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Another Example of Systemic Racism: Bicycle Helmets… Seriously

A recent article from the Seattle Times details a new campaign being undertaken by bicyclist groups in the Seattle-area to abolish a King County law requiring helmet-wearing by bicyclists. The reason the groups cite for seeking repeal of the law is racism, explaining that minority cyclists are being victimized by “disproportionate enforcement of the law.” Systemic racism has seeped so deep into our institutions, and racism within police departments is so prevalent, a black or brown person can’t even ride their bike without worrying about a white supremacist cop jumping out of the bushes to pounce on them for not wearing a helmet.

Like so many accusations of racism from the left, the argument against bike helmet laws quickly becomes incoherent. Initially the contention appears to be that minorities are being targeted whereas white folks are getting off scot free. “Look, there’s a black guy riding a bike. Let’s get him!” After the assertion of disproportionate enforcement, the article claims, “Black cyclists received helmet infractions at a rate nearly four times higher than white cyclists.” There’s that problem of unequal outcomes rearing its ugly head once again. But then the issue of affordability is seamlessly inserted into the debate, with an interviewee of the article explaining, “Folks aren’t riding around without helmets because it’s fun. They’re doing it because helmets aren’t cheap.” So, wait a second, what’s the reason? Are black folks being given citations at a higher rate because cops are unfairly targeting them, or is it because they can’t afford helmets?

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There are strong arguments to be made for opposing such laws, but playing the race card by pointing at some type of two-wheeled, watered down version of racist police brutality isn’t one them. And neither is the idea that helmets are unaffordable. Take a quick trip to Wal-Mart and you’ll discover that even the least-expensive adult bike available still costs about $100, whereas a bike helmet can be purchased for under $15. If someone has enough money to procure a bike, logic would dictate they should also have enough money to buy a helmet.

The contentions of the anti-helmet law activists become even cloudier when we consider one of the solutions. In addition to ditching the helmet law, there should be a consideration of having the government provide the actual helmets. “Buy them a helmet and you won’t have to penalize them” advises the article’s interviewee. Therefore, consider the logic being promoted here: The government is racist because more non-white people get citations for going helmetless than white people, so let’s have that same government which we don’t trust buy us helmets. Make sense?

This latest claim of racist victimhood effectively illustrates three of the most blatant absurdities of leftist ideology:

  1. Individuals aren’t responsible for their own actions; ever
  2. The government is the solution to all of our problems, while simultaneously being the cause of all of our problems, and
  3. Taxpayer dollars are limitless, and probably grow on trees

Do opponents of the law present any evidence that the disparity in enforcement of the law is in any way based on race? Of course not, but then again they don’t need to produce evidence. And they don’t even attempt to make the case that black folks aren’t more likely to violate the law, because that point doesn’t matter.

If there are unequal outcomes, the cause is racism. The Derek Chauvin case for the death of George Floyd is just about complete, and not once has the prosecution given an iota of evidence showing that Chauvin’s actions were even remotely race-driven, yet the narrative of racism continues. The tragic death of Daunte Wright last week was clearly an accident with absolutely no indication that Wright’s race was a factor, yet the narrative of racism continues. And if black folks are more likely than white folks to get a ticket for not wearing a bike helmet, then that’s racist too; the narrative of racism continues.

In reality, we all make individual risk/reward assessments and make decisions based on those evaluations. In the case of bicycle helmets, there is an indisputable benefit of safety. If you get into a bicycle crash and you’re not wearing a helmet, your chances of a dramatic head injury increase exponentially.  For some of us, the decision is easy. When I ride a bike, I wear a helmet. I have a big head, and when I put the helmet on I look like Kazoo from The Flintstones. But I’m not exactly a slave to fashion, so I don’t care, which means the only drawback to wearing a helmet is the comfortableness. I don’t find the helmet particularly uncomfortable, and I’ve got enough stuff to worry about without adding traumatic brain injuries to the list, so it’s a no-brainer. For others, however, they may feel differently. Maybe they have long-flowing hair they want to show off. Or maybe they find helmets to be itchy. Or maybe they just don’t like the government telling them what to do.

Whatever the reason, it’s an individual choice. We’re all responsible our own actions. Personal responsibility is fundamental, and that should be the approach to many such issues. If you don’t want to get COVID, you can get vaccinated, but there’s a potential risk with the vaccine. If you want to get rich quick, you can invest in certain penny stocks and hit it big, but there are potential risks in such investments. And if you want to ride your bike with the wind blowing through your locks and the sun shining on your cranium, there are potential risks there as well.

There’s an interesting irony with the anti-helmet law crowd’s solution of scrapping the law; they sound like libertarians, which tend to be the polar opposite of leftists. Similar to seatbelt laws, a true libertarian would never support a bicycle helmet mandate. It’s not government’s role to save us from ourselves. And herein lies the strongest argument for repeal. Let people make their own decisions; their own risk assessments. Individuals are responsible for their own actions.

The problem is that if you’re a race-baiting socialist, you only focus on outcomes. If the law is repealed, and more black folks wind up sustaining traumatic head injuries than white folks, that outcome will be racist and the government will have been at fault; systemic racism. If the government were to buy everyone ‘free’ helmets, and if black folks were still being disproportionately ticketed, then that outcome will still be unfair; systemic racism. Because when you view every aspect of society through the prism of race, and if you can simply point to anything you don’t like and call it racist without any accountability from a complicit media, nobody is responsible for their individual actions… provided they have the proper skin color.

Virtually every day we see episodes similar to this one in Washington; they are becoming disgustingly commonplace. Speedy Gonzalez is racist. Dr. Seuss is racist. Bicycle helmets are racist. The left has become so prolific at labeling innocent people and things as racist, the term itself has become utterly diluted. For the left, it seems, everything is racist. And if everything is racist, nothing is racist.   

PF Whalen

P.F. Whalen is a conservative blogger at  His work has appeared in multiple publications, including Human Events, the Western Journal, and American Thinker.  Follow him on Parler @PFWhalen.

Photo by Jibanaskoo at Flickr.

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