In a perfect world, we would all be viewed as one race -- but we're far from perfect. Discussing race politics and safety, especially in fitness, is long overdue.
Becoming a traveling athlete changed my entire perspective of the world. I am still learning new things on this journey. I transformed from a person exploring ways to get my health back in order to becoming an accidental activist by sharing some of my experiences as an endurance runner. In a matter of a year, I learned the fundamentals on how to run, breathe, open up my stride and all of the technical bells and whistles. Thoroughly engulfed myself into the sport so much that I pushed past my fear of flying and traveled to other states; sometimes I left the country for the love of new adventures and food. Most times I navigate the world solo. This act is looked at as admirable, brave and inspiring; truthfully I am always excited, nervous and cautious. Close friends and family express their fears to me on a regular basis; I tend to brush it off but it's not because I don't hear them. I'm a strong believer that nervous and scary energy will attract scarier situations faster. Most people reduced down their rambles to "have fun", "bring back a key chain", "take pictures for me" and "be safe." People like my husband and my mother almost always let me know their fears, even when it's not verbally expressed. Perhaps you think I'm nervous about traveling solo as a woman -- sometimes but not that much these days. At times, our conversations delve into race, perceptions and other people's reactions to "fears." And like clockwork, I tend to pause, breathe and press forward but I never take these conversations lightly.
Running While Black
On April 26, 2020, I saw an article from the New York Times about a 25 year old African American man who went running in the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia who never returned home. Instantly I felt numb but I never stopped reading. Minutes before I was watching back to back videos on Facebook about police brutality in New York City scapegoated by social distancing orders. Although I never grew desensitized, I am exhausted by hearing about hate crimes. These days I am able to watch our lynchings on demand. There's a whole discussion on trauma porn that deserves a conversation on its own. Within a few minutes of reading, I reeled through some of the terrible exchanges I had last year. A huge difference is that I made it out alive; 25 year old Armaud Arbery didn't have time to be traumatized because he's no longer here. Since then, I read different variations of the story like two white men making a citizen's arrest to accusatory statements about burglary. And then I saw the video that made my heart crumble. Within a few minutes, I watched two men stalk and lynch this man. You have to question how something that happened on February 23, 2020 take this long to receive public recognition and an outcry for justice to be served -- but I'm not surprised at all. We could scapegoat it with easy answers like COVID-19, UFOs and murder hornets distracted us. I prefer to be justifiably dramatic in saying that this government don't give a damn about black people and not enough people take black people's experiences seriously until we become a headline.
From personal experiences of being targeted online from online hecklers who don't limit themselves to fatphobic and racist jokes, I am well aware of how some white people see black folks. At times I've received threats in my inbox, "jokes" about being hung and even physically attacked. People were so emboldened to call me pretty little epithets like n---er, c--n and race baiter yet dismiss my claims of being targeted and bullied on the same post. An added sting to an already insulting journey is when I'd see some people of color and women join in on the festivities. The harassment experience starts to feel extraterrestrial when you're dismissed to a high degree. At times I questioned if I was being melodramatic. Should I simply "get over it" like they suggested? Am I being soft and taking these things too personal? If you survive harassment without allies, it changes your perception of the world -- I know it did for me. At times I thought it would've been easier if I shut my mouth or wasn't here any longer.
Since being in the public eye, I've been physically assaulted at least 5 times, once in front of my son and a childhood classmate. Some of these instances happened while running and some were racially motivated. Speaking out about injustices as a black person means you are automatically lumped into convenient categories like "race baiter" or told that you're "using the race card." Being in the public eye means that you are told to turn the other cheek, suggested to celebrate your accomplishments and my absolute favorite: Fuck and ignore the haters. "Haters" are like fruit flies; death threats don't have a metaphorical tone to them -- they should be taken seriously. Common follow ups in these practices are tone policing, mannerism evaluations and nitpicking about accents, profanity usage or anything that looks "menacing." Again, this is if you survive. Deceased black victims are painted in negative lights like:
It is easy to rant on about fitting the description within the last decade, provide a list of names like Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and several others but hundreds of thousands of people read about these stories over dinner, shake their heads and ask their family members to pass the gravy. People of color, particularly black people, around the world are not taken seriously the first time. We have campaigns asking people to believe sexual assault victims but society's place up red tape to hate crime victims. Frankly it is upsetting that we have to wait for a certain amount of credible media outlets to investigate and report on the story -- that's if some will even bother.
For instance, Alison Mariella Desir, founder of Harlem Run, Run 4 All Women and Global Womxn Run Collective, reached out to Runner's World requesting adequate coverage of Armaud Arbery on their platform. Several athletes like Desir and even myself spoke for the Runner's Alliance panel about runner safety. Athletes of color deserve to hear these stories told and acknowledged in these communities.
Being an Ally to Athletes of Color (And in Your Everyday Lives)
I made a post on my Instagram page and hard discussions unfolded on my social media inbox. There was sprinkles of harassment but I am grateful to state that it wasn't that many. A question that jumped out at me stemmed about being an ally, particularly a white ally.
Sometimes black people around the world are exhausted by providing resources to our white counterparts on how to be an ally to people of color and indigenous communities. I've sat back and read threads on Twitter and Facebook where people of color will refer people to Google or tell them to do their own research. Unpopular opinion but I feel like that's an opportunity missed. To me, it's an easy answer to give someone and for them to still get it wrong. Instead I prefer to bounce back a suggestion to those who have empathy for our circumstances. Before people start pouring out reasons why I don't have to do it, I want to do it. If there's a moment that I don't have the capacity or energy in me, I strive to either simplify or ask if we can pick up the conversation at another time. Directing people to Google searches means that you are possibly going to see whatever redundant items that surface on your search engine. Sure, you may run across some diversity but there's a possibility that you may not. For instance, if all you watch is Fox News and lean into a certain direction for your political views, your Facebook, YouTube and social media will lean into that direction. Certain word usage, a trend of similar images or even conversations around your smart phones with apps that are authorized to pick up certain things will change your algorithm. If you want to do the work on your own, that means you need diversify your media portfolio -- literally. Additionally I feel like there's moments where it pays to be kind or invest five minutes to a person who is genuinely curious. If we're really productive, that person will spread that information to other white ally hopefuls. Regardless of how people want to look at it or not, this is not just a black person's (or fill in your ethnicity here) battle; it is a global problem.
In efforts of not being that person, I'll reiterate what I posted on Twitter:
"Although it can be exhausting to answer, I will say this:
I feel as if I must mention this as well: Do not expect every person of color to respond like me. Some people are TRULY exhausted or possibly cannot relate. Diversity is more than skin deep; it comes with different experiences and upbringings. Placing five black women of the same age as me who happen to run and live in the same neighborhood doesn't warrant that our dialogue will sound the same. That's the beauty of diversity and why it's important that our unique journeys are shared, particularly on prominent platforms.
Here's some other things that I want to add in:
Are you questioning how does this relate to fitness? Well, if you read a decent portion of Arnaud Arbery's story and read responses from people of color, you'll know that many of us don't feel welcome and times, safe. Before running became trendy to some people in my community, runners were viewed as a thin white man sport. Even Hollywood depicted a character like "Jamal" as a basketball or football player and this nauseating feel of him trying to escape the ghetto. While this can be a real scenario, it is not ALL of our stories. Sometimes I don't want to talk about those hardships because I don't want to be lumped into the stereotype.
Because of lack of visibility, people established fitness communities of color for a sense of community. It's hard to do and be what you cannot see. It's not until recent that the Mirna Valerio and Jessamyn Stanleys of the world were visual in campaigns. People like my podcast partner Martinus Evans or Hector Espinal are STILL fighting to show that our communities and people participate in these sports too.
I know the retorts are coming: "...but I do run with a diverse set of people on trails and look at the elites at road races." Yeah, I know they exist but are they adequately represented in comparison to our white counterparts. Placing one diverse face into a campaign isn't enough. I know the arguments on this section will travel deep or undertones of assumptions like "Are you anti-white?" to "...where are these folks if they want to be represented?" My response to you is that we've been here and applying like everyone else. And some of us are openly told that we don't have "the look." Fitness is for everyone and I don't think it's that hard to request that we're represented more AND we can be safe while doing these activities.
What Happens When Everyone Forgets The Struggle Again?
If you made it this far, that's incredible but now what? Being an ally or a person who is in the belly of oppression who survived is great but we are a society with Dory like tendencies. If you watched finding Nemo, then you know how much this character suffered short term memory loss. Sounds funny but it's not when it comes to racial injustice. I cannot speak for other people but as an African American woman who experienced one too many racist encounters, people forget our struggles a lot. Some people are so accustomed to not being taken serious that many don't talk. If you've been following me for a few years, you'll notice the difference between 2016 and 2019 with my entries. I grew tired of being dismissed as an angry black woman. Admittedly I am not scared of that term anymore because I have every right to be pissed some days. What I can say is that I learned how to improve my tact when approaching these issues. Fighting fire with fire burns down an entire empire; there are no winners in those scenarios. I remind myself that if I scream all of the time, nobody will hear me when I need them to listen intently.
So what exactly can you do? Actively seeking to diversify who you watch or learn about on social media, periodicals or interact with in your daily life is a great start. Listening to other people's stories with an open mind, even when the views are completely different from yours is an excellent approach to consider. Traveling - whenever that's possible again - is a great way to remove ignorance and shitty stereotypes. Following up with an oppressed individual or community is exceptionally helpful. I can admit that as an athlete, public figure and influencer, there's nothing worse than sharing your story and being left with a feeling that you was used for someone's contribution of survivor memoirs. We're not looking for you to feel bad; we want you to see and hear us. The power of sharing a story allows others to be vulnerable in their own journeys. Just because you haven't experienced it doesn't mean that the human experience is lost. Naturally I cannot brainstorm every scenario here but how will you contribute to the cause? Even if you cannot see it right now, you need us and we need you too.
Sign the Petition: Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Runner's World: Virtual Run Honoring the Life of Ahmaud Arbery Planned for Friday
Runner's World: Outcry Grows After Video Emerges in Shooting Death of Black Runner
Giving Compass: How to Be A Better Ally to People of Color
The Root: 12 Ways to Be a White Ally to Black People
The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge: The Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge
The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge: Diversify Outdoors Site
New York Times: Georgia Family Demands Arrests 2 Months After Son Shot Dead
HuffPost Black Voices: When the Media Treats White Suspects and Killers Better Than Black Victims
Runner's World: Runner's Alliance
Los Angeles Times: Op-Ed: How the Media Smears Black Victims
Washington Post: What is White Privilege?
CNN: Supporters are Running 2.23 Miles on the Birthday of a Man Killed While Jogging
Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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