After reading a friend's thoughtful, well written introspective about the Charlottesville incident, with a call to action, I have to think, where am I with the Black Lives Matter movement, and what can and should I do to promote it? This blog post will serve as a second draft.
First, I am pretty sure I don't have any slave-holding cousins. My stock is only two
generations removed from Canada, and prior to that Scotland, the north of England,
and a bit of German. I'm about as WASP as they come. The problem is that though my
lineage is free of white supremacist entanglements, my upbringing is not.
In my own lifetime, I went to a rural, all-white high school and a 95% white state
college. At 18 or 19, I clearly was the product of an intolerant background. Had I
not made a couple of strong, lasting friendships in college, I might have remained
that way. To this day, most of my near-blood relatives have
diametrically different views on this topic.
The details of when and how I evolved, and who helped, are irrelevant to this
discussion. What matters is that over the years I became what those near-blood relatives refer to
as a bleeding heart liberal and a social justice warrior. In my day to day life,
that matters because my goal in life is to make it possible for people to do
anything other than drive. That means improving public transportation. Owning and
operating a car is darned expensive, but it seems black people end up living where
the only reasonable way to get around is via public transport that is either
inadequate or absent altogether, and costly to use what does exist. The economic
injustice aspect of this needs its own explanation, which I do not care to enumerate
here. All that's relevant to this discussion is I have been part of organizations
fighting to better the lot of transit riders for close to 30 years. To me it is all
too clear where the red lines were and are, and blacks are getting screwed. Specific
things like the fare and transfer policies favor pass holding suburbanites. Being
white myself, conversation with the people from these areas is often awkward
because they see me as the do-gooder, the outsider, there to meddle, or just
white and that's reason enough not to converse. Maybe they're right sometimes; it's
hard to say. I haven't been as effective as I wanted to be, but that doesn't keep me
from trying, caring, or understanding.
So what do I do? Posting on social media seems a waste of time, merely a chance to
vent, to throw my lot in with the side of justice, without actually changing
anything for the better. But I have no pull where it really matters, in places which
provide that proper leg-up to those in need.
I suppose I need to settle back to what I do best, provide the support to the organizations I
am involved with, and focus on using them as tools to help the afflicted help
themselves. For me, those would be two or three specific groups. First: ACTC, the
citizens' advisory group for Pittsburgh public transit riders. No problem finding blacks who ride transit,
but the organization currently has its own issues, limiting its efficacy. Second:
Toastmasters, helping people develop speaking and leadership skills, in this specific case, getting
minorities to join and participate. In my experience, Toastmasters tends to attract mostly white male professionals. Not all clubs are like this, but many are. It's
just how word gets out. Money, too, is a limitation, as it isn't free, and the dues are high enough to scare many off.
Third: The cycling community. Most of the bike rides I find
myself on are overwhelmingly white. Is cycling just one of those things white people
do and blacks avoid? A solution to that might be beyond my scope. Merely pointing it
out and questioning it might be all I can hope to accomplish. Again, I don't know
how to reach out, or to have them understand I am in a position to help, or even for
them to understand that what I am offering is help at all. I fear we may as well be
speaking different languages.
Within cycling, my specific purpose is to focus on law-abiding riding techniques,
supporting commuting by bike. Here, though, the places many blacks live are very
hilly, thwarting the very idea of cycling. This has a chicken-egg aspect to it, as
the desirable level places have forced out anyone who can't pay the higher rent, so the ones who need the most help are already living where it is most difficult to help them. If
a black dominated area is flat, it's also distant from where people work, so they
bus instead. So whether because of steep grades or long distances, you don't see too
many black bike commuters.
What I will not be is complacent, merely tweeting opinions and posting relevant
stories. I do plan to act. I just do not know how best to provide that help.