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Last night we all rode together thanks to Black Girls Do Bike

Posted by on June 11th, 2020 at 7:04 am

(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

After months of quarantine and weeks of heavy-hearted news and protests, Nichole Watson and Keyonda McQuarters just wanted to let loose and go on a bike ride. So they posted it on Facebook and told their friends to join. They expected a few dozen people. What they got was closer to 2,000.

“Sometimes you need to take the lane and you need to demand that people see you and make space for you and that’s what today is about.”
— Nichole Watson

“I’m overwhelmed,” a giddy Watson shared at Irving Park before the ride started. “I just wanted to ride with my crew. Then you all showed up. Damn!”

Watson and McQuarters are leaders of Portland’s chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, a national nonprofit that builds community among women of color of who love to ride. They made last night’s ride all about having a good time (“fun is mandatory” the event flyer said) and they made sure anyone who wanted to ride would have a bike by teaming up with downtown bike shop Cycle Portland, Biketown bike share, and the Community Cycling Center for free loaners.

The crowd that showed up was the most multi-racial I’ve ever seen in this city. I’ve been on countless group bike rides in the neighborhoods around Irving Park, but the large percentage of Black residents who live on the streets are usually not among us. Until last night. We rode together, and it felt great.

Ride co-organizer Keyonda McQuarters (right).

While fun was the priority, everyone’s thoughts were still clearly attached to the protests over the death of George Floyd and calls to end the police violence that caused it. While there were lots of smiles last night, I was reminded that the pain and scares of being Black in America are always just beneath the surface and cannot be erased by a bike ride.

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Here’s what a few of the riders shared with me about why they showed up and what it’s like to be Black on a bike in this moment…

Valarie Pearce, children’s book author and high school teacher

“I think there’s this paradigm that you have to be super small and blonde to get on a bike and really go, but we do this and we love it.” — Valarie Pearce

“I want to join with my community in saying we care about racial and social justice and this is beyond a moment, this is a movement that will keep on going and going, and this is just one of the beautiful ways that we’re out here doing it. 

I started riding to get in shape after my daughters were born. This is my city. I went to Jefferson High. This is a part of what I do. A part of my community and my life. I love riding in the city. We have a beautiful city and l look to see the houses and the trees.

I think it’s important to know that black girls do bike. That we do enjoy it and that we come in all shapes and sizes. I think there’s this paradigm that you have to be super small and blonde to get on a bike and really go, but we do this and we love it.” 


Elijah

“It’s going to take more than a bike ride.” — Elijah

“The difference is that I live with [being Black] every day. Everybody is aware of it right now, but I was living the same way on May 25th [the day George Floyd was killed]. All those same fears existed for me. It’s now aware to you and other people who don’t look like me because of what happened to George Floyd, but before that that was already my life every day…

“My whole life I’ve grown up here and these same people that are here right now have treated me like I’m beneath them. So what makes me think that because they showed up at a park that I grew up in that all the sudden they’re here for me?!”

It’s never been like, ‘Oh I feel safe in Portland.’ That’s never happened. I’m a black man every day and I’ve been reminded of that throughout my childhood, through elementary school, through middle school — I was a 4.0 student and I still got treated like shit. That shouldn’t happen. And that was because I was black and I went to a majority white school.  

So this bike ride is great and its nice to see people who look like me, but other than that this doesn’t change what’s going on. We’re not going to all come together after a bike ride. We’re not going to all come together after a couple protests. People’s hearts have to change. You’ve got to change your heart before you can just start doing all these laws and all this other shit. I need you to be for real.

Me getting on a bike don’t mean nothing. This is me coming together with my community to see people that look like me. Other than that, we still hurt. Nothing has changed for us. Until we get real change down the road then that’s when we’ll start feeling different. But right now, it’s all the same.

It’s cool to see other people here, but these same people don’t say ‘hi’ to me when they see me walking down the street. If I would have seen all these people walking down MLK two hours ago they would have looked the other way; but now we’re here at a bike ride all together and, ‘Ooh yeah I want change’ and all that — but where’s your heart at? If you’re not speaking from your heart and you’re not trying to make change and you’re not trying to listen. How do I trust that?

My whole life I’ve grown up here and these same people that are here right now have treated me like I’m beneath them. So what makes me think that because they showed up at a park that I grew up in that all the sudden they’re here for me?! Or are they here for me because they don’t want to be shamed into the guilt that they feel; they don’t want to be talked about and be on the wrong side of history; they don’t want to feel like, “Oh I’m siding with the oppressor.” It’s too late! You already made that choice. So it’s a bike ride. I feel great and I’m thankful for Nicole for putting this together. But it’s going to take more than a bike ride.”


Wayne

“Before this, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. But we’re having one now.” – Wayne

“It’s cool to be out here.”

Why?

“Because we weren’t coming out before. Before this, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation; but we’re having one now. That’s why. I’m having conversations with people at the grocery store that would never talk to me before…
 
Being my age, I’ve seen a lot. So I hope this really means something at the end. We’ve had this all before. I lived through rioting in 1968 when Martin Luther King got killed we couldn’t stand outside on our own porch after 7:00 pm. Not a whole lot has changed. That was 1968. This is 2020. So if nothing changes now…”

What’s it like to be a Black man riding a bike in Portland?

“If I wasn’t in this group, I probably wouldn’t be biking. Because I don’t trust people in Portland. I don’t trust them. I sure as hell won’t ride on the streets. When you’re walking and somebody drives by and screams the “n” word at you, what do you think they going to do if you’re on a bike? If I’m on the sidewalk and they’re on the street, I’ve got options. If I’m on a bike on the street, do I got options? No. I’m vulnerable. So why would I put myself out there?”

Would you bike more if you didn’t have that fear?

“Yeah I would! I’d ride to work.” 


Nichole Watson, ride co-organizer

“Sometimes you need to take the lane and you need to demand that people see you and make space for you and that’s what today is about.” – Nichole Watson (on the nice new Kona she just got from Sellwood Cycle Repair!)

“I want people to know we all belong. I think sometimes, being in this body, you’re afraid to take up space. You’re afraid to be in the way. You’re afraid to demand people see you. And that’s what today was about. It was about visibility and we needed allies and advocates and activists to be out here with us so that we know the road belongs to us too… 

I’m a thicker human being. I’m curvy. So being in the middle of the street, taking up lanes with this thick body and doing some of the things I do on my bike is evidence that this body is amazing and there’s so much it can do. The other part of it is also what it means to be in this Black body. And sometimes you need to take the lane and you need to demand that people see you and make space for you and that’s what today is about.” 

What does it feel like to see all these people on your ride?

“It feels like beloved community. Like Dr. King said. Beloved community. And it just means we’re better together. And it just means that when we get off this track I want us to continue to make space for one another. Continue to take the lane and continue to make space so we all have room… or build a bigger road so we can all fit!

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Hello, KittyJonToby KeithDavid HampstenMiddle of the Road Guy Recent comment authors
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Chris I
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Chris I

This is great!

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

Elijah should read this quote from Malcolm X, if he hasn’t already.

“The white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man. Let me explain what I mean by the white liberal. In America there is no such thing as Democrat or Republican anymore. In America you have liberals and conservatives. The only people living in the past who think in terms of I’m a Democrat or Republican, is the American Negro. He’s the one that runs around bragging about party affiliation. He’s the one that sticks to the Democrat or sticks to the Republican. But white people are divided into two groups, liberals and conservative. The Democrats who are conservative, vote with the Republicans who are conservative. The Democrats who are liberal vote with the Republicans that are liberal. The white liberal aren’t white people who are for independence, who are moral and ethical in their thinking. They are just a faction of white people that are jockeying for power. The same as the white conservative is a faction of white people that are jockeying for power. They are fighting each other for power and prestige, and the one that is the football in the game is the Negro, 20 million black people. A political football, a political pawn, an economic football, and economic pawn. A social football, a social pawn. The liberal elements of whites are those who have perfected the art of selling themselves to the Negro as a friend of the Negro. Getting sympathy of the Negro, getting the allegiance of the Negro, and getting the mind of the Negro. Then the Negro sides with the white liberal, and the white liberal use the Negro against the white conservative. So that anything that the Negro does is never for his own good, never for his own advancement, never for his own progress, he’s only a pawn in the hands of the white liberal. The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros, and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have. If the Negro wasn’t taken, tricked, or deceived by the white liberal then Negros would get together and solve our own problems. I only cite these things to show you that in America the history of the white liberal has been nothing but a series of trickery designed to make Negros think that the white liberal was going to solve our problems. Our problems will never be solved by the white man. The only way that our problem will be solved is when the black man wakes up, clean himself up, stand on his own feet and stop begging the white man, and take immediate steps to do for ourselves the things that we have been waiting on the white man to do for us. Once we do for self then we will be able to solve our own problems’ “The white conservatives aren’t friends of the Negro either, but they at least don’t try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the “smiling” fox. One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I didn’t take you as a Malcolm X supporter. Do you support black Muslims now, or was this just posted in bad faith?

Do you support this quote?
“There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.”
— “Message to the Grass Roots,” speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965).

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

I’m not a supporter at all. But he was a captivating speaker and said many interesting things. We don’t have to shout each other down and retreat to our echo chambers. It’s okay to read and listen to other viewpoints. Right?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Echo chambers are a good thing to note. This particular Malcolm X quote has been cherry-picked and recently shared in American Conservative circles. That’s why I suspected bad faith when I saw it posted here.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

We can easily find occasional hypocrisy and failings in the actions of others if we look hard enough. That should not be cause enough to cast them into the bin of dismissal.

Bikeninja
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Bikeninja

The problem with this Malcom X quote it is that it is very out of date. After his death a significant black power movement arose in response to Malcom and Martins’s exhortations. This movement aimed to take power by its own efforts and not beg for scraps from the white man. This movement was ascendent though the late 60’s and early 70’s before it was brutally repressed by conservatives and their henchmen in the law enforcement agencies. It’s leaders were killed and imprisoned, then a draconian wave of crime legislation was enacted ,starting in the Reagan years which used trumped up drug laws to lock away a large portion of young black males depriving this movement of new leaders and power. From this era of law enforcement pitted against the black power movement we get the Swat Teams and much of police militarization. Perhaps as these rides demonstrate, what we need is people of all kinds together, demanding a better future for all, and not asking anyone for scraps, but demanding it for themselves.

casual observer
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casual observer

I’ve never read that quote and haven’t seen it used elsewhere, but it doesn’t seem out of date to me. We all know that Portland and Multnomah County vote primarily for liberal candidates, thus a liberal leaning population. If you look at school boundary discussions and decisions on the east side of town over the last 1-10 years they are dominated by people who want to keep their schools white and wealthy. Terms like “we love our community”, “don’t change our community”, and “what about property values” were thrown around. Families chose to move or falsify addresses to avoid Madison and Jefferson High School districts. My take on the Malcom X qoute and what Elijah are saying is that plenty of people in Portland don’t want to help young minority kids by allowing them into their school, but are happy to hang some signs and join a protest now.

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

Yeah it’s a common theme for Malcolm X, mostly around the segregation in the NE. He was pointing out that in supposedly liberal NY, the segregation was even more extreme than what was found in the South (and exists to this day: go look up the demographics of Westchester, LI, etc.). Similarly in NYC, you can see who stays on the subway past certain stops, so it certainly isn’t out of date.

Here’s a clip cited by John Oliver
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8yiYCHMAlM#t=3m51

Between watching Malcolm X’s clip and the end of “Do the Right Thing”, it’s shocking how little has changed.

I don’t agree with a lot of Malcolm X’s views (and keep in mind, he’s not the only voice in the civil rights movement), but I think he nailed this issue. One can understand his hopelessness that seemed to have spurred some of his radical views: the people that are supposedly your allies are turning out to be using you and practicing and even worse segregation than the one they are fighting.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Insightful comments all round from these riders. Some stuff to chew on for sure. I wish there were a few more interviews from the ride but thank you for sharing.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

Awesome, Tommie Smith and John Carlos would be proud.

Laura
Guest
Laura

Don’t forget Harry Edwards…

Kana O.
Guest
Kana O.

My whole life I’ve grown up here and these same people that are here right now have treated me like I’m beneath them. So what makes me think that because they showed up at a park that I grew up in that all the sudden they’re here for me?!

Hope too long and repeatedly deferred makes you and I both suspicious, Elijah. Is this a broad movement or a passing squall? Hopefully the former. Will anything come of it? I hope!

All the same, it was great to see so many folks out and riding last night (and you documenting Jonathan) and cheering along the route.

Thank you for these profiles. These are the kinds of personal perspectives we need to start building a different approach to street safety and inclusiveness around. Those quotes from Wayne could have come from my father, who does ride recreationally with groups of family and friends, but won’t ride to work alone in the overheated environment of rush hour, even though he’s fit and lived within riding distance of work for more than a decade.

Streets feel safer for all (especially people of color) with a valence of family, friends, and allies helping you temporarily transform our toxic street culture that doesn’t respect people outside of cars, especially when they are people of color. We’ve got to find a way to address and challenge that cultural toxicity so people feel similarly protected or safe when they are out moving about their city on their own; from Wayne’s perspective, I don’t think he’d agree that bike infrastructure that keeps everyone separate is enough alone. Last night should show us we don’t even necessarily need that.

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

This is awesome! It’s nice to see diversity on bikes as well!

Lake McTighe
Guest
Lake McTighe

Beautiful vibrant. thank you for the stories and pictures!

Todd Boulanger
Guest

Jonathan – great photos and dynamic coverage.

Adam
Guest
Adam

On yr interview with Wayne: Would you bike more if you didn’t have that fear?

“Yeah I would! I’d ride to work.”

This is heartbreaking.

one
Guest

Such an important and welcomed ride. Beautiful! I love Black Girls Do Bike, it’s a wonderful group. Nice Pics Jonathan. One of my favorite stories of the year.

Forum Law Group LLC - Bicycle Law
Guest

Sweet. Nichole rocks. Keep it coming!

Jon
Guest
Jon

It is good to see diversity in bike riding. It would be even better to see everyone staying 6 feet apart and wearing masks when in a crowd. Is it any wonder the Covid cases are jumping up in the state and we are not allowed to move to phase 1? Please everyone do your part to keep everyone around you safe.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Let’s remind the “protestors” of those rules who have turned parts of downtown into a war zone.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

This country was founded by violent revolt. Sometimes that is required.

I don’t condone it – it should be very rare indeed – but let us not forget our history.

David Hampsten
Guest

Our “founding fathers” fought hard to retain the right to own, buy, and sell other human beings, not only for southern plantation owners like George Washington, but also for New England Yankee ship owners engaged in the lucrative trade such as John Hancock. They all could see the writing on the wall: In 1768 an English judge ruled that there was nothing in the British constitution that supported slavery; in 1781 General Lord Cornwallis recruited a large army of freed slaves in the Carolinas and Virginia who fought with him up through Yorktown, where he successfully insisted they be treated as prisoners of war rather than as runaway slaves – General Washington, a particularly nasty slave master by the way, wasn’t happy about the arrangement, but had to comply with his French allies breathing down his neck – and the ex-slaves were resettled in Nova Scotia where their descendants still live; the US constitution of 1787 specifically gave back to Americans the right to own slaves; and Britain itself eventually outlawed slavery by 1820 (and it’s trade in 1809).

It’s hilarious (and sad) watching a movie like The Patriot (with Mel Gibson): Where are the oppressed slaves who made up 75% of the local population? Why are the British treated as pariahs? Why are the American loyalists, who in reality made up an overwhelming majority of “British” soldiers, whitewashed? Yet another Hollywood re-write of history we can all buy into.

Any bets when the statue of George Washington on Sandy will be removed? And Washington state renamed?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It’s almost like history is very complex, it is the rare historical figure who is either all-good or all-bad when judged by today’s standards, and simple narratives can’t tell the whole story.

Jon
Guest
Jon

And here come the transmissions due to people not following guidelines when protesting. https://www.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/2020/06/he-protested-in-portland-for-7-nights-straight-then-he-got-coronavirus.html

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

“Stay Home. Save Lives.” Laughable.

Jon
Guest
Jon

I agree with the protesters and their cause 100% but they must wear masks and keep 6 feet apart or they are going to continue to spread this disease.