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 ("Frequently Asked Questions," May 17-23, 2006).
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. If my six years of carfreedom have taught me anything, it is that to bus while brown in this culture is to be invisible. After all, riding the bus for any purpose other than commuting (OK, and maybe to a Mariner's game or Folklife) still has a stigma, one which causes car-dependent types to make assumptions about who we are, what we know, and how much we have. Add to this brown skin (and, in my case, a child) and you start to get a taste of why the vast majority of people who are car-free by choice are also white.
Browne Molyneaux, author of LA's popular transit blog thebusbench.com, discussed this issue in a recent interview at greenlagirl.com.
"The downside to being car-free is that as a person of color 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.
[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 couldn't have said it better, though it would certainly be interesting to explore the reasons why "being viewed as poor" can limit one's opportunities. Public transit is a perfect vehicle (pun intended, as usual) to study the ways in which racism and classism intersect -- and diverge -- in our fair city. But I digress.
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.