Privilege is a Tailwind

I’ve written about how much I enjoy bicycling previously. Besides being good exercise and a decent way getting from point A to point B, it gives me a chance to think about things. Sometimes it’s deep thoughts, sometimes it’s simply prosaic, as in “hmm, how fast do I need to do this section to keep my average speed up.”

One thought that has run through my head often is the impact of a tailwind or headwind on my average speed. There’s certain truth that I think many bicyclists will agree with and that’s a headwind somehow always finds you. Seriously I’ve done in/out loops (i.e. out X miles and make on the same route) and it seems the wind will reverse directions about half-way through.

In any impact, air resistance is one of the banes of speed. What makes it worse, is the impact is really a square factor, i.e. if you go twice as fast, the impact of air resistance is 4 times as much. This is why it’s fairly easy to bike at say 5 mph, not to bad at 10 mph and much harder at 20 mph and unless you’re a star athlete, to go 40 mph for any real distance on a flat path.

Now, if you’re trying to bike into a headwind, that just multiplies the impact of air resistance. Even a slight headwind can really slow you down.

Fortunately, a tailwind has the opposite impact and can help.

Saturday it was in the 70s here so I decided to get in a longer ride (a bit over 20 miles). It was a fairly blustery day and I didn’t expect to have a great average speed. And I was right. For most of the ride I was actually heading into a headwind and on the sections where I did have a decent tailwind I was climbing hills and already moving slowly so the impact wasn’t very much.

But enough about aerodynamics and back to thinking while biking. While I’ve often thought about the impacts of a headwind vs. tailwind a new analogy dawned on me: tailwind as privilege.

Privilege in this case refers to the systemic advantages one has because simply because of the circumstances of their birth. It doesn’t necessarily mean you had it easy, for example you may have been born into a low-income household, but it does mean you didn’t have artificial constructs placed in front of you as you tried to navigate life. In addition it doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t have certain advantages, you may be a person of color born into a high-income household.

Let me continue with the analogy.

While biking, if I’ve got a nice tailwind, it feels great. In fact I’m pedaling along effortlessly and don’t have to give much thought to my ride. If I’ve got a headwind, I may be pedaling with all my effort but not moving very fast. And I definitely notice the extra effort.

Privilege is not the quality of my bike. Privilege is not the hills I have to climb or go down.

Privilege is not being born into a neighborhood that suffered with redlining, which means even decades layer home values are depressed which makes it harder to get loans and harder to improve the neighborhood in general.

Privilege is being able to wear what clothing you like without people immediately thinking you’re a criminal.

Privilege is being able to put a photo of your family on your desk without worrying about if your homophobic coworkers will make comments or your boss will consciously or subconsciously take it into consideration at your next review.

Privilege is being able to walk out of a bar holding hands with your sweetie and not worrying if someone is laying in wait to beat you up solely because of who you love.

Privilege is being able to walk into a car dealership and not worrying about if the dealer will take you seriously because of the gender you present.

Privilege is going into a meeting and not having someone ask you to take notes simply because they think women have neater handwriting.

Privilege is being given a 3-speed bike, but being on a course that automatically has a tailwind. When it’s level, you might struggle a bit, but you don’t really notice the air resistance. Hills are an issue, but everyone has trouble with those.

Lack of privilege may be being given a beautiful 21 speed graphite frame bike that weighs practically nothing, but being put on a course with a headwind. For practically the entire ride, you notice the headwind. On level ground, you’re pedaling as hard as you can, but you realize you’re not having it as easy as the bicyclist with the tailwind, regardless of your respective bicycles. On downhills, yeah, gravity helps, but again, you notice the headwind and can’t even coast as easily as the person on the other bike. Sure, both of you may struggle on the uphills, but you realize that once you’re both at the top, again they’re going to have an easier time.

And what’s worse, is the person on the 3-speed will complain about the horrible bike they’ve been given, how lucky you are to have been given the 21 speed and then have the audacity to suggest that you just need to bike harder to keep up, after all, they’re doing just fine on a 3-speed and the tailwind they have has nothing to do with their advantages.

I also noticed something else my ride. The headwind was from the south, and the flattest portion I was biking was southbound. For much of it I had some shelter from the headwind because of trees and the like so it was less noticeable, but the minute I was in an open area without trees, the headwind was definitely noticeable and definitely slowed me down.

Now if the person with the tailwind can upgrade to the same 21 speed graphite frame bike, they will be able to go even faster, but that tailwind will always be there, assisting them. The person with the headwind, no mater how much better their bike is will always have a built-in disadvantage until the wind changes.

In reality, I really only encounter tailwinds while biking. For the other areas of my life, I’ve had a tailwind. I’m not aware of it unless I think about it but it’s there. Don’t mistake for the bicycle you ride for privilege or the lack of privilege. It’s the tailwind that’s the privilege.

I wish everyone, bicycling or not, a strong tailwind.

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