Despite the Marvel Comics character riding a V-Max in the unwarranted sequel to the horrible movie, I am not referring to any physical resemblance I have with the fictional character nor the actor Nicholas Cage who portrays the Ghost Rider’s alter ego in the film. While the flaming head visual is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen, I won’t be taking a match to my “good” hair either. I’m referring to the fact that I happen to be African American and a biker which makes me an invisible citizen in a sub culture within a society that prefers all of us to be invisible and silent. I exist but I’m hardly known and the people who do know I’m real regard me more as a myth or urban legend. I assure you though I and few thousand of us are legion but collectively, African American motorcyclists make up the living embodiment of the Ghost Rider.
Culturally, African Americans are raised socially conservative. We are not raised to live on the outskirts of extremity which is why we consider camping, bungee jumping and parachuting daredevil activities. The most common response I get from a person of color who hears of my passion for motorcycles is, “You can die on that thing.” Either because I’m annoyed or apathetic I try not to respond by reminding them that a diet saturated in fried foods, excessive sugar and cigarettes is probably considerably more dangerous then riding a motorcycle. Those things are culturally embedded practices while African American motorcyclists are not.
But that’s not really entirely true is it?
That’s a rhetorical question because unfortunately I’ve found that most bikers of color don’t know their history and what’s even more disgusting, they don’t care to know. If you’re one of those who are blissfully ignorant, then stop reading. I don’t even want you insulting me with your stupidity. If you’re actually interested in learning something, read on.
Motorcycles in some shape or form have been around since the late 1800’s. Bike clubs started forming a few decades after the initial advent of the bike and when enthusiasts eventually found each other. That initial assembly of “bikers” wasn’t so much a response to the rejection of the sport of motorcycling, but rather a shared joy of the sport and the emerging lifestyle. In other words, people who rode bikes weren’t coming together ‘cause cagers were hating on them. They were coming together because when you find people who have a passion in common with you, it’s normal to gravitate towards each other. It wasn’t until veterans of WWII started coming home needing an adrenaline fix did the idea of a motorcycle club start to have a purpose besides a Sunday afternoon leisure ride. Again, please note I’m stressing having a purpose meaning there were clubs before WWII but after the war there was a definitive change as to why clubs existed and that’s very important to note. Vets needed to ride as opposed to wanted to. The bare-chested bravado of war manifested in the antics and social practices of motorcyclists (notice I haven’t called them bikers yet for a specific reason) with drinking contests, drag racing and a flippant but jovial attitude towards life. It wasn’t until the events at Hollister and Hollywood’s subsequent drummed up dramatization of those events in the film “The Wild Ones” did the image of the biker tattoo itself upon the American landscape. (I stress American because Europe wouldn’t see an impression of biker culture until the Mod and Greaser wars of the early 60’s which led to the birth of the Café Racer nation) When asked, “What are you rebelling against?” in the film The Wild Ones, Marlon Brando’s character Johnny responded, “Whadda you got?” Newspaper sensationalism didn’t depict motorcycle enthusiasts as fun loving, care-to-the-wind guys but rather leather clad, hard drinking, hard living bikers (ta-da) who rebelled against everything good and wholesome in society.
Oh yeah, by the way they were all white.
No one bothered to research the fact that African Americans had been riding bikes as long as their white counterparts partly due to the same reasons and also to economic ones. Bikes were cheaper to own then cars and easier to get. African American clubs sprung up and those early clubs were just as wholesome as their white counterparts. Where clubs of color lagged behind (if you want to consider it lagging) was accepting the image of the motorcyclist as the rebellious hair raising, law-breaking hellion. Sonny Barger and his cohorts in the Hells’ Angels were able to take their anti establishment behavior and manifest that into an anarchist collective that today is the most recognizable club in the world. The Hell’s Angels and other outlaw clubs were and primarily remain a white’s only establishment so brothers couldn’t join their ranks so out of necessity we created our own.
African Americans and people of color in this country to me always seemed more in line with the origins of why outlaw clubs existed in the first place. 1%’s say they’ve been outlaws since birth having always gone against the grain, never accepted by society and after a while never wanting to fit in so they banded together. Using that definition of outlaw who merits that description more then minorities in this country? We don’t fit in based simply on not being born white therefore everything we do is against the grain. Though we have a Black president now we are still not accepted on so many levels because of our respective racial differences and thus we’ve formed our own groups, churches, schools, neighborhoods and of course MC’s.
Minorities were second class citizens given third class opportunities and fourth class accommodations. We were the drudges of society though it was often our back breaking labor that society flourished off of. From nigger slaves, Hispanic wetbacks to Asian rail monkeys we put this country together and that country happily pimped us and relegated us to the backroom when the work was done. If anything, we should’ve been the natural rebels of this country. We should’ve been the ones to create that Confederate flag or the movement behind it and we should’ve been flying those colors originally. We should’ve seceded from the Union and said we wanted to form our own nation.
We didn’t but those seeds of rebellion and outcast never left and they took seed and sprouted in black only schools, communities, religions and of course in black motorcycle clubs.
Though bikers were already castrated from society, they self castrated themselves by segregating themselves by making clubs color and bike brand specific. Like with slave owners, a divided nation is a weak one and bikers distilled their own ranks by incorporating societal racism within their two wheeled communes. Therefore there is no one more outlaw and a true embodiment of the term outlaw then a black biker. We are outlaws within an outlaw sect. Imagine the notorious American outlaw Jesse James campaigning against an even more notorious outlaw to get that outlaw off the streets and locked up. Imagine the cracker calling the honky white in other words. It’s very much comparable to the Founding Fathers of this country having the gall to state in the Declaration of Independence that they were fighting for “justice and freedom for all” but nearly all of them had slaves. The Declaration of Independence therefore naturally becomes just a rag as far as African Americans and other minorities are concerned because apparently those inedible rights didn’t apply to us. So when white outlaw clubs preach about freedom, being outlaws and outcasts that title or brand only applied to them which essentially made their whole rally cry a crock of shit. When so called outlaws have criteria that go beyond being an outlaw and you have to be a certain color or race to join ranks, you’re not an outlaw anymore; you’re part of the fucking establishment. Now you’re making the same rules that the society made who originally kicked you out.
That’s essentially what happened when black Harley Davidson bike clubs sprang up. They were rejected by the accepted outlaws (continuing the irony in that the white outlaws had become the accepted outlaws when the very definition of an outlaw is remaining true to the mantle of outcast) and had to form their own clubs. Black motorcycle clubs have the indigenous right to be the demons that kick the other demons out of hell. They have the historical right to strike fear into the oppressor and therefore naturally the oppressor of the oppressor.
But instead Black Motorcycle clubs and bikers have become for the most part irrelevant and inconsequential. We’re not outlaws because we’ve embodied the true bad-ass imagery that comes with the underdog rising up to live by his own rules and code of conduct. No, instead we’re irrelevant because we don’t even live within the rules of what a true MC is, how they conduct themselves and what it means to be a biker. The outlaws who coined the term outlaw keep us out because we live outside the accepted understanding of the laws that govern real bikers and real MC’s.
We’ve become invisible. We’ve become ghosts. We’ve become ghost riders.