Uplift Black Voices & Add These to Your Reading List

by Farrah Daniel, Better Bike Share Partnership Writer

Black Lives Matter Protest in Washington DC. Photo courtesy of Koshu Kunii.

In a previous article, we covered the candid conversations taking place on Twitter about systemic racism within transportation and planning as well as the institutional racism breathing through our society. Some of the same voices we shared in the aforementioned article have written raw and honest reflections about a multitude of things: being Black in America, the intersection of bicycling and race, the realities of open streets for Black and Brown people and much more. 

As we head into Juneteenth, please read and enjoy these tender and beautiful thoughts:

1. Tamika Butler

Director of Planning and Director of Equity and Inclusion at Toole Design

Butler’s journey to where she is now included being in spaces that didn’t accept her for who she is, which was made evident in the racism and anti-Blackness she experienced in previous roles. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for very long; She soon went on to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, where she was thrust into the spotlight to discuss the intersections of bicycling, race and equity. Through her experience, one thing has been abundantly clear: “As a Black person in this country, I could never have talked about bikes without also talking about race,” she writes.

In “Why We Must Talk About Race When We Talk About Bikes,” Butler reflects on the nationwide conversations taking place about the excessive fatalities of Black people in America — is there action and endurance behind the flurry of solidarity statements? Racism and racially biased policing and infrastructure planning significantly affect the safety of Black lives in their own communities. “Any conversation about bicycling that fails to explicitly and affirmatively acknowledge this disparity is one that lacks true vision, honesty, and effectiveness,” states Butler.

My favorite quotes:

“As a Black person in this country, I could never have talked about bikes without also talking about race. That hasn’t changed. As the world is being ravaged by not one, but two deadly diseases—the coronavirus and anti-Black racism—that are taking Black lives and making it nearly impossible for my people to breathe, the racial inequities I was compelled to speak on then are still present.”

“When we allow ourselves and our colleagues to perform our work in isolation, without consideration of the killing of Black people, our work lacks impact. People of Color know that racism and racial bias in policing and infrastructure planning is a major factor in our safety and in our ability to succeed as we move about our communities. Any conversation about bicycling that fails to explicitly and affirmatively acknowledge this disparity is one that lacks true vision, honesty, and effectiveness.”

2. (cont.)

At the height of the Black Lives Matters protest for the unjust murders of George Floyd’s and the countless other victims of police brutality, Tamika Butler penned Stop Killing Us: A Real Life Nightmare, and it shares a very simple message: Black people are being murdered at an alarming rate, and it’s not something we can stop ourselves. 

“I really need white people to do more than just say they’re fighting for justice,” she challenges. “I need them to get up every day and repeat and ask themselves five questions and really face themselves and their answers.” Read on to get those five necessary questions, plus to read an honest message about the weight of being Black in America. Will our humanity ever be recognized?

My favorite quotes

“What I want is for people to actually start being about what they say they about. It’s easy to say you care and that you understand or that you don’t understand but you want to help. But what are you actually doing? What are you doing every single day to stop the killing of black people? What are you doing every single day to make yourself think about race and racism and white supremacy and oppression and colonialism? What are you doing to make change in this revolution towards a more just society?”

You don’t know me, but it doesn’t matter. I deserve to live. I deserve to live without having to constantly wonder if I can do basic things without risk of death. I deserve to be able to plan for tomorrow without constantly wondering if tomorrow will come. I deserve to be able to wake up and fully live without worrying about being called names or told that if I changed other people wouldn’t be so scared of me. I deserve to get old. I deserve to see my son get old. I deserve to age gracefully without wondering if today is the day that getting old is a luxury and privilege I don’t have access to.”

3. Ariel Ward

Transportation planner/engineer

COVID-19 sparked a deep conversation about open and slow streets initiatives across the country. Closing streets to motor vehicles present multiple advantages and freedoms, yes, but scholars wondered how at-risk groups would fare in public spaces that claim to be inclusive of everyone. Ahmaud Arbery, for example, was murdered for jogging while black in a public space his murders felt he didn’t belong in — they weren’t law enforcement, but they were certainly protected by it. 

Amid a deadly virus that has been disproportionately affecting communities of color, what kind of protection will be created within these initiatives for already at-risk Black and Brown people who are notably harassed and racially profiled by law enforcement? Through deep, personal anecdotes and reflections, “A Tale of Two Truths: Transportation and Nuance in the Time of COVID-19,” invites nuance into a delicate conversation about what kind of spaces are created and held in transportation and mobility for America’s vulnerable populations. 

My favorite quotes:

“I understand that equity is inconvenient. It demands reckoning with the ways in which we are complacent in upholding institutions of dereliction and oppression. Those of us who serve Black and Brown neighborhoods often grapple with the complexity of wanting to increase the availability of sustainable mobility options and hold space for the trauma transportation and city planning have inflicted on our communities. The mental and emotional toll of walking this tightrope of internal tension can be profound. But we walk it, steadfastly.”

“Those who stand to be the most impacted by a policy or program should hold the most power in the decision-making space, but they rarely do. Thus, inquiries into how new transportation policies might compound inequity and erasure are always critical questions. They invite necessary nuance into an already delicate conversation. They are questions that someone must call attention to. For inattention is what allows inequity to flourish.

4. Dr. Destiny Thomas

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Thrivance Group

What are open streets and who are they really open to? In ‘Safe Streets’ Are Not Safe for Black Lives, Dr. Thomas shares critical thoughts about open streets initiatives at the height COVID-19 that didn’t seek community engagement or input; they also overlooked the numerous disparities between how open and safe streets negatively affect Black and Brown cyclists and pedestrians versus those who are white. 

“Encouraging Black residents to go outside without addressing the environmental crises that lead to Covid-19 complications is a tell-tale sign that Black well-being was a secondary (at best) intention of these projects,” says Dr. Thomas. As a Black planner and community organizer, she recalls the “lack of process and participatory decision-making” in the implementation of projects like pop-up bike lanes and guerrilla-urbanist playgrounds, and how street re-designs don’t always benefit the communities they aim to serve. 

My favorite quotes:

“The announcement of open streets from Oakland to Minneapolis to New York City left me wondering how advocates for them would respond to data showing Black people make up 87% of those who are being criminalized in the name of “social distancing” in Brooklyn, where Covid-19 is still largely uncontained. Similarly, I thought about the ways Black, Brown, Indigenous People, people of color, as well as trans people, are regularly policed, harassed, and killed in the built environment.”

“Every week in America, people like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have their lives stolen because their visibility in public space goes against the ways we’ve come to understand who should have access to “outside” and how they should be allowed to access it. Without a plan to include and protect Black, Brown, Indigenous, trans, and disabled people, or a plan to address anti-Black vigilantism and police brutality, these open streets are set up to fail.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write farrah@peopleforbikes.org.