Your Fear of Black People Is Not My Responsibility

It’s not my job to make White people feel less guilty about racism

Shane Paul Neil
LEVEL
Published in
4 min readMay 27, 2020

--

Photo: Samad Malik Photography

Last week I wrote about my experience running while Black, in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia man murdered by two White men while out on a run. My story detailed what amounted to a drive-by stop and frisk: NYPD officers suspecting that I might be bothering White women on a group run in the park when in reality, I was coaching my runners’ group.

My account is just one of many. Harassment from law enforcement and overzealous White people continues. Sometimes it’s lethal, like the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop; sometimes it simply brandishes lethality, like Amy Cooper using 911 to threaten a Black man in Central Park.

It is not the job of Black people to assuage racist tendencies, even as a means of survival. Period.

After my story, “Yes, ‘Running While Black’ Happens Even When You’re A Distance Coach” published on LEVEL, I received a Twitter DM: “Hi, I’m a French journalist working for (redacted). We’re working on a piece on Running While Black. We would like to gather video messages of different Black people in the US telling us what they do before going running (not at night, not with a hood, etc). I was wondering if you would accept to be part of this video?”

I responded that I don’t particularly do anything specific; I often wear dark clothes, and I run at all times of the day and night.

“Oh, okay,” he responded. “If you don’t feel concerned I guess this won’t work, thanks anyway for your reply!”

The exchange bothered me, though I’m almost embarrassed to say now that it took me a minute to figure out why. At its core, the reporter’s question — and ultimately, his entire project — focused on asking Black people how they could make White people feel safer. Their references to wearing hoods and running at night were clear dog whistles of Black respectability politics in the face of White fragility.

It is not the job of Black people to assuage racist tendencies, even as a means of survival. Period.

--

--

Shane Paul Neil
LEVEL
Writer for

Writer (duh) and photographer. Bylines @levelmag @complex @ebony @huffpo shanepaulneil.com