There Is No New Black

Musings on a year or so listening to cycling and transport conversations

I’m not one of those technologists who put stickers on their computers. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a fan of the kind of industrial design where products are able to stand on their own without additional trinkets to personalize. But, on one of my bicycles there is a sticker. It’s a really simple one, and it was given to me by a cycling friend. It says simply “there is no new new black.” Depending on your context, such a statement comes across several types of ways. Lately, having spent more time on my bicycles, and listening to conversations from people who do a lot more cycling, transportation advocacy, and urban design, it seems to be a pretty good statement to bracket some of what I’ve been hearing.

A larger part of the narrative has been about representation. Representation matters, and that representation should be heard and seen in the voice of those who create and consume — and accepted in to actions of those who transact. If you will, there is not a single voice of representation, but a cacophony. There’s a base level of empathy and listening, and all are accountable to its effects and affects. Representation matters because in its best forms, the depth and width of humanity is felt. We then are able to build off of what matters for all, not by accident or by law, but because we want the best for ourselves and those who follow after.

You know something? Black is a really cool color. It’s a really cool color for several reasons, but probably the best one is that it both stands out and stays back. It’s a color for extroverts, introverts, ambiverts, and those straddling every other personality strata. Black feels like it’s easy to clean, until it’s off-black, slightly grey/purple/green, or matte. And yet it persists. It’s all of the pigments, and the absence of light. And it’s never really new. It persists. It insists on existing. It’s a color, but deeper than that.

When my bicycle is hanging off of the car, or parked in certain places, the sticker catches the eye of a few people. It stands out. It’s a black and white sticker on a dark blue bicycle. It does not look like it should be there. It looks like it should be pulled off, or worn away. But it’s not. It’s something of a sign that the person who rides this belongs in the conversation. Or, that the person who rides is willing to have a conversation and not look, sound, or be any different then maybe expectations allow. It looks, if you just stare long enough, that the person to whom that bicycle belongs might be a little more aggressive if you push them. And a lot more confident, if you just watch them.

“There is no new black.”

I am listening for the tone of perspectives in cycling which looks like what I look like. Listening for those people to whom having an automobile is a sign of affluence and freedom, but have decided to ride a bike instead. I am looking for those people who want to be defined not by their transportation choice, or where they have chosen to live, but the content of a character that’s wider in deeper than consumption and transaction patterns. One which contains more light than maybe what may have been expected in a previous generation. Perhaps then, there is only humane expressions of what it means to live. Not that the colors don’t matter, only that the colors do matter if we are going to use the entire canvas to create a better world for those who pedal after us.

Maybe my next bicycle will be black after all. Maybe I will find the same sticker to afix to that bicycle, and the insights which result from those travels becomes a sticker for someone else’s machine. Maybe my black isn’t something new to them, but it is added to their canvas.