Two weeks ago at this time, social media timelines, feeds, and stories were filled with smiling faces—notably primarily smiling white faces—pictured next to the portrait of a murdered Black man. Ahmaud Arbery. Today, 14 days after the seemingly massive outcry from the running community, I have seen one or two posts about Ahmaud and the racial divide in the running community and beyond. Have we forgotten his name already?
I refused to participate in the virtual 2.23 mile run honoring Ahmaud. Because his murder is not about me or my running. Ask yourself: did the run really honor Ahmaud? Did it do anything for his family? Did it do anything for Black people and their struggles in this country? These photos, these posts, they’re so trivial compared to the reality for Black people in America.
I understand the purpose of the virtual run, and I understand that it was well-intended. Runners dedicate runs all the time. It’s kind of our style. But this is different. It feels like many white people, in an elitist sport to begin with, one not exactly known for its diversity, are imposing themselves into a narrative they cannot otherwise fathom. It feels like a mechanism to comfort runners, in spite of the running community and professional organizations having historically failed our Black sisters and brothers. It feels selfish, even though it’s not supposed to be.
I also fear many others used it as an opportunity for self-promotion, perhaps inadvertently. Hopefully inadvertently. It’s so easy to share a post on social media. Boom, reputation boosted. You can appear to be “woke” or compassionate in less than a minute, when in reality you may not have taken any minutes to educate yourself on the realities of the injustice you posted about. Your social media share is simple. It’s so much harder to confront this privilege when it’s happening in real time, in the form of jokes, commentary, stereotypes, racial profiling or worse.
If we share our smiling post-run photo next to his, will we also respond to others that disparage Ahmaud or scream “innocent until proven guilty” in reference to his murderers? Will we point out the sickening irony of Ahmaud’s own murder being a “citizen’s arrest?” Can we ask, Why doesn’t that ancient American principle apply to Ahmaud? or even just say outright that when it was introduced into American law, Black people were still slaves.
When I trained for my first marathon in 2014, I stumbled upon a worn book titled “First Marathons.” It was a compilation of many first-marathon stories, from famous runners to hobby joggers. I read the story of Ted Corbitt, an American long-distance runner whose grandparents had been slaves. He was stopped by the police several times on training runs in downtown Cincinnati in 1938. There were no running-specific clothes at that time, so he ran in normal clothes and was stopped by the police frequently. That story has always stuck with me. He was stopped because he was Black and running.
When I go out for a run I’m afraid sometimes. I fear being mugged, hit by a car, or attacked by a dog. Those things can happen to anyone. As a woman, I fear being raped, kidnapped, or assaulted (in fact, I have been assaulted on a run before). However, as a white runner, I have the luxury of not fearing being chased and shot down.
This is America. What are you going to do about it?