Running Is Too White. It Doesn’t Have to Be.
We need to make running accessible — and safe — for non-White Americans
Thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t met up for runs with my cross-country team lately. But when we were all in the same locker room, a look around made one thing clear: Except for one or two teammates, everyone else was White.
As is the rest of the running world.
Of course, some of the most successful runners in the world are not White; athletes in Ethiopia and Kenya reign supreme at events beyond 400 meters on the track and tend to dominate the world of long-distance running. In track and field, any events 800 meters and less are not as White and more accessible and representative of American demographics.
The world of running being “too White” particularly pertains to the West and primarily in recreational running. It’s the world I grew up in and the world I currently know. A quick look through LetsRun’s popular forums finds that confronting the Whiteness of running breeds a lot of hostility.
People continuously post questions like these:
- “Why is something being white a bad thing?”
- “Why are people bringing up the ‘whiteness’ of running ‘leftist trolls?’”
The comments quickly bring up racist tropes around crime, welfare, laziness, unemployment, and a lot worse. Sure, the anonymity of LetsRun (and the internet at large) gives keyboard bullies license to make more bigoted comments, but reading through only reinforces the notion that distance running isn’t accessible — or isn’t perceived as such — to a significant portion of our population. And we won’t get many people of color on the roads and trails if they don’t feel safe.
Omnipresent in our national consciousness over the past two weeks has been the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who in February was killed by two White men while jogging through a residential neighborhood outside of Savannah, Georgia. A viral video of the attack shows Gregory McMichael and his son, Trevor McMichael, trailing Arbery, engaging in a confrontation, and finally firing a shotgun at the man.