What we don’t see. Or why is long distance running so white? @NPRCodeSwitch

I promise to bring this back to history and education, but I’m going to start this post with a long digression about running.

Gene Demby is reporter for NPR’s podcast Code Switch. Code Switch talks about race in America, and Demby was [featured](https://www.runnersworld.com/im-a-runner/gene-demby) in a fall Runner’s World (September?) magazine section called “I'm a runner.” In the podacst, Demby displays a powerful intellect while explaining the hidden codes of race. I like to think of him as a combination of Cornell West and Samantha Bee, crazy smart but very approachable.

So, here was Demby in a magazine I’ve read on and off for 25 years, and, until very recently, the magazine has been a paean to whiteness. Page after page of smiling white people.

After reading the article, I went to my local YMCA to run on the treadmill, where I saw this [image](http://exerciseunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Photo-Aug-11-12-21-00-PM.jpg) . My Y is a community gym with a wonderful diversity of members. I’m as likely to have a Somali grandmother on the treadmill next to me as I am a 19 year college white male. Old, young, black, brown, white, it’s all good. But almost no one looks like this woman in the picture. She’s tan (I live in MN, home of the not-tan people), thin, and running alone in nice clothes. Oh, and very, very white, so white she makes me feel vaguely not white.

And I started thinking, in more than 25 years of running, how many people of color do I see, and why?

In short, long distance running has a race problem. Look at the finishing videos of most races: predominantly white folks. [Running socks](https://feetures.com) show white people. Google “running” or “marathon” and most of the images will be white people (and most pictures with people of color are ads or winners of major marathons- not everyday runners). Instagram and twitter searches all show the same thing: white people running.

Why does this matter?

-One: representation matters, especially for kids and new runners.

-Two: I see more people of color on the roads than I see in popular representations of running on the web.

-Three: Running provides overwhelming benefits that seem to accrue to a smaller group of people than could be the case.

Which brings me back to education. I’m struck by what I’m doing and not doing to help me students of color see the benefits of studying history, and getting their college degrees. And while I’m conscientious of this issue, I also suspect I’m missing things. Because I went 23 years without thinking about how white my sport is, both in image and in reality.

Safe home

2 thoughts on “What we don’t see. Or why is long distance running so white? @NPRCodeSwitch

  1. For what it’s worth, as a relative outsider, the first thoughts to my mind on long distance running is that it’s a sport dominated by East Africans. Obviously that is very elite-biased and doesn’t diminish the very real dearth of African-Americans in the sport, but I think many people’s default impression is not necessarily white at all.

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