We're now beginning to see, in some places, the threats and intimidation we face being merely for being cyclists challenged, at least sometimes. Its a start - but we've got a long way to go.
As I'd like to live long enough to see cyclists in the UK treated as valued human beings rather than targets waiting to be killed I'm going to propose that we need to learn a lesson from the '80s 'political correctness' movement. We need to start coming down hard on those who seek to stereotype or apply any potentially damaging or divisive generalisations about us.
If you're old enough you'll recall that way back in the 1970's it was very common for folk to make jokes about black or asian people. While the individual jokes might have seemed harmless enough, the cumulative effect was shocking. For example, while no one would have suggested that seeing an episode of Love Thy Neighbour (ridiculed by Bill Bryson when he disparagingly referred to it as 'My Neighbour is a Darkie') made viewers racist, its certainly true that the jokes from it were repeated over and over again in schoolyards across the UK, creating a climate where kids from ethnic backgrounds could be made to feel crappy. Racism was treated as a bit of a joke, and well into the '80s non whites in the UK were expected to just laugh off what could often be very sinister, even violent humour - which created a climate where seriously unpleasant racism could perpetuate under the guise of humour. If you were witty enough to be funny too you could make whatever jokes about blacks (and asians, gays, whoever else) you liked. And make no mistake - in this climate of sick humour, the racists were able to make the lives of those from ethnic minorities very hard indeed, with the already blurry line between humour and abuse being easy to exploit, those who would carry that further on into assault did so.
Then the UK started to grow up. At least a bit. You can see this reflected in the more PC humour of the '80s (although it took longer for comedy to stop mocking gay folk so much than it did black folk) - and while only a fool would say that all of our racist problems disappeared, it became no longer fashionable to have black folk as the butt of humour just because of their skin colour. It was a long slog, but things got better - they moved in the right direction.
I would like to suggest that cyclists are, at least in terms of 'humour', where non-white folk were in the '70s. Is this linked to the fact that piss poor excuses for killing cyclists are routinely accepted by our courts? You can start a conversation with a complete stranger by complaining about 'bloody cyclists'. We're mocked, ridiculed, or just outright hated by journalists and columnists who think nothing about calling for our executions. I would argue that these are all just different parts of the same phenomenon - its cool to hate cyclists. Its easy to get a laugh by pouring hate on an acceptable social out-group. Yes, that would be us.
And no, I'm not suggesting that this is quite the same thing as racism - but when you read some of the articles directed at us, its not a dissimilar phenomenon. We need to change that. We need to oppose it. We need to counter it. We need to make hatred based on the fact that we're making a fairly harmless decision to use a bike to get around - a decision that isn't about anyone else, doesn't really concern anyone else, doesn't even impact significantly on others - a thing of the past. We have to stamp up and down on prejudice based on how we travel - we must make it unacceptable. Every. Single. Time.
And I know some will read this and say 'but you'll just make things worse, militant cyclists...' Yeah, yeah. Same thing was said by those who didn't approve of making racist humour a thing of the past. They were wrong too - prejudice is prejudice, and appeasing it never defeats it. Fighting it, at every opportunity, defeats it.
So this is my call to arms - next time you see someone harmlessly perpetrating an anti-cyclist stereotype, challenge them. Defeat them. Don't accept that you're being a 'militant cyclist' when you're quite reasonably challenging hate. And if you're a cyclist who goes along with this hate because its easier? You're our enemy too. In fact, you might be worse.