Tamika Butler Can’t Be Ignored
Tamika Butler gave a devastating keynote speech at the NACTO conference in Seattle last month. If you missed it, or her similarly fearless speech at last year’s California Bike Summit in San Diego, be gladdened.
Butler speaks of the personal trajectory that brought her to her current job as Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. She also speaks of the daily struggle of doing her job, of, as she puts it, “planning while black.”
If you think the subject doesn’t pertain to you, think again. Her talk is required listening for everyone, and not just planners and friends either. She gets at the core of what it means to plan for people, many of whom do not look like or live like the people doing the planning.
What to do about it? She doesn’t have answers; but she inspires thought.
“When you’re planning while black,” she said, “and you try to take a lightweight break [by looking on social media], you’re constantly confronted with the reality of the world we live in.”
Our jobs as people who care about transportation is just getting people from point A to B, and maybe making it a little pretty along the way. We hear: safety safety safety–but for whom? Who’s safe in our community?
When you’re used to not hearing voices of people of color, when those voices aren’t in the room, then whose responsibility is it to make sure they feel safe?
She described several recent moments, upsetting but a near constant in her life, when people mistook her for a worker because she was dressed nicely in a hotel, or in a store.
If you’ve never had that experience, it’s because when you dress nice, people don’t assume that you must be there to serve them. And if you’ve never had these experiences, then how do you bring it into your work, when you’re trying to make safe places for people?
If you don’t open yourself to the fact that even though you may not have those experiences, someone else is, and you’re not talking to them when you’re making your decisions, then how will you do your best work?
Butler is funny, she is smart, and she is devastatingly frank in a way few people are brave enough to be.
The video is long—almost an hour. Gather your colleagues for a brown-bag and watch it together; you will want to hear the entire speech. Then send it along to everyone else you know and love and even those you may not love so much.