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Privilege is something that tends to be difficult for those who have it to understand. I never truly understood privilege, being a white, middle class, mostly-heterosexual male with a college education. However, after starting to use my bicycle as my primary means of transportation, I have learned that even the most privileged can be put in a position which educates them about privilege. I do not own a car, so I am literally forced to use my bicycle to go to work or the store or the beach or whatever else I am doing. However, even someone who decides to bike for a week or two will experience what I experience daily and can hopefully begin to understand privilege. Below is a list of ways in which cycling can teach you about privilege.

 

  1. When you are either in a bike lane, or in the road (in a share the road state/city/county/etc), and passing motorists honk or yell at you to get out of the road even though you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. You are just riding along, following the law, and you are being harassed by people who think you are doing something wrong. You are either told to get out of the way, go faster, or get on the sidewalk. People honk at you as if you are in their way. You then, inevitably, feel one of two things – guilt or rage. Guilt for inconveniencing someone, or rage that they are so misinformed that they believe you are doing something wrong.
  2. When you are in the road/bike lane, and people tell you to get on the sidewalk, but when you are on the sidewalk, people tell you to get in the street. There is no way you can ever act in a way that pleases everybody.
  3. When you are on a bike path or other pathway that crosses a street, and you slow down to allow a car to pass, but that car then slows down to let you pass, so you slow down further and the cycle continues until you both end up stopping, wasting everyone’s time. You get frustrated because if the person just kept doing what they were doing, neither of you would have been inconvenienced, but because the person was trying to be helpful, they screwed you both over. You then begin to resent any car that attempts to stop to let you pass, even though it is a kind act.
  4. When you attempt to cross a two lane road, and one lane stops and the other doesn’t. The stopped lane then realizes that you cannot cross and continues. You then feel guilty about them stopping in an attempt to be kind that ended up wasting their time, knowing that it’s possible that person may be less likely to stop the next time they see a cyclist waiting to cross.
  5. When you turn onto a road, or cross a road, and get honked at by a motorist who is nowhere near you and is completely unaffected by your actions. You then get frustrated because any time a car honks at you, it puts your life in danger.
  6. When you are riding up a road or in a bike lane and the vehicles around you act erratically and unpredictably, making you hyper vigilant about your actions and paranoid that you are doing something wrong. You get frustrated because you know they are behaving erratically because they expect you to behave erratically, but you are not doing anything wrong and their erratic behavior is what is most likely to cause you harm.
  7. When you do anything on the road and a motorist honks or yells at you, as if you were unaware that you were on a busy road, or that a vehicle was there. You know that you are significantly more aware of the road than they are and that if they just leave you alone, nothing bad will happen.
  8. When you are on a road and notice every little thing that motorists do wrong due to the fact that a small mistake by a motorist, like driving on the line or not signaling when turning or changing lanes, puts you in extreme danger, though they do not think anything of it.
  9. When you are on a path or sidewalk and a vehicle stopped at a light is stopped in the crosswalk, causing you to go around them often into active traffic. You get put in danger because a motorist could not follow simple road etiquette of stopping behind the line, or because a motorist is in such a rush that they think stopping 5 feet further will affect their travel time.
  10. When you are riding up a one lane road without a bike lane or sidewalk and motorists behind you are going slow and not passing you, even when it is safe to do so. You get frustrated because people are intentionally inconveniencing themselves because they think that going around you will somehow inconvenience you, but instead you feel like they are hovering and you feel trapped until they finally decide to turn or go around you.
  11. When you are riding in a bike lane and motorists are using it as a turning lane or a shoulder. You get frustrated because the lane is specifically designed for you and not motorists, but they still feel like they have the right to utilize it in whichever way they feel necessary.
  12. When motorists assert that because they pay taxes and registration fees for their cars and cyclists do not, that they bicycle should not be allowed on the road with them, when cyclists inevitably learn that roads are paid for by tolls, registration fees, and gas taxes a maximum of 71%, with a national average of about 50% (varied by state), and that most cyclists ALSO own a vehicle, and so have actually paid for the roads and are actually helping to preserve them by not using their vehicle.

How does this knowledge help a person understand privilege? Each example can be compared to real examples of minority groups who are struggling to be understood in the United States, and each example is one that, as a motorist, you never need to think about.

  1. The first example can be compared to affirmative action programs. Privileged people do not understand why these programs exist and believe that it is unfair to give minority groups their own special programs and treatments and believe they need to just fit in with the systems already in place.
  2. This can be applied to pretty much anything. Any time a minority group is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, someone of privilege tells them they are wrong and need to do something else.
  3. Many minorities understand their system and how it works in relation to the larger systems. Sometimes when someone of privilege attempts to be kind and assist a minority group, it actually just ends up inconveniencing both groups and nobody leaves happily. This also reinforces the idea that a minority group does not understand a particular system.
  4. Often times our systems are complicated, and though one part of a system may be willing to assist a minority group, it is only effective if every part of the system does it. Otherwise, it just leaves the part that did try to help feeling bitter and less likely to attempt to assist in the future, which creates systems that do not work with minorities.
  5. Minorities are often targeted by others for no reason and put into dangerous situations through no fault of their own.
  6. People react to their environments, and when minority groups (or any groups) are placed into an erratic, hostile environment, they are more likely to respond in an erratic and hostile manner.
  7. Minorities are often treated as if they are ignoring the majority or other groups, but minorities are often more aware of other groups than those groups are of themselves.
  8. The majority often holds minorities to a higher standard than they hold themselves and do not notice when they do the same bad thing they are calling out a minority for doing, and often identify certain things as wrong when they are actually correct.
  9. Majority groups often make decisions and do things without thinking of how it will affect other groups, and will often blame those other groups for not adjusting properly to said changes.
  10. Many minorities often feel coddled by the majority group, or worse, like they are having their every move watched, making them less likely to behave in an organic and natural manner.
  11. Often times the majority group will attempt to use programs and systems specifically designed for minority groups (or to take resources from that system), without understanding or caring about why the system is in place or how their interaction disrupts the system.
  12. Often times minorities are accused of not being as involved in the country as others, in terms of paying taxes, voting, or other civil duties, when this is simply untrue.
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