Earlier this year, I blogged about my awkward experience at my local YMCA when a white attendant appeared offended by my Black Girls RUN! hoodie. Just earlier that month we launched Black Girls RUN! running groups across the nation so I was feeling especially good about the direction the organization was taking. But it’s always moments like these that make you second guess yourself and in this case our vision of tackling all of the health issues in the African-American community head on. Ironically, just a few months later, we were contacted by Jay Jennings who told us he was writing a story for Runner’s World
about the lack of diversity in distance running and wanted to discuss how Black Girls RUN! was helping to change that. First of all, I must admit we were shocked, floored and extremely flattered. After all, since I fell in love with running, I’ve been a subscriber of the magazine. To think that we would be featured was nothing short of a miracle orchestrated by God.
But secondly, it reaffirmed that something was wrong with one of my favorite pastimes and we weren’t the only ones that recognized it. Finally, the issue was getting some attention. Fast forward to this past week. The December 2011 issue finally hit newsstands with the article “Why is running so white?”. Ashley and I along with the entire BGR! camp was extremely excited. I didn’t have any expectations about the piece, but I knew it was going to be interesting.
I can’t tell you how many times I have re-read the story. I’ve had several people ask how I feel about the article, was there anything misconstrued, etc. Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. While fully engrossed in this topic every day, it was a completely new learning experience for me too. (Seriously, the founding president of New York Road Runners, Ted Corbitt was a black American. He also helped found the Road Runners Club of America yet he’s virtually non-existent in their history). If you haven't bought it, go buy it now.
But one thing I realized, is that some corporations and those integral decision-makers will never understand why organizations like ours and the National Black Marathoners are so important and the potential we have to “fix” everything that’s wrong with the health of the minority populations that are well on it’s way to becoming the majority. After all, it’s really about the bigger picture, not just “Oh, we’re not represented. Sad for us.”
According to a 2006-2008 study by the Center’s for Disease Control, blacks in the United States had a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity compared with whites. Blacks have a 77 percent higher risk of diabetes than whites. The list goes on and on. To quote one of my favorite songs by De la Soul, “the stakes are high.” Yet, the co-race director of The Little Rock Marathon, Geneva Hampton (with an American-Indian lineage), said “We haven’t tried to target any
population. Color’s not one thing we really look at. What I love about marathoning is the road doesn’t care what color you are.” How sad. Especially since the city’s 2010 census
found that the population is comprised of 48.9 percent whites and 42.3 percent blacks. If nothing else, the race isn’t representative of the city’s own population yet the organizers don’t seem to care.
We, Black Girls RUN!, face that in our own way. We’ve been shot down by large organizations and companies left and right who 1.) Don’t seem to understand the value in working with us, yet want access to our very coveted demographic 2.) Would rather pump money into celebrities. And let’s face it, is not a very profitable marketing ploy. Everyone would rather complain about the skyrocketing obesity rates, yet no one wants to step to the plate, take responsibility and make a change.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The article in Runner’s World
is a testament to that. While I have my own qualms with the publication, them shedding light on the problem is a step in the right direction.
And remember that post I wrote earlier this year about being confronted about Black Girls RUN! hoodie? Someone posted the comment below not too long ago. It renewed my faith in humanity and made me realize that some people get it. Actually a lot of people get it. But we often don’t get to hear that from people who don’t look like us.
p.s. Thank you to Jay Jennings and others at Runner's World
. You have started a dialogue on a very important topic and for that we're grateful.
Excellent thread- I wish I would've seen it months ago! I'm a 26 year old graduate student, a runner for over a decade, a dedicated member of Black Girls Run! in my town, a group run leader.... and I just happen to be white. A friend and classmate of mine is the BGR! Ambassador in my town, and when she posted about the new group on Facebook, she included the statement, "And no, this group isn't just for Black girls!" A group where women support women who want to lead a more healthy life? Count me in!
As a white woman, I was initially concerned that I might not be welcomed into the group, or that some would think I was trying to "take over" their movement because of privilege associated with my skin color. I was also concerned about posting too often on our Facebook wall or buying a BGR! t-shirt, because I didn't want others in my group to see me as a "poser." However, every woman I've run with or talked with hasn't seemed to feel that way. I support the women in our group, the women support me, and we all run a little more often, a little harder, a little farther. I'm so happy to be part of this movement!
I guess I really didn't fully understand the need for this type of a group until I went to a race with two of my BGR! running friends: one was a Black woman I've become friends with over the past few months, and was a white woman I've been friends with for years (we're the only two white women in our BGR! chapter of 75 women). Looking around, I realized my Black friend was- I believe- the only woman of color at this race. I was floored. While I'm sure I've noticed this discrepancy in the past, this was honestly the first time I took a moment to think of how that must feel.
The biggest issues I've had since joining BGR! were with FORMER acquaintances, who would say things like, "Um... don't you realize you're white?" or "Why would you want to run with a group of Black girls anyway?" or "I didn't know Black people ran." I can't even begin to describe how surprised and offended I was- I thought I only befriended smart, open-minded people, but apparently, I was wrong. Shortly after I gave these idiots a serious lecture, we parted ways for good. Ignorance and prejudice are, unfortunately, far too common in our culture. However, a movement like Black Girls Run! that's focused on encouraging Black women to lead a more healthy life, but also allows for friendships and a sense of community with other runners (Black, white, Hispanic) is bound to help us ALL get rid of stereotypes and prejudices that "we" or "they" might have. Keep up the hard work, ladies! What you're doing is absolutely critical in today's world! (And thanks for letting this white girl be a part of it!)
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