Black Cyclist are Changing Common Stereotypes

 

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By: Preston Beale

Cycling—the “use of a bicycle for sport, recreation, or transportation”—is not ranked in the most popular sports around the world.  According to Victoria State Government, when people worldwide picture cycling they may not imagine the sport as an actual sport because it is a fairly easy sport to pick up.  The reason cycling is depicted as such is because the sport is seen as more of an exercise that has many health benefits. Cycling benefits consist of: being healthier, lowering risks in developing harmful diseases, and being more time-efficient than walking. With the chance of receiving all these beneficial investments, people from around the globe are hopping on their bikes. The lack of physical skill and talent may be the reasons of why the sport is not seen as a sport.  Additionally, the Gluskin Townley Group conducted a study on cyclist and reported that the bicycling community is also overwhelmingly white. The group goes on to add that “Eleven percent of all American adults are black, and 14 percent are Hispanic. But only about 5 percent of adult bike riders are black, and 6 percent are Hispanic.” Minorities make up a small percentage of the cycling community which can be based on the reason that it is not a cultural hobby for them or the reason that cycling is more prominent in those who have high income. Whatever the reasons, minorities should notice that their population in the biking industry is very small and that if they want growth they must seek resolutions to incorporate themselves. In addition, not only is the cycling community predominately white, but the community is majority male as well.  The Gluskin Townley Group stated that among the 10.7 million adults who ride bikes occasionally that:

[In] 2010, [women’s] share had declined to 45%. The number of women occasional riders decreased by almost 800,000 between 2000 and 2010, while the number of male occasionals increased by almost 600,000

Females have been contributing much in today’s society because when they see a lack of female representation, they try to engage much in wherever need be. It is my hope that women will see that their representation in cycling is very low—just as the minorities—and that they will seek change in the area. All sports have their common stereotypes, cycling is already stereotyped for not being much of a sport as well as lacking in participation of women and minorities

Although more whites are prone to become a cyclists than an African-American or Hispanic, both minorities are and were determined to make a name for their ethnic group. One of the fastest cyclist of all time was Marshall “Major” Taylor but to many, his name is unknown.

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Taylor was born in 1875, during the period of Reconstruction—the time after the American Civil War –but racial prejudice was still prominent as the discussion of race is still today. When he was around the age of 13, he performed bicycle stunts in front of the Hay and Willis Bicycle Shop while dressed in a military uniform, hence the nickname “Major”. Taylor went on to become the American sprint champion at the age of 18 in 1898 and a year later, he was recorded as first African-American to win the world one-mile championship. His record breaking didn’t stop there, he competed in 168 races in his lifetime, finished first in 117 of them and got second place in 32 of the races.

However, the races do not show that he had to overcome much racism and violence that was bestowed upon him. In his autobiography, he said: “In most of my races I not only struggled for victory but also for my very life and limb…” and went on to add: “Only my dauntless courage and the indomitable fighting spirit I possessed allowed me to carry on in the face of tremendous odds.” Taylor’s odds that he had to overcome were probably racial slurs during the race, attacks from his opponents, and constant hate that was spat on his name. Though he had to endure many years of this, he never would let the criticism get him down and carried himself in motivational and courageous manner

In addition, Taylor was all about sportsmanship and didn’t let the discrimination that was constantly targeted at him get him down. In a sport filled with many cyclist using drugs ranging from    strychnine and amphetamines to cocaine and erythropoietin, Taylor didn’t give in. The huge doping allegation that many sport viewers’ know is the one of Lance Armstrong. Armstrong had used several banned blood transfusions but he continually denied ever using them. Unlike Armstrong, Taylor opposed the drug world because he knew a person could lose them self in it. A person confined to stereotypes would not believe that Taylor never used any drugs based on the fact that an African-American athlete was/is more prone to drug-use than a white athlete. Taylor upholds his this claim by being a cyclist who competes with best of the best without the use/need of illegal substances. He practiced clean living—no drinking, no smoking, no drugs. Also written in his autobiography are the words: “A real honest-to-goodness champion can always win on the merits.” He held that statement close to him during his whole career to defy all those who were in opposition to “The Black Cyclone”, who was destroying all opponents in the essence of sportsmanship and righteousness. In remembrance of an admirable athlete who possessed many great attributes, the following words are placed on his bronze plaque grave:

World’s champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way without hatred in his heart; an honest, courageous and God-fearing, clean-living, gentlemanly athlete. A credit to his race who always gave out his best. Gone but not forgotten.

My theory is how skewed stereotypes can be and how these stereotypes are displayed in the velodrome of cycling.  In an article by Andrea Eagleman, it was stated that stereotypes based on race or nationality serve to perpetuate discrimination in the United States, which can extend beyond the sporting arena to areas such as the workplace and educational institutions (Billings & Eastman, 2003).  The words “stereotype” and “racism” are very similar but they have different meanings.  Davis and Harris (1998) defined ‘stereotype’ as a negative or misleading generalization about a specific group of people, while racism is defined as oppression based on a person’s skin color. Stereotyping are common amongst all individuals. Humans have the natural ability to judge before knowing, it is something humanity cannot control because it is innate. I know for a fact that I myself am quick to judge a book buy its cover and the more I wish I don’t, the more it appears to happen.

How does humanity overcome our natural instinct to stereotype? First, all persons of different nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. must acknowledge that we are all stereotypical. The next step, is to channel our inner thoughts and feelings in a positive way by following up on an alternative thought, based on factual information, that discounts the stereotype. With this realization, evaluating and examining sports will become more practical around the world.

However, is it not that easy to grasp and mandate because although we are all in knowledge of stereotypes and how to refrain from casting them, reporters still stick to what they know best. What they know best is getting the viewer’s attention and that can lead to unthinkable accusations against another which aspire by negative framing from the reporters. Furthermore, stereotypes are given to all races even whites, but when comparing stereotypes whites are usually given the benefit of the doubt.  In my opinion, the two races are both naturally athletic, hard-working, and intelligent. In our society reporters will take clearly incomparable athletes because they possess different traits compare them and present information that seems legitimate but are quite skewed in reality. However, tides are changing and different ethnicities are becoming more prominent in a sport and that does not solely include just men.

In the view of cycling, Ayesha McGowan, an African-American women cyclist can make history by becoming the first African-American female professional road cyclist. Ayesha’s journey on a bike began with alley-cat racing which quickly transitioned to, the more heard of, road racing within the matter of a few years. She took her talents to the road because she saw that weren’t many African-Americans in cycling, especially women. In her story on BikeLeague.Org, covered by Carolyn Szczepanski, she said:

Since I’ve always been a fan of advocacy by example I decided to “be the change.” The more African-American female representation we see in the peloton, the more African American females will identify themselves a potential bike racers. This starts with just getting out there and letting ourselves be known.

Ayesha is on track to getting the memorable title—that is being the first African-American woman to become a pro cyclist—and with the determination she has, I see nothing standing in her way. America and nations across the globe should be inspired by this grand notion to end the typical stereotypes that humanity suppresses on us. The more people who decide that they want “to be change” then the more apparent it will become to society that something should be done. In an interview with Ginger Boyd, a columnist from Machines for Freedom, Ayesha left some words of inspiration:

I think it’s just as important to put yourself out there. Say you’re going to do it, make a plan, and follow through. Goals aren’t always about succeeding. Most of the time they are about really putting in a real effort to possibly succeed.

Anything is possible when individuals’ put their minds to making a change and making a difference. In 2016, new trends are happening each second. How about starting a trend where hidden talents are bought to the light in which will bring an end to stereotypes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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