Color shouldn't matter, but it does.
Yesterday, I was featured in an article on Vice Sports entitled, "Can Ayesha McGowan Become America's First Black Woman Pro Cyclist?". It was as bold of an article as I've been featured in so far. I made very clear statements about my goals and my missions, all statements that I stand by wholeheartedly. I was really curious to see how people would respond, and the results were pretty interesting.
Most people were super supportive (thanks y'all), some people were distracted by my appearance (shout out to the dude who said I look like Lil' Wayne), but there were also quite a few who basically said "who cares".
Those are the folks that I would like to address. I'm going on the assumption that they are asking "Why should they care", and the answer is, If you don't care, maybe you shouldn't. However, if you want to care, this is why you would.
Despite the misleading title of the article, my mission is not to prove to the world that I can become the first female African-American pro road cyclist (because, of course I can). My mission is to prove to the world that anyone can enter the world of bike racing, and I think they should!
There were a lot of comments stating "I don't see color", "just ride your damn bike", "if you're fast enough color doesn't matter". None of these statements are wrong, but I do think they are misguided. So i'm going to directly respond to them saying this.
- It is a privilege to not see color.
- It is also really easy to not see any color when there isn't really much color to see!
- There is a difference between not seeing color, and not discriminating against someone because of it. I'm going to assume your statement infers the latter. I'm glad you do not discriminate because of color.
- Just because the problem is invisible to you, doesn't mean it's not a problem.
- Despite everything, it's pretty rad that everyone could agree success should be based on merit, not skin color.
I ALWAYS see color. I can't help it. When I enter a room, I naturally count the number of people of color in the room with me. It's just a thing I've always done. Why? Because I can usually do it with a single glance. Why else? Because i'm secretly hoping to count a number higher than the last room I entered. Why else? Because depending on the situation, I might decide not to stay in the room for very long.
This is the part where I'm going to lose some folks, and that's perfectly alright. Let's look back on the history of this country. We don't have to look back very far, some of us don't have to look back at all. It wasn't too long ago that I, a perfectly capable, wonderful African- American female would've been considered a second class citizen. They changed the laws, but the mindset of many remained exactly the same.
To those of you who don't think color matters. Have you ever almost gone into a restaurant, or pulled up to a gas station, but didn't because you were afraid that your very existence would cause unnecessary trouble? Have you ever be in the vicinity of an authority figure, and felt nervous even though you've done absolutely nothing wrong? Have you ever been minding your own damn business in a store only to be followed around and monitored like a criminal?
Color matters, and even if you don't see it, many people do. Some of those people also choose to discriminate because of it. They are the ones that are indirectly keeping women of color out of this sport.
When I declared that I haven't experienced any discrimination from the cycling community, this wasn't a confirmation that racism is dead and gone. This was an affirmation that racism isn't a big thing in the cycling community. Discrimination isn't a barrier in this very isolated situation. That's it. I'm letting people know that it's okay to enter this restaurant, or pull up to this gas station because no one is going to bother you. For some people, that's really important. It's nice to know you are welcome, because it's not always clear.
If you're still with me, I'm impressed. To you I say, if you care or if you don't care is irrelevant. My mission is not to make you care about women of color entering the sport. Perhaps that is someone else's mission, but it is not mine. My mission is to show women of color that there is a place for us in this sport, and that they should try it out, and that it is really fun.
I'm not sure what race card I'm pulling by trying to become the first African-American female pro road cyclist. I have not asked for any concessions, or any special treatment. I do however appreciate all of the support that I have received.
I've been working my butt off, and I will continue to do so as long as I want to. I don't need anyone's approval, nor do I feel the need to prove myself. I'm just out here, riding my bike, having a good time. I hope other folks see that, and want to do it too. That simple.
Just in case you thought racism was dead, just know that this exists, and it makes me sad and angry and all of the things. It's not the only thing out there either. Ignorance is real. Trust me.