One of the (many) interesting side effects of riding the bus is that it causes me to think a lot about race–and not just because I regularly field questions about my ethnic makeup.
As a black/biracial woman, living without a car makes me very aware of my brownness. Sometimes this is a good thing–like when I’m on the 4, surrounded by other brown people, and we’re having a bus-wide discussion about Barack Obama or fried turkey or Seattle back in the day, and I feel that same sense of camaraderie and community that I feel in my beautician’s shop on a busy Saturday afternoon, when she’s running behind and the line for the shampoo bowl is four deep–to say nothing of the dryer or her actual chair–but everybody’s laughing and passing the babies around and running out for snacks because we’re all in it together, and it’s going to be fine.
Sometimes, though, this is not such a good thing– like when I am dismissed or completely ignored because of preconceived notions about who I am, what I have, and how much I know–and thus reminded that to bus while brown in this society is to be invisible.
If my six years of carfreedom have taught me anything, it’s that there are reasons (or, I should say, more reasons than those I already knew about before I took the plunge) that the vast majority of people who are car-free by choice are also white.
Browne Molyneaux of LA’s The Bus Bench talked about this in her recent* interview with Green LA Girl.
The downside to being car free is that as a person of color is that you are not viewed as eco or green when you don’t have a car. … Being black and not having a car means you are poor. And being viewed as poor can limit your opportunities.
I remember when I first went car free I applied for a job and proudly stated that I was car free. … You would think if you can do a job and if you were competent and you were applying for an environmentally oriented job that not having a car would be an asset, but being black and not having car has given people a tangible reason to discriminate against me in regards to employment.
[Being a person of color who is car-free] doesn’t come off nearly as cool as being a white guy with a bike. This is just a harsh fact owing to prejudice and preconceived notions.
I absolutely agree and would only add that the stigma and prejudice are magnified a gazillionfold if you are a car-free person of color with children.** I’ve got nothing but love for “white guys on bikes” (He-ey Chris, Scott, and Fulvio!), but I very much appreciate the perspective of LA’s brown Browne.
*”Recent” in Bus Chick’s world = within the last year.
** More on this–and on the other reasons people of color rarely choose to be car-free–in a future post.