Ground-breaking book on black cyclists in running for major book award
Dr Marlon Moncrieffe’s book on the overlooked history of black cycling champions has been longlisted for William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
Entitled Desire, Discrimination and Determination: Black Champions in Cycling, the new book draws on research by Dr Moncrieffe. The book sheds light on the lack of representation that still persists within cycling via forgotten stories of past Black champions to shocking tales from today’s pro peloton, and is lavishly illustrated with rare photographs and reproductions spanning more than a century.
Dr Moncrieffe also draws on his own racing experiences as an elite road and track sprint cyclist in the 1990s and early 2000s, augmented by a wide range of stories, personal reflections and oral testimonies. The book gives voice to different generations of black cyclists from across the UK and abroad, including: Major Taylor, Maurice Burton, Russell Williams, Kittie Knox, Justin and Cory Williams, Shanaze Reade, and Tre Whyte – whose brother Kye Whyte recently won silver in BMX at the Tokyo Olympics.
The book builds on Dr Moncrieffe’s previous work, notably his 2018-2019 exhibitions curated entitled Made In Britain, which shared with the public the lives, stories and successes of Black British champions in the sport, while asking what prevented them from reaching the iconic status of white British cyclists.
Speaking to Bike Radar, Dr Moncrieffe said: “There are very few books about grassroots and competitive cycling written about Black people, let alone written by a Black person. Desire Discrimination Determination offers a new paradigm for knowing cycling; a new way of seeing the sport of cycling through the histories and lenses of Black people.”
He also reflects wryly on the sudden interest in black cyclists in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. “Many cycling journalists suddenly started looking for former and current black cyclists, seeking to rewrite and publish their experiences of racism. For me – a black British man, a former racing cyclist, now an academic who had been researching and writing about the black experience in cycling for many years by that point – it was peculiar to witness.”
Dr Moncrieffe delves into a range of discriminatory experiences in the book. They include English road and track racer Russell Williams being pointedly overlooked for the Team GB World Championship team while lower-ranked white riders were selected, and national sprint title holder Maurice Burton, who became so frustrated by the pervasive racism he experienced in British cycling that he felt forced to relocate to Belgium.
Even when black cyclists have made the cut, Moncrieffe reveals that the pro peloton can be an unwelcoming place, as experience of one rider in the book reveals in their description of interactions with white riders: “You’re a Black guy. You’re not supposed to be here anyway. I need to go past, so I’m just going to push you.’”
Now in its 33rd year, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world’s longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize, with an award this year of £30,000 to the winner. Fifteen books have been longlisted for the 2021 award, to be whittled down to a shortlist on 28 October. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on 2 December.