has owned up, or is in the process of it. What about Origin? South Bay Wheelmen? Big Orange? Do they have a racism problem? [Hint: Of course they do.] And what are their plans to address it?
I hope VCLG has another meeting and I hope it cuts to the chase. How much of their budget are they going to dedicate to black clubs, black recruitment, support of black bike shops like those run by Ennis Looby and George Turner? How much of their individual wealth are individual LG board members going to begin spending on black businesses, or simply transferring en bloc to black non-profits, community groups, or into the cups of homeless drug addicts begging on the off-ramps?
Support and talk is great but this is ultimately about money. How much are you going to spend, where are you going to spend it, and when?
Almost 120 people listened in, an astounding number when you consider how little time cyclists have to devote to anything other than riding, recovering from riding, reading about riding, and #socmedding about riding. Do those listeners think they’ve done their civic duty, and are now absolved from being racists until the next murder?
I saw so many people thank the panelists at the end of the session. Were those gestures soon to be followed by money? Or were they simply another example of happy white people who’ve been given another anti-racist pass for the day?
I also hope that the black cycling community takes this opportunity to make demands. Not suggestions or requests but demands. “This is what you have stolen and this is what we want back.” And where the hell was Elijah Shabazz? I bet he would have said “Y’all nice, give me my fucking money that y’all stole.”
It might also be nice to hear names get named. It was awesome to hear the Ranch Market in PVE get called out because that place serves the most overtly and proudly racist clientele in the South Bay. How can people accept that their friends and cycling family are racist if everyone’s anonymous? How can people change if they aren’t made incredibly uncomfortable?
Robert felt the discomfort and it was evident on his face. He knows he’s part of the problem and he knows that the rest of us are too. But to paraphrase Rahsaan Bahati, “Leaders, you need to lead.” What a concept, that the people who run cycling clubs are responsible for that club’s approach to racism. Joe Duerr got the boot in the ass he so richly deserved, but he doesn’t deserve to be a scapegoat. He’s got lots and lots and lots of company because silence is compliance.
Some people may need a lump of sugar with their medicine, but I don’t. The time for understanding racism is past. If you don’t know that we exist the way we do by virtue of slavery, and if you don’t know that we continue to tax black dollars, black minds, and black lives in every sick way conceivable, you are an illiterate fool who lives with his head willingly jammed into the sand.
Racism isn’t an “issue” any longer, it’s a fact. What comes next? Cash, I hope, on the fucking barrelhead.
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