If You Tolerate Racism, Delete Uber Sign at Fallsway & Gay

Sign painted on a building that reads: If you tolerate racism, delete Uber. Black people have the right to move without fear.

Fall is here and I am over the moon about the weather. It is finally cooling down, reliably, and that makes being outside so much more pleasant for me. I spent Saturday riding bikes with my brother and nephew, along the glorious Anacostia Trail. My younger nephew had only learned to ride at all a week before, and he made it over ten miles. I loved watching his noodle legs spin around and around as he set a solid pace for the rest of us, only having to walk up a couple of small hills. He’s a natural, and I’m so glad they moved close enough that I’m going to get to ride bikes with them a whole lot more.

On Monday I had a dentist appointment, and because I have easy access to the car now that the ladyfriend doesn’t drive it to work, I was planning to drive over to Federal Hill, but why? The day was glorious, plus I needed to get in some miles for my team. We’re doing Women Run the Vote, raising money for Black Voters Matter and learning about civil rights activists and sites as we virtually make our way south. So, I hopped on my bike and headed down the hill.

I took the Maryland Avenue cycletrack for a quick stop along the way, and tried to keep my cool as I had to dodge one obstacle after another, like I was in that Paperboy game. There is so little room set aside for bikes in this town that when something blocks what we’ve got, I feel rage, but I needed to let that go to enjoy the weather, so I did. Mostly.

I made my pit stop and then headed back downtown and around the Inner Harbor. I was early, of course, so I zig zagged around Fed Hill, checking out the new construction, so many condos. I wonder if they’re all filled, even as the pandemic economy ruins so many of us. Who can afford to live there? But given that it’s the working class really paying the economic price right now, maybe there are still plenty of folks who make a lot of money to rent that stuff. This neighborhood looks so different from the Baltimore I’m usually in, it’s like I’m somewhere else.

I tooled around then locked up my bike by the park and sat in it to kill another 20 minutes learning Spanish on my phone. My appointment was good–I was complimented on my fine oral hygiene–and then it was back on the bike to pedal home. I stopped at Gay Street to snap a picture of this sign that has bothered me for weeks. If you tolerate racism, delete Uber, because Black people have the right to move without fear.

Of course they do. The control of Black people’s movement in public space is a founding reason for police departments in this country. Who has access to what space is always a political question, always shaped by race–and class and gender and ability and citizenship and more–but always, always, by race, by white supremacy. It shouldn’t be. A politics around freedom of movement and access to public space is one that makes a whole lot of sense to me, as the basic right to movement is denied so many groups of people.

But the sign frustrates me because Uber is terrible in so many ways for Black people. The rise of ride sharing has decimated public transit budgets in so many places, the kind of transportation that helps lots of people–and lots of Black people–get around. The gig economy exploits workers–including lots of Black workers–paying pennies and leaving all the costs of working, including health care, equipment, and so much more, up to the worker. The worker is not called an employee, because an employer owes something to employees, and Uber has washed its hands of any of that.

If we think of racism as only the moment when the driver refuses the pickup, then this sign makes sense. But if we think of racism as the structural ways Black people are denied access to wealth, to public goods (think: public transportation systems that are properly resourced, if our worry is mostly about movement), to access to resources and life chances, well, we should delete Uber for those reasons, and not because we “tolerate racism.”

And then the light turned green and I pedaled the rest of the way home, so very happy I hadn’t bothered to take the car, cognizant of how structural privileges have aligned so that I have easy access to one, and to a bike and a body that currently can ride it.

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