My Bike and White Privilege Revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted this about white privilege–explaining how riding a bike for transportation has helped me to understand it more. And it has gotten quite the response. Way more hits than anything else on the blog. Reblogged all over the place. Almost 1,000 comments so far. Obviously, white privilege is something people want to talk about.

A lot of people said it was helpful, but lots of other people told me it was dumb or terrible or racist. So I’d like to respond to a couple of the arguments and critiques that I see as themes in the comments.

First, a lot of people pointed out that the analogy fails at the point where I choose to get off my bike. This is a really valid point to make. The experience I have as a cyclist—the disproportionate sense of power, the inequality of our road system, the fear of getting squashed—those all disappear for me when I get off my bike. For people of color, however, there’s no getting off the bike. I didn’t say that explicitly in the original post. But I understood that when I wrote it. So I really want to validate that that IS important to remember.

But I also don’t think it damages the usefulness of this analogy. The analogy still works at lots of other salient points. If you read through the comments, you can see where people made lots of smart connections and extensions of the analogy. (Warning: you will have to wade through a lot of dumb comments, I was pretty hands-off with the moderating).


Second, a couple of people were offended because they felt like the comparison was belittling. I just want to make clear: I was in no way saying that my experience as a cyclist is EQUIVALENT TO what people of color experience in terms of the level of inequality or the amount of struggle that it creates in my life. It was meant as an analogy, not a direct comparison.

The point was that having an experience where I am a) a minority, with b) significantly less power, who is c) trying to operate in a system that is designed around the majority—an experience that I don’t have very frequently as a white man—has helped me to empathize with folks who have those kinds of experiences in life for other reasons. I shared my experience because I know that other white people have trouble listening to privilege talk and analogy is a way of coming at it sideways and hopefully building some empathy.

In addition to those two critiques of the analogy, there were lots of other commenters pointing out other ways they thought the analogy broke down (or just unsubstantiated complaints that it was a bad analogy). To all of those folks, I guess I would just say, that is the nature of analogies. They show likenesses between two unlike things in a way that helps us understand one of them better. The two things being compared are necessarily not EXACTLY the same, otherwise there would be no point in comparing them. And on some level, this how all language works. We connect abstract ideas to concrete pictures so that we can better grasp their meaning. See, I just said “works.” Language doesn’t really work, but the concrete image of a person or a machine working helped you get what I meant. (Ah, I just did it again, “see” and “get” are not what’s actually happening when…You get the picture…Oh!) One commenter, Colubris, in response to someone who didn’t seem to get this, said all this much more succinctly (and sarcastically):

Yeah, metaphors can be hard. Keep working at it.

In short, if you didn’t like the post just because you were able to find some point where the analogy breaks down, your beef is with language, not with me.

Thankfully, I had lots of people tell me that it did help them get white privilege for the first time, so, whatever its weaknesses, I think it works. In fact, I had folks say the analogy was “perfect,” that it was the “best analogy they’ve ever heard,” and that it “moved them to tears.” So, I think we can still trust the power of language, specifically metaphor, to convey meaning. Some white people said, “OK, I get it. Now what do I do?” My friend Noah wrote a good what-now? piece here (in which he cries a lot about me copying him).

Third, a lot of white folks said that the problem with my post was that it just whined about my experience as a biker and didn’t make specific connections to analogous experiences people of color face. E.g. John Klapproth of Anchorage, AK, who read the article over at Quartz wrote in:

You do not define, in any way, what white privilege is, nor do you give any concrete examples of white privilege.  You make a nice comparison to bike riding but you don’t tell me what it is you’re comparing the bike riding too. 

This is a valid critique of my post as an argument for the existence of white privilege. But my post is not an argument for the existence of white privilege. It is an attempt to help people hear the language without automatically getting defensive. A thought experiment to help create empathy in folks who might otherwise have trouble empathizing. It was a way of helping white people (other cyclists at least) to be open to the idea that in the same way they know they experience something on the road that drivers don’t see—because of their vantage point—people of color experience something in life that white folks have trouble seeing because of our vantage point.

To draw out all of the specific connections between cycling under-privilege and racial under-privilege would be to put me in the place of speaking for people of color, which I tried not to do. I let people speak from their own experiences in the comments. Some folks pointed out some more subtle things like media (mis)representation of black people or studies that show that non-white-sounding names on job applications are less likely to be called for an interview, but one commenter went right for the jugular:

The white privilege of not having your murder justified by showing “thug” pictures, pointing to marijuana use… and militarizing against peaceful protests in the name of said victim.

Fourth, a lot of people accused me of being racist for simply using the term “white” or bringing up racial categories at all. I can understand why some white people think the color-blind route is the way to go. But here’s the thing: most people of color are saying it’s not, so maybe we should listen to them. This is complicated, because “race”—as we’ve come to understand it in the US—is most definitely a socially-constructed thing. As a Christian, I am definitely a non-essentialist, i.e., I believe we are really all a part of the human race. And as someone in a “mixed-race” family, the socially-constructed nature of race is transparent to me. Within the confines of my home, “race” disappears. My kids don’t see me as a white dad, they just see me as dad. I don’t see them as my black kids, I just see them as my kids. As in, we literally forget about race. But we don’t live within the confines of our home. We have to go out into the world, where people say dumb things like, “What country were your kids adopted from?”, where I have to worry about how they might be treated and how it’s impacting their self-understanding, where, as one of them is about to be a teenager, I have to worry if he might get arrested for wearing a hoody, or worse, get shot.

So the fact that race is fictional—or as Henry Louis Gates says, race is a trope—doesn’t mean that just invoking the human race will make all the injustices it has caused or perpetuated go away. We have to acknowledge it still matters if we’re going to work toward a future where it matters less.

Lastly, a lot of drivers argued that I was just wrong about my experience as a cyclist, or made some kind of comment about all cyclists being jerks or drivers being justified in thinking all cyclists were, because most of them are. Like Mike S.:

….sometimes [drivers] are just frustrated that many bikers act like superior jerks who own the whole road and put multiple people at risk with bad behavior.

Ironically, even though these folks completely missed the point of the article, they accidentally proved it. Drivers who think that cyclists aren’t facing significantly more risk on the road, or that we don’t have to do more work to get to the same place, or that the transportation infrastructure isn’t made for cars with bikes as a mere afterthought, can only be speaking from a lack of experience of riding a bike for transportation. Thus, they demonstrate the point about white privilege–you don’t see it because the system is designed for you. (I’m really, really tempted to say they need to check their privilege here…but I won’t). 

143 thoughts on “My Bike and White Privilege Revisited”

  1. I found this chain of articles extremely helpful. I think most are trying to be too literal, or subjective on their perception. As a poor “white guy” I am constantly being thrown under the bus when something good happens to me in front of a minority. This perspective really shed some light on where an what I might possibly not be seeing. Far more helpful than the “class full of students trying to throw paper balls in the same trashcan at the front of the room” analogy. Because you can always pick your seat ahead of time. In the cyclist scenario, it’s clear the rider/minority cannot change the elements teeming around him/her and how the confrontations and worries that one must accept when living through that scenario. It’s not a perfect comparison, of course it’s not meant to be, that much is clear. But I have had my so called “white privilege” (according to various minority peoples), called out by friends and strangers alike. It’s frustrating to have grown up with so little, and struggled so much, to have someone (minority or not) belittle or invalidate my life’s trials and tribulations simply because of my race. Through this analogy I can understand the other point of view better than I did before. It’s a start. I definitely feel a little less defensive already. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a minority, but I do know what it’s like to be judged because of the color of my skin. I believe a big step towards equality will be when people stop referring to one another by their racial category and simply see “people” rather than “(Insert race here) people”. It can be very difficult at time to see things another way when you have no personal connection to that point of view, your analogy does help more than most I have come across. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The choice of riding a bike ruins this whole argument. Roads are DESIGNED for CARS. Yeah it sucks but that’s the reality of the situation and if you don’t like it, don’t ride a bike. It’s that simple. It’s not that simple for people of a different race. You “acknowledge” this. but you fail to acknowledge that it truly ruins the effect of the analogy.


    1. I agree.. Roads originally were designed for cars, but your assumption is like saying screens were design for TVs. This is wrong. You can retrofit anything in the roads these days. This is 2015 and we have too much in our hands to make people “acknowledge” this.


      1. This is crazy. Roads were not designed for cars. They were designed for walking, then horses became common and walkers had to look out or be run into. Then cars started outnumbering the walkers and horses, so they both had to get out of the way.

        Roads evolved gradually, in the last 100 years, as a place for cars, but only because cars are heavier and faster and deadlier than walkers and horses.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Roads were not designed “for cars”. Roads in general predate cars by centuries if not millennia, and it was cyclists that first pushed for well-paved smooth roads before cars were popular, certainly before the Model T. Look up “the Invention of Jaywalking” — what was designed “for cars” were laws intended to ensure that the auto industry could continue to find customers.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Yes, He can simply choose to stop riding a bike to work (but not until he’s already at home), but this is how he realized what it meant. All you have to do to extrapolate a better impact is to state that the conditions change slightly, and you never have the choice. Some people are born with bikes, and some born with cars, and you can’t really just up and get a driver’s license.

      The analogy is sound as long as you don’t analyze with the intent of breaking it down, and analogies are supposed to be that way. They can’t be a direct and perfect correlation of the situation, but they can shed light on it.

      By stating that the analogy can be broken down by that one factor, you simply need state that we can examine the situation as if it were not a factor.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Not that easy. A biker cannot necessarily decide to switch to a car, because a car may be too expensive. He is stuck with either walking or biking to work.
      Second, while roads may be originally designed for cars, their purpose now (according to law and common opinion) has shifted, it includes bike use! So bikes and cars have equal rights on the road. Just because someone has an expensive protective shell around themselves, does not mean they have the right of way. In fact it needs to be the other way around, the more vulnerable need to be protected more. I really like the analogy, and it has helped me understand better.
      (P.S. I am white and use both a car and bike regularly. I am an immigrant and aware of lots of cross-cultural challenges – let’s have a beer together at the next public concert and chat about it, oh, forgot we can’t).

      Liked by 1 person

    5. It’s not an “argument” as he is not trying to assert anything. It is an attempt to evoke empathy by providing a different way to frame the ideas. Whether or not the analogy is effective depends on the individual reader. For me, it was effective. That is, it evoked empathy and insight. Apparently, for you it was not.


  3. JDowsett, as an African American female, I just want to thank you for initiating the conversation. Change and understanding begins with a dialogue. I actually received the article from a white female named Cynthia. We met a few months ago at a local bar/restaurant. The restaurant is predominately white and my friend Shirley and I often receive curious stares from locals who are seeing us for the first time. Anyway, last night Cynthia mentioned your article saying how she never understood the concept of “white privilege” until she read your article. Your article soon became the topic of conversation as an older white gentleman soon joined in…wanting to understand the concept of white privilege. Others soon joined in and for over two hours we discussed the topics of race and class.

    As we left, I could not help to think about how our impromptu conversation had made a difference. A monumental change.. no, but an older white gentleman who initially acknowledged that he did not have any real interaction with anyone of color, left thanking us for the insightful dialogue.

    Liked by 2 people

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  5. I understand this analogy;however, I don’t know how to use it to stay calm in one situation I’ve encountered. I am white. I do not vocalize my opinion on racism with anyone other than those who know me. With that being said, I’ll take a stab at trying to explain it. I know racism exists and that I can’t fully understand it the way someone of race does. I believe it is a major problem in our society today and something needs to be done to change that. What doesn’t get acknowledged hardly ever by people of color is that white people are sometimes called racist unjustly. Using your analogy, image a bike rider pulls up to a red light behind a car going straight but the bike rider is turning. The bike rider sees what they think is enough room for them to pull up beside the car (in the same lane). Suddenly you hear what sounds like a old wiper blades and realize that you misjudged the available space and scratched the car a little. When the person in the car starts yelling at you (the 3rd car driver to yell at you that day), you claim “it’s because you drive a car and don’t have to face the same obstacles getting around each day.” In reality, the person driving the car has to worry about the damage because you don’t have the same insurance requirements to share the road with the car you just damaged. Whether they think cyclists should be able to ride the streets safely or not, you have just classified them in the same category as those who put you in danger even though they didn’t. It’s just like someone of color calling a white person racist in a situation that has nothing to do with race. And no matter what the white person says, they look like the bad guy. I wholeheartedly support fighting racism when that is what the problem is. I think those who use racism as an excuse to negate responsibility for their own actions are a disgrace to their race, but this goes unacknowledged by many. I have a (black) friend who went to Ferguson and was (and still is) active in the movement who I know wouldn’t throw around accusations if he didn’t truly believe them. I support his protesting, educating people on the issues of racism, and willingness to stand up for what is right 110%! That doesn’t mean everyone of color is only going to say someone is racist because they truly believe race was the motivator. How do you suggest a white person being accused of racism unjustly reacts?


    1. Think of it this way: on the road, right of way is determined by context. If you reach a stop sign first, you go first, and then it follows roughly the order of having reached the intersection and in a clockwise manner.

      As far as being “unjustly” accused of racism, the solution is to listen to the people accusing. They understand racism better because they are the ones that have experienced it, most of them in some way every single day. Beyond that, why would you even think that you’re a better judge of whether or not something is racist when you’re not someone that has to deal with it constantly and repeatedly? At the end of the day, whether it was correct or not, being accused of being racist is significantly less of an issue than being subjected to racism. If your instantaneous response is “No I’m not,” chances are what you’re really saying is “I can’t be and I don’t have to listen to you.” You are saying that you as a white person are the only judge and authority, that a suggesting that a person of color could not possibly know what racism actually is, and you are pretty explicitly invoking white privilege in disregarding them or getting upset.

      That also gets into the notion of what’s really being addressed here, which some people are suggesting might be better summed up as “white fragility.” Mainly this concerns the idea that people have to believe that they are good, and thus cannot acknowledge racist actions because that a) makes them racist and b) makes them bad. The wider issue is that rather than addressing racism, white people have made it a much bigger concern to not be labeled racist: meaning, rather than not doing racist things because they’re wrong, it’s to avoid being called racist.

      If you’re mistaken on the road about who has the right of the way when you’re behind the wheel, a cyclist might bump into your car. For a cyclist, though, that’s a much bigger issue, as the last article suggests. Someone accused you of saying/doing something racist: so what? Are you responding in a way that’s trying to fix what they’re terming racist or are you trying to silence them and put them in their place?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You bring up some good points, nearly prescient, but try to see it from the other side. After all, isn’t that what all this is about? Understanding, not blaming? Coming together, not keeping us separate?
        Language is important, and minimizing what white people feel by calling it “white fragility” is not going to achieve that common goal–of being one human family, just like my mixed-raced family to whom race truly no longer matters.


    2. This, as a debate is all scat! It has little or nothing to do with race or with bicycle vs car. It is the inherent privilege of being a member of a super majority vs. a member of a tiny minority. Even a fluent Spanish speaker like me will feel underprivileged if living in an inner city barrio.


    3. Just because you think a situation has nothing to do with race, does not mean that the situation has nothing to do with race. That is the whole point, you, we, cant always see the issue because we do not need to see the issue. Like the gravel or broken glass or pothole or snow that is a cyclist’s problem, but not the driver of the car’s problem. It is a problem, it is there. It not being your problem doesnt change that it exists, and is a problem.

      So what are you supposed to do about it, when it isnt your problem? You could carry ignoring it, and even denying the problems in the road exist, and carry in getting angry and feeling put upon and criticised and that other people are stupid or selfish for pointing the problems in the road that don’t effect you.

      Or you could look beyond your point of view, admit the problem exists, and keep this sort of thing in mind when driving the same road as cyclists, and give them the same respect, in the form of space, that you do other cars. Complain to the city about street sweeping or pothole repair or snow removal that is inadequate for cyclists, even though it is fine for you.


  6. Outstanding comparative perspective that speaks volumes to how the society operations and when change, any change becomes immediately viewed as threatening, off limits, and technical to infer differences. WOW, what an opportunity to see the world from different interpretations and understand that individualism is welcomed as a shared experience instead of a one-way requirement forces upon everyone. White privilege is just that privilege to walk in the world without thinking about another, living in a self-serving environment that caters to you. As with everything else in the would human beings are fluid beings able to adjust, become open to differences, while remaining whole with their perspectives and individuality. There is nothing to fear, just another way to share the common space that we call our homes…keep that in mind this is our home…


  7. I like your comparative comments, I think it does help those who don’t see to get a chance to see…a small perspective to help them *begin* to understand and appreciate a larger perspective.

    My challenge is that while I see the privilege of being white, I am affected by other lack of privilege being a woman, mom and very low income. So the difference effect in my life is hard to see. I still don’t get jobs because I’m female and a mom. I still can’t get help often because I’m low income but not on welfare. Privilege is everywhere and of all kinds and that is something I am very acutely aware of.

    It’s why I’ve developed a sense of empathy and a thought process that makes me think first of what *is* that other person experiencing that could have made them do that? I wish I had the courage to ask for their story, if only it wouldn’t upset them to tell it. If they get in my way, unless I’ve been having a bad day (rocks in the face for the 5th time), I tend to look around and see what they were trying to avoid. Some people tell me I pussy-foot around too much. I’m just trying to make/hold space for the *person* that is intersecting with me. Yet I get dragged down and mistreated because someone else bugged them 2 days ago. My consideration is seen as being a doormat, not the empathetic, caring and compassionate person I am….regardless of my pearly white (sometimes red-blotchy, freckle covered, patchy tanned) skin.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great article! I look forward to the next watering hole conversaton on white privilege. The last two times I just was unsure what to add to the conversation.


  9. It’s a nice way to approach the subject, since the words “white privilege” are clearly offensive. I apologize if it’s been said before, but one thing that I like about this analogy is that it allows me to point out how those words are offensive without directly making a new offensive combination of words. You are clearly talking about bicycle disadvantages here, not car-privilege, truck-privilege, or SUV privilege. People should not use the words “white privilege” when they mean something else. White people can be offended too. Don’t hate… anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. First, operating a vehicle on the roads, is a privilege you aren’t born a bicyclist. Second, if you are going to operate a bike on the roads, you should have insurance, the bike should be registered (so you can actually pay for the bike lanes and paths you use, not the people who drive cars), and you should be licensed, just like someone who drives a car.

    There is no privilege for automobiles. There are all kinds of expenses, tests, and fees that go along with operating them on roads. Bikes… none, they just benefit from what is there because of cars.

    As for drivers being inconsiderate to bicyclists, try walking or driving in Pittsburgh. Where those very same oppressed, down trodden bicyclists ride. I’ve nearly been clipped by at least a half dozen, had one almost run into my car because he burned through a red light, and almost hit two for the same reason.

    “They don’t have to wonder if there are bike lanes and what route they will take to stay safe. In the winter, they can be certain that the snow will be plowed out of their lane into my lane and not the other way around.” – Again, you want services and lanes, PAY FOR them, don’t force people who don’t use them to pay for them.

    Gas is subsidized by the government? Since when? I don’t get any gas subsidy check to put fuel in my tank. I am certain you are referring to certain tax breaks oil companies get for doing certain things. Well, you might want to learn the difference between a subsidy and a tax break before you spew a party line that isn’t even using the correct verbiage. Oh, and you might also want to take a look at how much actual petroleum is in your bike tires, so you are receiving the same “subsidy”.

    How scary it is to not be white? I don’t see lynching on every street corner, and they aren’t hunted like dogs. Now, be white and go into a neighborhood dominated by hood rats, and your analogy might actually fit.


    1. Bikes aren’t very dangerous to other people, that’s why they don’t require tags, insurance, registration, and license. Thousands of pedestrians killed by cars in a usual year, versus about 2 killed by bicycles in a bad year (often just 1). The subsidy for gasoline is in the form of wars fought to protect the supply/control the price, and the subsidy for roads is in the low tax applied to gasoline (and given that so many people have this idea that it ought to be dedicated to road maintenance, it is really more of a “fee”, and it only covers about half the cost). That doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of the pollution, the costs of the noise, the costs of the CO2 emissions, or the medical costs from lack of exercise (it’s significant — car commuters have an annual mortality rate about 30% higher than bike commuters, these results seen in five different studies in three different countries).

      The services that you think I should pay for, I do. Property tax funds snow plowing on streets bikes ride on, and I pay property taxes.

      I cannot speak for black people since I’m not one, but it seems to me that “no-more-lynchings” is a mighty low standard for eradicating racism.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Bicyclists pay taxes just like everyone else. Therefore, bicyclists *do* pay for the road services, just like drivers (and pedestrians) do.


    3. Bullshit. Your roads are subsidized by my taxes, not exclusively your gas taxes. If you’d bother to do your research you’d pretty quickly learn that automobiles are one of the more heavily subsidized forms of transportation. Think of it as a homework assignment and go ahead and reply with the amount bike travel is subsidized vs. how much auto travel is. Cheers. I’d do your research for you but I don’t care to supply idiots with information that they really should be able to find for themselves.

      PS, sorry to hear about rude folks running you down as a walker. That’s almost as bad as drivers running down riders or walkers but usually results in far, far less injury.


  11. In a system built for cars, the biker is at a disadvantage. In accordance with the law, though, she may not be directly at a disadvantage. In fact, bikes now have many more rights on the roads than in the past. However, it is up to the car drivers themselves to respect those laws. In the first post, the writer mentions that car drivers do not give him the same considerations when passing him or driving past him as they would if he were in a car. The driver did not break the law by passing him in a way that was disrespectful of his disadvantaged position, but it negatively affected him regardless. Of course, he will still get to work on time, and he will probably get home from work in a timely fashion too. The driver might say, “He’s not really affected by it in a major way, and the law protects him. He just doesn’t like people who drive cars.” But every day he wakes up knowing that at some point today, someone in a car is going to passively or actively do something that is insensitive of his position. They are going to do (even if accidentally) all but what the law forbids and negatively impact his travel, simply because driving is all they know about transportation. Not biking.

    Even though there have been large improvements in the law regarding racism and discrimination, they simply cannot control everything that happens. Even a morally upstanding, kind white person will act with a prejudice unconsciously in a way that only an African-American or any non white person will even notice, and it hurts those groups in the process. Little by little these things build up until they can’t take it anymore. In fact, in Lansing, MI recently there was a biker protest/demonstration where a few hundred bikers lumped together (taking up all lanes) and biked down the central road in the city with signs saying “Same Road, Same Rules.” Again, the driver says, “There are the same rules. Why are they complaining?” Clearly, though, their group is still at a serious disadvantage, or else they would not do something like that. So, then, should those people just get cars and get over it? Should non-whites have their culture and diversity subdued and submit to the all-powerful white systems? In real life, obviously, non-whites cannot just “become white.” But…given the system…if they could, don’t you think some of them them might? It’s sick and twisted to think about, isn’t it? But I really think that some of them would do it if it could be done.

    Therein lies the problem with the current system. It’s a great analogy (even if not perfect). There are bikers who give in and buy cars. But since that cannot be done in a matter of race, we must try harder to even the playing field. We must tip the scales a little bit more.

    I just (unfortunately) heard Bill O’Reilly say that people who say we live in a country infused with white privilege and racism simply say so because they “hate their country” (those words exactly). That is not the case at all. If they hated their country they wouldn’t be trying to save it. Just like if the bikers hated the roads, they wouldn’t be trying to improve the travel for those who don’t have cars. We don’t hate the roads. We all want to travel the roads in our own way. We don’t hate the country. We just want all people to reap the benefits of living in this great nation equally.


  12. Hello:
    I enjoyed your piece. It was thoughtfully written and therefore, I feel it deserves thoughtful analysis and response. I am sorry to read that you reaped so much negativity from the piece. That’s unfortunately the world we live in. Race is a hot bed topic and people get emotional about it. I think you did a pretty good job in trying to be fair in your essay.
    As a white man who has grown up poor and had his own struggles, I too take issue with the expression “White Privilege”. I understand where it’s coming from, but I’m not crazy about the actual expression. I’m also not sold on the accuracy of the expression. I think that while many white people can potentially misinterpret the meaning, I think just as many black people can too.
    Anyone who doesn’t see the (often systematic)racial injustices in this country isn’t paying attention or is in denial. As a white man though, I see many double standards with regard to race. A few months ago, DL Hughley was on Bill Maher’s HBO show and said a number of time that “White America doesn’t care about the events in Furgeson or Baltimore” Mr. Hughley made several sweeping statements about “White America” during that broadcast. Nobody took him to task for it. Could you imagine if a white person in a similar position had made sweeping statements about “Black America?” What “Black America” does or doesn’t care about? I’m very certain there would be some outrage.
    I think that many white Americans would do well to understand that we don’t get followed around in stores as if we’re all potential thieves, that we can drive a nice car and not get pulled over regularly with some criminal assumption, and several other examples.
    However, I also feel there is validity in a few grievances of white Americans that seldom even get addressed, I’m not particularly fond of black comics emasculating and ridiculing white people constantly and with impunity. I’m not fond of the rampant perception that so many white people turn a blind eye to or are in total denial of the racial injustices that abound in this country. Finally, when discussing race in this country, I feel that if white people aren’t in lock step with every black American’s position then we’re clueless racists.
    Finally, I feel the terms “Racist” and “Racism” are over and misused rampantly in this country. Racism according to the dictionary is the “belief in the superiority of one race over another”. It is also a very damning accusation that is thrown around willy nilly. When anyone is branded a racist, the burden then falls on them to disprove the accusation. That’s certainly not fair, is it?

    Again, I liked your piece. I felt your analogy was thoughtful. I am sorry if too many people took it too literally or have been nasty or abusive to you in their responses. I look forward to reading more of your work.


  13. Exceptional article (Pulitzer nomination?). Very open and objective with great respect to other’s opinions. One thing I’d like to point out… re;

    “First, a lot of people pointed out that the analogy fails at the point where I choose to get off my bike. This is a really valid point to make.”

    I believe this perspective to be false. Non visual, some audio and almost all online means of communication create opportunities of anonymity. This is where JDOWSETT’s analogy contiues to expand. Most races are not identified under these circumstances hence, they are not perceived to be cyclist/non whites. Typically during these times interaction tends to be generic, general, or vanilla (no pun intended). Dr. King’s “Content of character” seems to be prevailing point overall.


  14. I would also like to add to this analogy that for those who state that people of color can simply get off our bikes, let me paint it this way for you. If I decided to get off my bike and walk, I am still not at the same level as you for you are moving past me. If I decide to get a car like everyone else, I would have a better time on the road, but probably would be stopped and frisked more often (as many statstics support). Oh I am sure I will get the comments that maybe I did something differently compared to other drivers. Black people drive more aggresively, they may habe stolen the car, etc. Maybe or not, but I think it is a little asinine to think that race has anything to do with my driving capabilities as if me being a woman for last I understood driving was simply a human thing. And if you are still looking for ways to break this analogy apart, I can concede to the fact that you want to have a true and perfect comparison, but then again it can also be perceived as someone who is trying to defend their position within this analogy, which is the POINT this author is trying to make. The purpose was not intended to make every single white or priveleged person seems as if they are inherently bad. Even I, a black woman, experiences some privelege whether it be in the form of ableism or being heterosexual. It is about recognizing that historically that priveleged systems have been put into place. It is about knowing that once we known that a system is skewed in our favor to then respect those who do not benefit and work on trying to create more of a respect and inclusiveness. I can understand why no one wants to carry the burden of privelege because you feel you receive the blame and then defensive comments, to come.back to the anaolgy, appear: Why can’t they just get off their bikes and get a car? Why can’t they just be mindful of me on this road? I am a good driver I can’t speak for anyone else. Yet these comments are being made from someone in a car who knows that they greatly benefit because they understand the power that one posses with a car and because they have more authority due to the nature of their transportation should also consider the accountability and responsibilities that come with it. God bless.


    1. Sorry for all of the typos in my post. Probably should have not used my phone. However, if you would me to clarify anything I can :-).


  15. What I think is extremely interesting is this. Some people commented how the analogy fails because you can get off the bike. I think that is not true, as I said above, bikers may not have a choice, either walk (which may be too far) or bike – car is too expensive and public transportation in the US (I won’ start commenting about that).

    In fact the opposite is true. There will always be cars and bikes on the road and always competition and conflicts (after all it’s a ‘car’ and a ‘bike’ that will never change, e.g. bikes are slower than cars). But as the author says, in his home skin color is completely irrelevant. Race or cultural conflicts start in our heads. There is no difference between a human with white or black skin color. It’s all in our heads. We need to get rid of it. Please search out friends from different backgrounds, may it be skin, culture etc. and just be friends with them. That will help a lot. And I mean both sides (black/white, old/young, american/immigrant etc), don’t just comfortable stay within your cozy group of similarly thinking friends. If you hire, search for diversity, that will enrich your team.


  16. As a white male cyclist and sometimes motorist, your original article is one I refer back to myself and direct others to often. I carry it with me whenever on my bike as I watch motorists flout the laws AND get upset when I interfere with their use of the road by obeying them. Your analogy has helped me open my ears and eyes to the BLM movement, what they are up against and how we as non-Blacks need to help change things, and I have become more attuned to the systemic problems facing Black people and the lack of problems people who look like me face in society. Analogies are never perfect, but yours has helped at least one white cyclist try to be a better person.


  17. I think, the key is indeed culture.
    I spent 3 weeks last August in Crete/Greece. Lots of traffic, many older vans, cars, bicycles etc and very narrow roads. Plus: austerity dictates the greek state to fire policemen. I was in the area or Irapetra, that used to have 80 policemen, now it has 17 and I did not see any of them in the three weeks.
    Within a few days I found out, that it is still perfectly safe to cross the street at heavy traffic or ride a moped or a bicycle in it. Because drivers do *not* fight for supremacy on the roads. They just want to get from A to B and they are aware, that all the others want the same, be it afoot, on a bike or in a sportscar or in a lorry.
    They do not compete. While they still love to speed like madmen and do not care so much for formal rules: the well being of the others is still a priority and the moct crazy speeder, who feels good hammering with 100Km/h on a road built fpr 50 at best has zero problem to slow down to 30 to avoid harrassing a moped-driver. That is the difference: tolerance, respect, goodwill, no ambition to victor because there is no battle.


  18. Very efficiently written information. It will be beneficial to anybody who utilizes it, including me. Keep up the good work. For sure i will check out more posts. This site seems to get a good amount of visitors.
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  19. I really love your analogy and I share in your frustration, having also experienced arguments where people attack the language by pointing out all the minor shortcomings of the analogy without actually disputing the issues. It is clear to me that you are a very logical thinker and keenly attuned to the substructure of your arguments, which I admire.

    With that in mind, I was struck to read this written in another of your posts, about liberal and conservative attitudes toward sex. (I bring it up here because I assume you only follow the comments on your most recent posts.)

    ” … sexual immorality tends to perpetuate or exacerbate circumstances that keep people in poverty or limit their life choices. E.g. children raised in single-parent homes are less likely to go to college and more likely to do drugs, promiscuous young people are more likely to have children they are not financially or emotionally prepared to raise, women who procure abortions are more likely to commit suicide or inflict self-harm, etc.”

    This is a textbook case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Children raised in single-parent homes are not necessarily less likely to go to college because a parent is absent; it may be that both factors correlate to a third – poverty, for example. I would add that single parent-homes are not always (usually, perhaps) caused by “sexual immorality.” Sometimes people, you know, die.

    It’s important to bring up, because the same hasty logic is what allows people to dismiss the claims of race activists with the “it’s just statistics” argument when activists argue that the high rate of black-on-black violence is actually perpetuated by the fact that neighborhoods are racially segregated, for example. It seems to stem from a deductive thinking process: the belief, first and foremost, that minorities “deserve” or have brought on their poor material circumstances by being criminals or moral degenerates (insert stereotypes here), then searching for evidence (statistics) that confirm that belief without pausing to consider alternate interpretations of the data.

    What if, instead of starting from the assumption that sexual immorality can, or should, map to unsuccessful family lives, we started with the understanding that patriarchal society is inherently stacked against women and sexual minorities? A different picture would emerge, on of a society in which those unable and unwilling to pursue the white picket fence life script (college, marriage, kids, retirement) are deliberately oppressed by those eager to maintain their heterosexual privilege.


  20. Now you should write an article about what writing these articles taught you. The problem today is there are people who want to “own” problems rather than try to solve them. Or even just be courteous about them. Your article attempted to help explain the idea of “white privilege” (which IMO should really be called “rich privilege”) in a new way. Rather than be grateful that some “white” person took the time to think about and attempt to communicate a viewpoint consistent with their theory, a small dedicated group of victims assail you to ensure you can “never understand” their pain. This attitude is the true problem, it is our responsibility to understand our own pain, no one else’s. But it is possible to be empathetic and feel other’s pain too. The rejection of the concept of empathy cements the false premise of a “insolvable struggle” which is exactly what today’s “leaders” want. There is much more power and profit in conflict than peace.


  21. On another point, as a biker you seem to ignore the fact that some bikers are real jerks just like some drivers are too. This can be applied to any racial group, or human beings in general. If I exercise my “right” to drive my car 15 mph in a 35 mph speed area, or even to drive my car 55 mph in the fast lane of the interstate, I would be subject to the same kind of abuse you describe in your article for some bike riders. The bike riders who move with traffic or politely ride on the side of the road are different than the ones who selfishly and needlessly hog the middle of the road to “prove their point”. One is effective and the other is not. And likely one is pleasant and the other is not. Pleasantness and courtesy goes a long way in any society regardless of your skin color or agenda. As a poor “white guy” I have had to eat a lot more s**t sandwiches than my more privileged peers, but less than others for sure. I could complain about it or I could choose to eat with a smile and vow not to make others do the same when I was in charge. That’s life. Be pleasant and make the best of your circumstances, or be prepared for a life of constant conflict.


    1. “the ones who selfishly and needlessly hog the middle of the road to “prove their point”.

      I think this comment demonstrates that you entirely missed the point. A cyclist may be the middle of the lane precisely to discourage an unsafe pass by a motorist. That you believe you are entitled to progress along the road at the posted speed limit, and that cyclists are obstacles to your enjoyment of that entitlement, rather than other road users who should be given due consideration and space, is a perfect example of your unthinking motorist privilege.


  22. the whole notion of white privilege is a myth created by cultural marxists. Cultural marxism seeks to use critical theory to destroy the family, the middle class, societal institutions and nations so that they can be remade into a communist society. don’t believe the hype people. yes in certain situations someone who is white may have an advantage, in other situations it may be beneficial to be black or a woman or from Russia or whatever. The bottom line is critical theory seeks to be point out flaws and focus on some negative aspect as representative of something in its entirety in order to destroy it so it can be recreated in the communist image. Seriously people we all ride our bikes on the same road and may be red, blue or orange but we are all bikes.


  23. @jacob Marxism never had an intention to “destroy the family”, I lived for 20 years in a communist country and it was like in all authoritarian regimes: the family was considered the core-cell of society, choosing other models of living together was strongly discouraged and/or plain forbidden.
    Communism in its pre-leninist form is a way to analyse the world as a network of economical interests rather than a struggle of nations or civilisations for supremacy. And it strives to bring freedom for *everyone* because it sees all humans as ethical equals: no bosses, no slaves, no poverty, no supremacy. It favours democratic states over the self-organisation model of the anarchists, that was the root of its failure.
    The bottom line is not black or white, it is have-nots and fortunate ones. To have one considerable fortune (say: half a million USD or more). you need many others who work to finance that fortune.
    Choosing those, who have to work for the rich by colour of skin is a simple mechanism. Set up a competitive culture and society and divide the people by some visible difference, make them fight for ressources, grab your profit.
    Simple, primitive racism is one aspect of that set up.


  24. This is a bad argument and comparison. I bike, (probably more than someone in cold Michigan). First of all, just because it’s legal to do something (e.g. ride your bike on a busy street)…does that mean someone should do it? It’s legal for me to choke down a quart of antifreeze… but I don’t do that often because it’s simply dangerous. No wonder the drivers are mad, you’re not using common sense. If they can’t see you and hit you, not only are YOU dead, THEY are charged with Manslaughter. Bike lanes are a great invention though, I use them all the time. I also use the local trails for transportation. Everyone wins that way. And by the way, the whole term “white majority” will not be accurate by the year 2020, according to the current birth rates.


  25. Perhaps a comparison of someone who HAS to ride a bike would be better. Someone who cannot “get off” the bike, i.e., those “invisible riders” who Dan Koeppel and Patrick O’Grady have written about. Dan’s is here:

    Back when I was president of the Hawaii Bicycling League, a member once submitted an essay “why all bicyclists are gay” which he sadly asked to be submitted anonymously. Again, the comparison was between two sets of people who are trying to live in a society that was designed for someone else, and where it was hard and sometimes dangerous to fit in. Like the bicyclist who can get off the bike and into the family car, a gay person can remain in the closet, but its not really where that person ought to be.


  26. Alright, I can get the analogy – it might be a pretty good one indeed. What irritates onlookers though is continuing to just cycle on the road next to cars, complaining about it, and doing nothing. If Amsterdam and Copenhagen have managed to make biking work then whose business is it to make racial relations to work in the US? Are you expecting the proverbial car drivers to do it? Why should they? They are relatively happy in their cars. So, fine, some more progressive drivers have indeed agreed that it might be a good idea to make the lives of the bikers better, and so in some places there are actual separate bike lanes, etc. (affirmative action, scholarships, laws prohibiting outright discrimination). But if you feel that this is not enough, why do you just continue driving your bike in a car lane fearful of getting hit? Change something. Actually, it was time to change something tens of years ago. Do your share to make it into Amsterdam or Copenhagen for bikers.


  27. Wow! I can hear the wailing and gnashing of academic teeth right now. In discussing white privilege, Jay Fayza presents some compelling arguments along the line of reasoning of Jason Riley (see his book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed). I wish Fayza great success in countering the ridiculous idea of white privilege.


  28. I found this article to be enlightening. I however think regardless of race we ALL have had these types of experiences in one form or another. I am not intentionally trying to diminish racial inequalities, but more bring to light that all people have had to be “on the bike” in one form or another and have been a “driver of a car” in one form or another. The term “white privilege” diminishes the struggles that ALL races, religions, beliefs have had at one time or another. If everyone could accept that we have been on both sides of the analogy, healing AND a better sense of all people could be be easier reached.

    The struggle for me is not the article as it is a great article to point out the flaws we all have in recognizing the struggle each one of us face. Rather the struggle is, the excuse it gives for people to use the term of “white privilege” as though another has not had metaphorical potholes in their path, gravel in their face, literal rude words shouted out at them for the fun of it. The divisiveness of continuing to excuse someone for poor behavior regardless of race or creed is where I take umbridge with the term “white privilege.”


  29. The issue isn’t Privilege, it is (a) proposals to offset Privilege with specific actions to penalize those defined as Privileged to help those not Privileged and (b) using Intersectionality as a way to try to link all societal injustices to a common “enemy,” being the Privileged.

    Using your bicycle analogy, for the (a), imagine a 10cent per gallon tax to specifically fund the construction of more bike lanes – seems like a great idea (I am a cyclist as well) but you can imagine the natural reaction from motorist tax-payers. That is the metaphor for government social programs disproportionately targeting minorities. Or imagine formal guidelines for traffic police that said since auto drivers can get to their destinations faster, bicyclists should not be repremanded for cycling through red lights or going up on the pavement to otherwise avoid traffic stops. What would be the reaction of red-light stopping motorists? That is a rough metaphor for quota systems for otherwise test-based job or school applicants.

    On (b), imagine the association of surfers blaming unsafe waves on auto drivers, because the same petrol-based infrastructure that privileges auto drivers is the same one that privileges gas-powered motor boats that cause waves for surfers. Never mind that most auto drivers have never been on a motor boat and many have not even been on the water. Boats benefit from the (petrol) infrastructure created for cars so definitionally auto drivers are responsible. That is the metaphor for intersectionality.

    So it is not that Caucasians do not understand “White Privilege” or the barriers it creates for non-Privileges members of society. It is the methodologies adopted to try to reverse the Privilege, and the “blaming” on Privilege of essentially every ill sentiment in society, that causes backlash to the concept of Privilege when brought up. Or, to extend your analogy one last time, when one attempts to put oneself in someone else’s bike shoes, there is an implicit assumption that the someone else is also putting themselves in your driving shoes and not just assume they are Ferragamo’s.


    1. Hey, so I read this for a class and the first part upset me because I did feel like the metaphor trivialized the whole thing, but I get it. There are so many white people that are just completely asleep at the wheel on this thing and they need something they can relate to. So, I´ll check my feelings on that one and say that its a necessary scaffolding for those folks that need help understanding that privilege exists and that we are called to fix it.

      However, I had to say to you, why is the truck driver male, heterosexual and Christian, and how does that equate with goodness. Also, I´ve known and heard stories of truck drivers that have accidentally killed people. They don´t just wipe off the blood and move on.

      We have to check all of our privilege, whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, Christianity, whatever it may be. All these things work together in this country to oppress, to varying degrees, everyone.


  30. I am a white woman who has never been allowed to drive. My medical condition is less of a daily handicap than being excluded from drivers privileges because my reason for potentially having an accident in a car is worse than all of your reasons. I am allowed to ride a bike and I see people of all colors and ethnicity getting the privilege I am denied. They have access to jobs I am excluded from all without ever being tested to see if I am in fact any less safe than any other human being allowed to drive. I also know from my bike that a certain number of drivers don’t even have a license. It’s so tempting to ingnor the limit imposed on me and “pass” for one of you privileged people. You are all safe from me but I am not safe from you. You get to drive your bike to a safe path while I must find another way. You all look privileged to me.


  31. I thought your extended metaphor was succinct, simple to understand, and made clear a reality many of us fail not only fail to see but also to understand. Thank you.


    1. White privilege is a lie
      A racist myth that’s made to divide
      Spouted by bigots on a daily basis
      That think that everything is racist


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