The new Specialized Venge Expert is matte black in color. It has no cyclometer yet attached. When I ride like that, I feel free. Free to choose a route and not worry how many miles per hour I might be going. Or even how far. Free to accelerate for a while and not judge whether the speed I’m achieving is any better or worse than I perceive. It can be disappointing to think you’re going 28 mph and look down to find you’re going only 24.
And climbing. Now there’s latitude to focus on the full pedal stroke and climb well rather than judging my efforts and freaking out because the bike computer says 9 when double digits might seem so much better. Because, you know, one mile an hour is so crucial.
The matte black surface of the bike is also understated. There’s nothing so calming, or so succinct, as plain black anything. They say every woman needs a little black dress. They are simple, understated and show off the form without playing up the potential faults.
I feel the same way on the Venge bike. It is my little black dress. Or my plain black khakis and Polo shoes with white soles. Fit to go out and see what happens. Black is cool.
Yet blackness has so often been maligned in history. The so-called black race of people have been chased across continents and enslaved, or wiped out on continents all across the globe, sometimes through colonialism. Sometimes by genocide. For all the empathy extended to Jews stemming from the Holocaust, black people have just as much cause for lamentation.
In Australia, the aboriginal people once treated as inferior still fight for equality. In Black people were once characterized in the Constitution as 3/5 of a person. This was in part to keep them from politically outnumbering whites, and also to impose a prejudice to keep blacks under control out of fear. Fortunately, black culture has outlasted such idiocy to some degree. Yet black people still cannot get respect from a large population of dullard whites dependent on false biblical translations and brute force to justify and impose their supposed racial “superiority.” These are the “white supremacists,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Real athletes know that it’s the character of the person as well as the physical attributes that make them successful. We know that Kenyan and Ethiopian and Moroccan athletes thrive in long distant events because their cultures highly value success in these endeavors. Yet it’s not race alone that dictates that success. It’s training and hard work.
There was once much speculation about how the Japanese culture would always produce great marathoners because the country values sacrifice and self-discipline. Korean athletes also enjoyed international success for a while. It was once the same for Finland and the likes of Lasse Viren. The seeming dynasty of each of these distance athletes from 20-30 years ago somehow dissipated. It lost its character.
Black athletes have only recently begun to excel in the sport of cycling, and the sport of triathlon is still pretty much white endeavor. There are cultural and economic factors at work in all these cases. A black athlete from the inner city of Chicago is likely going to have a tough time entering a sport like triathlon. Yet the elements are all there: the bike trails along the lake, and the lake itself.
I think about the freedoms I’ve been offered in life and realize that not every person has those same opportunities. Perhaps that doesn’t matter in the minds of some. But if you’re truly going to appreciate what people do overcome to achieve success, sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. Take stock of what you have and what others do not.
I think about all those who achieved success despite the prejudices of the 50s and 60s, and how far the nation has now come in electing a black President. It was an indication that a significant majority of Americans has progressed in their thinking. That electing a black president was the right thing to do.
And yet we’ve also witnessed seven years of clear obfuscation toward Obama, that began even before he got into office. That determination to make a black President fail was a naked attempt to resist equality. The excuse that has been given that it was Obama’s policies, not his race, that made some so determined to fight. And sure, political resistance is fair. Yet the blatant prejudice that has been unleashed in the current election process is an indicator that a prejudiced audience has been served along the way and wants access to even more power. It’s really no surprise that a worldview based primarily on ignorance and fear toward black people should eventually surface. It’s been there all along in America. It only took a grunting bully like Donald Trump to give it voice.
Black achievement and challenges
But the facts of black achievement also exist across the entire spectrum of the American experiment. It’s there in industry and commerce. In music and entertainment. In science and religion. In civil rights and social progress. To deny these achievements is to deny the existence of the American dream at all.
That is not to say black people are perfect. That is not the point here at all. Within the black community there is consistently harsh debate over subjects such as faith and the social contract. Some blacks have proposed that the homosexual “agenda” was specifically created to feminize black men.
So there is much irony afoot in this world. Because the oppression of blacks has direct parallels to the oppression of gay people (or for that matter, women…) and the struggle for civil rights in a white-male-dominated society.
But of course, all these beliefs come down to what one chooses to believe about gays or blacks or women; are these choices people make about who they are?
I’ve been a runner since the age of twelve years old. That was a choice I made with some guidance from my father. That choice has greatly defined who I am and how I behave. At one point, I actually made the elective decision to back off the degree to which I was defined as that person. It was having consequences in how I interacted with all the people in my life, and my work. As much as I was defined by my lifestyle in running, it was still a choice.
Being black or gay or a woman is not a choice. Neither is being transgender. These are all facts of personhood. They are naked facts, in other words, not the kind just dressed up to look like facts. The rest is just opinions and dogma and traditions that need to be discarded.
When it comes down to it, we all need to be naked, black and free. That’s the only honest baseline there is.