In the deepest, darkest waves of lockdown, I vowed to use this opportunity to get fit. I swore I would prepare for next year’s marathon and even tried my hand at Chloe Ting’s workouts, which I can undoubtedly say are not for the weak-hearted. Nonetheless, I persevered with my daily squats not realising that I was actually prepping for several tests of personal endurances. While abiding by the regulations, I attended an array of protests with a spring in my step to counteract the stress, as I had found a physical activity that I actually enjoyed—cycling.
Cycling, in some form, has always been a political statement, and cycling while black is a political act itself. Britain’s long-held commercial representation of cyclists have predominately been of white people while, unfortunately for black cyclists, the cultural caricature the media presents answers to the title ‘roadman’.
We’ve long laughed at these humorous, underlying racist narratives but what the past few months have depicted is that regardless of wealth, profession or vehicle, black people are more likely to endure degrading stop-and-searches by police officers.
On the 14 June, one hot Sunday afternoon, I accepted an offer to spend the day cycling from Oxford Circus to Clapham Common with Chain Cyclists, a collective group raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust with the motto ‘A cycle of change in the community’.
When Jason, Peniel, Ben and Emmanuel jointly rediscovered their love for riding, they didn’t expect the rapid growth. “It started as a way of keeping healthy and spending time with our friends. Once we realised how many people wanted to join us, we took the initiative towards doing something positive and have been going strong ever since.”
Despite the shifting decline of media coverage of those still fighting for black lives, many have continued spreading support for black activists, businesses and groups on socials, ahead of the first Black Pound Day in June. The second Black Pound Day happened on 1 August and will continue to occur every first Saturday of each month.
While financial support for black businesses is being encouraged, others have found comfort in showing up with their bikes and riding in solace with other black cyclists under the umbrella term ‘the Black Unity’. The bike ride event said to be “riding in the name of unity, empowerment and love” hosted by Black Cyclists Network joined forces with Chain Cyclists and Toksy Toks to organise the day. With the hopes of achieving equality, this event invited a multitude of other collectives to join the day and combat the taboo. And thus, a black cycling community was born.
Temi, founder of Black Riders Association was one of many invited to tag along for the day. In 2018, Temi agreed to join a fellow friend on a fundraising cycle from London to Nigeria. “As a keen traveller, I was taken aback by my friend’s bravery,” he said. “I’ve always cycled but never with intention, so when the opportunity arose to come along I took it and being of Nigerian descent I wanted to take this chance to go back and visit.” As he prepped and trained ahead of his trip, he began to source and search for information that led to his discovery.
“Blogs, shops, events and cycling groups were dominated by white men,” he explains, “It was hard to find black cyclists at the time, possibly because of the taboo, but I found a few who advised me on what bike to get and training tips.” Following the trip that took him around 14 countries in two and a half months, he noticed the budding interest in his journey which led him to create My Choice, a social enterprise making impactful change. “I felt that by increasing diversity in cycling and forming a group that encourages leisure and fitness, cycling helps make it more accessible.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a fellow cyclist, announced plans to spend £2 billion on a new cycling scheme in a bid to tackle obesity in the UK. Following the £50 bike repair voucher scheme recently introduced, Johnson has now promised cycle lessons for all. Additionally, new bike lanes will be introduced and GPS are set to prescribe cycling as part of the push.
Cycling culture is on the rise for diverse reasons. I hope that, alongside the introduction of these schemes, Johnson also start tackling the racial profiling of black cyclists so that marginalised communities can also reap the benefits. After all, we all want to work together to tackle climate change, right?
In times of pandemic-induced isolation followed by outbursts of racist police violence, our awareness of injustice has risen, leaving us wavering between senses of anger and powerlessness. Many of us, especially white people like myself, are taking this unreal momentum as a privileged opportunity to learn, listen and question our day-to-day values and actions—which were previously hidden under a frantic pace of routine. But is momentum enough to generate actual change?
Last week, HBO aired the final episode of Mrs America, a series depicting the US’ complex struggle for social reform, following the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) movement, which fought and protested to incorporate gender equality into the American constitution. Simultaneously, the series also represents a notable moment in time where second-wave feminists were at their peak point, believing they could affect real, systemic change.
The dreadful power of the story lies, however, in seeing how the progressive feminists lose (the ERA is still not ratified in the US), as we see history backlash before our eyes. The weapon behind this backlash is Phyllis Schlafly, an intelligent, conservative anti-feminist housewife, who succeeds in mobilising a counter-campaign paving the way for Trumpian populism and neo-conservative politics. US President Donald Trump is even known to have attended her funeral as a sign of gratitude to her legacy. Cheers for that, Schlafly.
In the introduction to Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique (a second wave, white feminist classic), Lionel Shriver writes: “Social progress is reliably two steps forward, one step back.” Comparing the movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a general momentum for civil rights, we indeed encounter countless stories of similar backlashes—moments where movements came close to real, radical change, before being cut down again by an opposition that’s too afraid to admit they might have been wrong and too comfortable to accept any change.
Watching President Trump marching into a Church, Bible in hand, in the middle of a wave of international outrage, we’ve come to understand just how deeply divided our world has become. As most of us probably got caught last week in the #BlackoutTuesday discussion, many probably didn’t even see any black squares on their feed. Some might even have sent loving emojis to the US police forces, in praise of their reaction to the “devastating riots attacking their nation.”
It’s striking to realise (and learn, for some) exactly how we have been living inside a bubble on either side of the political spectrum, enforced by our like-minded friends and the algorithms which provide us with content we already agree with. Very rarely are we presented with ideas that challenge our way of understanding the world. We have gone as far as ignoring those specific moments and facts. This echo chamber has made us deeply underestimate our opponents, it has prevented us from hearing minority voices, and has divided us as a society.
In the middle of the world’s divide, there seems to be little room left for universal, common goals, which should go beyond left or right-wing. In a way, we are worse off than the political movements of the seventies, who at the time could get the support of progressive conservatives capable of seeing oppressive systems (the then First Lady Betty Ford, a Republican, was a vocal feminist who supported abortion rights and the ERA). This political type today seems to be nonexistent.
It’s demoralising to realise how many issues have generally remained unchanged, not only when it comes to Mrs America’s gender issues, but also in terms of race, climate justice and public access to education, healthcare and unemployment benefits. It’s shocking how, once we start looking, the intersectionality of discrimination becomes visible everywhere.
History has already shown us that momentum is not enough. What we can learn from both feminism and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, is that continuous awareness, continuous learning and continuous activism can.