Attention Transportation Advocates: Race Is A Part Of The Work

Tweet by Tamika Butler:  I really want to hear all these transportation advocates tell me again how our work has nothing to do with race. Crazy how you can fill up timelines but stay silent at the same time……

This right here! So many times in my work I have to remind all those white progressives and liberals in the room -usually leading the meetings – cause that’s how it be in social justice work in DC – that the issue we are discussing has race at the core of its problem. I and all of my Black and Brown colleagues get “the side eye”, the “himmin” and “haughin” and even the actual words: “No Dara why do you have to bring race into every conversation we have about trying to solve a problem?”  REALLY!!!  GTFOH!!

There is NOT ONE issue, problem or system that we work on in social justice/civil rights or in policymaking that does not encompass ending racism. My sister in this work Tamika Butler is a badass and constantly brings this message forth in all that she does in transportation equity work. Her Tweet was in response to the constant push back, white fragility and tears that many of us have to slug through each time we mention and dare demand that race be the center of the work for change. Many white transportation advocates have been telling us, for years “that everything does not center around race”.

The horrific events of 2020 are unfortunately proving that our constant race activism in all we do is in fact the primary issue for our problems. And women like Tamika and myself have never been nor will we ever be quiet or back down in the work of emboldening our people. (I include our brothers and our other multi-marginalized comrades in this)

In this work it is imperative that we know our history because you can’t move forward with empowering the future if you don’t know the past. When you know the true past and history of the United States then you cannot ignore the structural racism that is embedded in every system created in this country. Systems created by white men.

It is often times infuriating to sit in these rooms and constantly have to prove this fact to those who claim to be advocating and creating transportation policy. This is why it will not be those same people who will dismantle these systems. Yet in social justice/civil rights work so many have absolutely no idea of the history of the issues they work and they constantly collect funds from funders using language like racial equity and anti-racism etc. to “create change”.

There is absolutely no way any genuine advocate can work in creating change in transportation (or any other issue) and not recognize that race is at the core of the work. The Civil Rights movement started on December 20,1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. That is the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boarded a bus to mark the end of the boycott that lasted 382 days and announced the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Several things were involved in creating the beginning of this historic movement. When I do presentations about transportation equity I start with this information.

  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott started long before Rosa Parks gave up her seat
  • They were fighting segregation on buses back in 1946, 1954 and then in 1955
  • They were teenage girls doing this
  • The boycott lasted 382 days – December 5, 1955 – December 20, 1956
  • During the boycott – started with 90% of Blacks staying off buses -100% – despite all efforts to get them back on board
  • June 5, 1956 federal district court ruled Browder v. Gayle – bus segregation was unconstitutional
  • November 1956 SCOTUS upheld Browder v. Gayle & struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses
  • On Dec 20, 1956 – The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended with Dr. MLK Jr boarding an integrated bus
  • This was the basis foundation of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s today

The second part of Tamika’s Tweet is calling out these same transportation advocates who constantly tell us that race is not part of transportation policy. They fill up timelines and stay silent at the same time.

In the past week there have been multiple protests around the country in many cities who have engaged in transportation policies that are not only harmful but based on a lack of understanding race and communities of color.

In multiple large cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia and others transportation was either suspended until notified, halted all together, reduced hours etc. This is during a global pandemic where essential workers who are mostly Black and Brown people still have to go to work and their mode of transportation are these systems. It is harmful to shut these systems down and alter schedules without offering alternatives; provide people with enough time to get where they need or even plan ahead. These decisions are detrimental to communities of color – this is why race is very much a part of transportation policy.

In Minneapolis, MN where the horrific murder of George Floyd occurred on Monday, May 25, 2020 the city bus drivers (mostly Black men) were commanded to drive their buses for the local police department to transport police and assist them by transporting the protesters they arrested.

Now who in that transportation authority office thought that this policy was ok to ask Black people to engage in assisting the police department that just killed a Black man? This leadership did not see that this is a huge problem for these workers.

It is ok, because many of us have been doing transportation equity for years and through all those trainings and conversations something has clicked and resonated. Those bus drivers said “No! We will NOT engage in this!” and “over 400 workers – postal workers, nurses, teachers, hotel workers…signed a petition not to aid the policing of protests with their labor” (See story below)

The core of that decision is based on race! Black transit workers standing up and saying “NO” we will not do this is based on their race! In their solidarity to their people and to the plight of their people! Those bus drivers and other workers want to engage in empowering their community!

The fact that their supervisors and leaders asked them to assist the Minneapolis Police Department is proof that if you do not engage in race in your work you will make horrible decisions like this! I am beyond confident that the team who made the decision to tell these Black bus drivers to go out and pick up protesters with police officers were all white and the same people who push back, sigh, and use white fragility when we demand that transportation is about race.


 Tamika L. Butler –

Follow her @TamikaButler

Minneapolis Bus Drivers Refuse To Transport George Floyd Protestors to Jail – by Lauren Kaori Gurley – May 29, 2020 – VICE

 Join the work of the Transportation Equity Caucus


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About wiyatt

Hi I am Dara born in Spain, raised in Newark, NJ and now enjoying living a dream in Washington, DC. I center Black people in my work on disability issues using the frame work of Disability Justice (created by Mia Mingus). I am a Sister & Friend to many! I work on ending systemic racism and all oppressive systems through policy and activism. I believe in being a change maker with policy that is driven from the "streets to the suites". Years of studying, living and changing policy brought me to this place. Thank you for reading my blog! Follow me on Twitter: @NJDC07 and Insta Gram @NJDC07 The quote above is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in a speech he gave here in Washington, DC in 1955. It is now carved into one of the many stones at his memorial on the National Mall.
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10 Responses to Attention Transportation Advocates: Race Is A Part Of The Work

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