People of color ride bicycles. I feel I must say this because after watching this movie, it would seem that White people are the only people who have figured out how to carry cargo on bicycles. Nevermind that I could do an internet search and immediately pull up pictures of African people riding bicycles and carrying cargo; no, the focus seems to simply be that White women find freedom on bicycles. Until the environmental movement looks at its destruction of communities among the global majority, there will continue to be an emphasis of White comfort at the expense of everyone who fails to qualify as White enough.
To begin with, even though this is the story of a White woman who supposedly searches for kinship among cargo cyclists from other countries, there never seems to be any international research on parenthood in other countries. Do an internet search right now for images of “Filipinos on bicycles”; now do, like I did, an internet search on “African people on bicycles.” See how many there are? All it would have taken was a simple internet search that she could complete in her desperate isolation, and she would have found that millions of people live on bicycles. Instead, there was a pervasive obsession of getting White people on bicycles instead of paying attention to the people already riding cycles and carrying cargo.
All of the focus of the narrative was from a perspective of privilege, including a complete lack of self awareness. Rather than look at mothers who rode bicycles and carried cargo in countries with low car ownership, the narrator presented almost exclusively White homeowners who found “freedom” on bicycles. There were no stories of renters, there was very little interaction with distressed communities; only White homeowners seemed significant to the narrator. All in all, there was a combined total of 5 minutes out of 81 dedicated to non-White cyclists. The film flashed a complete dismissal of the global South being on bicycles, unwilling to acknowledge that non-White people had already addressed many of the problems of carrying cargo.
Despite being enthralled by bicycles, there was a constant message of society “evolving” out of cycling. There was no mention of the fact that bicycles are largely made with materials extracted from “developing countries.” In fact, it was even insinuated that White people brought cargo cycling to Gambia, and the speaker made no effort to point out that there was already a vibrant African cycling community throughout the continent. There was some vague reference to Indigenous people riding bicycles, but then the narrator moved right back into the argument of White people being the key to true “bike culture. What could have been a moment of clarity which involved international engagement became an obsession with “sharing the secret” of cycling of which people of color were already aware.
Most offensive of all was the notion that White womanhood is the center of the cycling universe. The narrator mentioned the suffragettes, but never talked about any of the Black women working along with the suffragettes, or the fact that non-White women did not get to vote in 1920. All of the trials and tribulations were centered around White women cycling in White majority countries, ignoring the fact that there was international infrastructure where non-White women rode bicycles all the time. This film was in no way intersectional, and despite the narrator finding her voice, she took away the voice of millions of female cyclists of color.
I wish I could say that I was surprised, but why? It is glaringly apparent that the cycling community does not value or promote all voices or experiences. Perhaps the narrator will change; doubtful, but possible. However, pretending that White people are the only people who take cycling seriously leads to immense distrust across racial lines. Cycling advocates can either do better research and include all voices, or concede that if they only focus on White ridership, then they do not care about the safety of all cyclists within the built environment. One thing is for sure: the film and cycling industries need to stop giving voices to these lopsided narratives.