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  • Writer's pictureBetsy

Why Is Running So White and How to Be an Ally to the Black Running Community

Hello FitFooters, here are two articles that could help inform our current discussion on race and specifically focuses on the issue in regards to running/working out/physical health. Both articles were published in Runner’s World Magazine online. The first article is from 2011 by Jay Jennings, but gives historical and cultural context and many of the challenges are still relevant in 2020 (and reminds us that this is not a new challenge). The second article by Rozalynn S. Frazier is from two days ago and gives timely examples to illustrate points as well as suggestions for how to work to improve our allyship. Thank you all for reading and doing this work. Stay well. -Betsy

Why is Running So White?

It's no secret that very few recreational distance runners are people of color. African-American runners know why that is–but what, if anything, should be done about it?

NOV 15, 2011

From the article:

Increasing minority participation in distance running has multiple benefits. First, it is an effective and inexpensive way to address health problems of at-risk populations and provide people with a lifelong sport. And second, manufacturers, race organizers, and national institutions would increase sales, participation, and membership figures by tapping a new pool of runners. Of course, runners are by nature encouraging and inviting, but here are a few other things that might help.

1. Convene a summit on minority involvement for interested constituencies–shoe and clothing companies, national organizations like USA Track & Field, and race directors–to develop one recruitment effort. Mary Wittenberg of the New York Road Runners agrees "it would be great to rally behind one banner," but says, "let's keep getting stuff done, too: Real success will come in a grassroots way."

2. Race directors could promote events that support causes of interest to minority communities, such as diabetes prevention, and draw up courses that include minority neighborhoods.

3. Coaches should resist stereotyping and encourage more students of color to try cross-country and distance events. Michael D. Cauthen, M.S., a University of North Carolina–Greensboro lecturer and a former cross-country coach at Ohio State, has said, "Nobody tries to make black distance runners in the U.S. There is absolutely no reason we can't have as many great African-American distance runners as we have sprinters."

4. Individual runners might especially encourage coworkers and friends of color to try running with them or start programs through community groups targeted toward minorities. One poster on a discussion board suggested, "Basing running clubs at the Y would be huge in terms of diversity."

5. The media, including Runner's World, could be more conscious of race when choosing models–for shoes, training exercises, midrace reaction shots–even, or especially, when the color of the runner is not germane to the story.

How to Be an Ally to the Black Running Community

It’s more than just sharing similar beliefs—it’s about your actions, today and tomorrow.


From the article:

For starters, it’s important to note that the act of running for black people is inherent with a great deal of transgenerational trauma, said Aeva Gaymon Doomes M.D., a psychiatrist based in Washington D.C. There’s a historical, ingrained stereotype that the image of a black man running is suspicious—and that social construct is where white people need to start.

This is where white people, who say that they stand on the side of blacks, and specifically black runners, must enter. Being an ally cannot be limited to just the sharing of beliefs and attitudes—behaviors and actions are what will break down racism in our society.

In the running community, this looks like doing whatever you would do outside of the running community to ensure equitable and inclusive practices, Valerio explained. For example, make sure your running group is representative of its community, and if it’s not, have the hard conversations to examine why.

Robinson added, “Any ally works to support and enrich your running journey with a basic understanding of your belonging to the larger running community. In a way the metaphor is right there—we’re all equal as humans and in running we all have to do our own work of putting one foot in front of the other. But an ally recognizes that not everyone is beginning in the same starting point, so to speak, and there are things we can all do to make our community more inviting, less exclusionary, less intimidating.”

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