The Antiracism Project
If you’re just tuning into this bike-blogging, #HowToBeAnAntiracist journey, welcome. Since this is the first day of the second half of the #10day30k effort, I wanted to reintroduce the project–especially since I’ve learned enough in the past 6 days to make me cringe a little. It started with wanting to address racism and the underrepresentation of Black people in the cycling community. I’ve been following the work of Ayesha McGowan (A Quick Brown Fox, The Black Foxes) and believe that #RepresentationMatters. It felt like the very least I could do, as an officer of the Stanford Cycling team, was reach out to some friends on the team and see if they would be interested in putting on an event to raise awareness and support. A ride-a-thon, where we the athletes pledge to meet a certain ride goal, and donors pledge financial support to organizations of our choosing. The few of us organizing the ride-a-thon researched Bay Area organizations who are focused on building the bike community and serve primarily Black and Latinx communities. It was very cool to learn about the great work being done by Black and Latinx communities for Black and Latinx communities.
I chose a ride goal that scares me. No one ever looks at me and says, “you must be a climber.” I’ve literally had to stop weighing myself because I had become obsessive about shedding as many pounds as possible–even at the expense of watts. In the words of an old Nike ad, “my butt is big and round like the letter C and ten thousand squats have made it rounder but not smaller.” I have a wattage cottage. All through high school I was taunted about this generous feature. Pretty sure I’ve never won a “climber’s race.” I’ve had to learn to love my tree trunk legs, intentionally expressing gratitude for their strength. Internally, two ideas aligned, inspiring me to set a vertical foot goal. One, doing the work to become antiracist was unsettling at first. It was uncomfortable. It meant losing family members. It meant standing, alone in front of City Hall in Palo Alto, on full display, but determined to silently make some noise because 5 days had passed since George Floyd’s murder and there wasn’t a single peep of support for Black Lives Matter in Palo Alto or on Stanford’s Campus. It was time for us to get uncomfortable.
Two, I learned about bodily racism from Black leaders in the yoga community (two IGs to follow here and here, it reminded me of the underrepresentation problem in cycling. It reminded me of how cyclist’s typecast each other based on their body type. It reminded me of Jess Cerra describing her own struggles with eating and weight; how strangers would say, “oh you must be a sprinter.” It reminded me of Bicycling Magazine finally having a woman who weighed over 140 lbs on the cover, finally doing an article on an amazing woman who didn’t look like an olympian. I wanted to make a statement about every body being a climber’s body. Getting to the top of a mountain, looking out on views that most people will only ever see in a picture or thanks to car, is something magical to behold. Hearing in my head, “you’re not a climber,” over and over again continues to scare me away from rides. It was time to crush this idea.
Before the start of the ride-a-thon, one of my favorite Black leaders had asked me in an Instagram comment about what I was doing to hold myself accountable for doing the work. I didn’t have a good answer and her question was totally on point. I had bought “How to be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD, about two weeks before the start of the ride-a-thon and still hadn’t made it past the foreword (this is a me problem, reading for research has made me struggle with getting motivated to read non-fiction). I was inspired to use the force of social media to hold myself accountable for doing the deep work. Saying I’m committed to antiracism on the socials, and then not living up to that statement isn’t how I want to live. It was a simple goal: for 10 days, read a little, process, write a little. On the first day I realized that what I had to say after reading just the first two chapters of Kendi’s book exceeded the Instagram word count. It was time to carve out space for the project on this site.
In the process of reading Kendi’s book, my mind has expanded in so many more ways than I could have imagined and I’ve come to understand just how critical it is for us to normalize discussions on race. American society has been duped into thinking race and racism are political topics (they are not, both Democrats and Republicans have helped to shape racist policies, laws, myths, etc.–and Kendi gives plenty of examples of this). Americans have simultaneously been duped into thinking political conversations are off topic. Even in the bike community, when Velo News published a series of articles featuring Black cyclists, comments on the posts screamed, “keep it about bikes! Don’t make things political!”. So no one talks about race because it’s too political, but then how do we root out the stereotypes? How do we debunk the myths? How do we help people realize that they don’t even know what the word racist means?
It was in a CBS news segment with Kendi, where their reporters interviewed everyday, White citizens, and asked them to define racist or racism. All struggled. This was the first time I heard a scholar validate what so many of my friends from other countries had told me, “Americans are afraid to talk about race.” What I’ve personally realized in reading “How to be an Antiracist” these past few days is that it’s hard to talk about something that you don’t really understand or have words or definitions for. In my experience as a scholar, scientist, and engineer, formal definitions help us articulate and synthesize ideas. These definitions and words also help us identify a thought as it comes up. Awareness helps us recognize that those thoughts are often not our own, but are phrases that we have learned. To paraphrase Kendi, to be antiracist we must be able to identify racism when it arises, name it, and recognize where it comes from. This is work that we all can do. We can’t tear down every statue or change every law. We certainly can’t do either over night. But we can do the deep work on our own, actively reshaping our paradigm to become antiracist. I highly recommend this book as a starting point for anyone wanting to do just that.
Day 6 is in the books. Another 4239 vertical feet down. Another 10571 to go. It was a great day to take on Mt. Tam. It’s a special place for me. It was where I spent a lot of my early years as a cyclist, and though I’m further away now than I usually care to drive, it’ll always have a piece of my heart. Many thanks to TC for the route! It was my first time playing dirt bikes up there on a monster cross setup (i.e., a Crux parading as a gravel bike). Unfortunately I did slice a tire up on the sharp rocks, so friendly reminder kids: (1) don’t let your sealant go dry, (2) always carry a boot and an extra tube.