Culture

Three questions with Major Taylor rider Tonya Miller

Miller served as club president 2012-14 and remains active in the BIPOC club.

Member Exclusive

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Join

Already a member?

Sign In

What were your experiences as an African American woman in the racing scene?

When I tried to join the women’s race teams, I was shut out. Either I didn’t get a response back, or was told, “We have enough girls on the squad.” It felt very clique-ish and sorority-like. I would say hello at the beginning of the races and wouldn’t get a response. It was crazy. Or sometimes, a girl would say, “Oh, did we meet before?” And I would say, “Yep, I’m the same Black girl from last week.”

A friend I trained with suggested that I call Dave Jordan. The Jordan team had a men’s and a women’s squad. I explained to Dave how I was hoping to join one of the women’s team but wasn’t having any luck. He thought it was kind of silly and invited me to join his team sight unseen. He was friendly on the phone. Unfortunately, Dave and I never met. He passed away shortly after I joined the team. I raced on the Jordan women’s squad for that summer. I was hoping for a sense of community and camaraderie with other women, but it didn’t happen. By the fall, I returned to the all-male, Major Taylor development team.

Tonya Miller outside in Major Taylor team kit

How would you describe the uncomfortable feeling of being a Black woman in a predominantly white space?

It’s interesting. In certain situations, it does make you feel uncomfortable. It’s crazy to walk into a “space” and see no other person of color, especially in a metropolitan city like New York. No Black person is ever going to say that when you walk into a space that is all-white, you don’t feel something. However, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be intimidated either. I’m going to own it. That is why I was comfortable calling those girls out on their shit. “Oh, did we meet before?” You’re not going to play as if we’ve never met before when I’m the ONLY Black girl racing week after week! Come on now. Stop it! It might make sense to be in an all-white space in Colorado, no shade to Colorado. But in New York City, no diversity, it gives you pause.

Why is the onus always on us [Black people] to be polite, fall in line, and adapt in white spaces. Why is it so hard to see us? To say hello? Why is it so hard to see color and recognize us? And maybe ask yourself why there is only one Black girl racing. And why isn’t she on our team? I wasn’t looking for charity; politeness should be simple. As opposed to, “let’s act stuck up and not talk to her at all.” I don’t know what it is. Perhaps if you’ve never had Black friends, you might not know where to start. But again, why is the onus on us? It’s exhausting.

What was it about the Major Taylor club that made you feel more comfortable?

It was all about the community. Everyone loved riding. Back then, you couldn’t go into Prospect Park and not see a Major Taylor/Iron Rider kit. They had such a foothold in the park. You knew they were always going to be at that one bench in the park. Some of those guys have been racing or riding for 20-30 years. Everyone was focused on the community and having a great experience. The club made sure you had bike handling skills, and taught you how to ride in the pack. It was a competitive environment and trial by fire, but it was also a warm space and a comfortable space.