Sunday, June 21, 2015

Owning Up

As I expect it did for all of you, the loss of those nine lives in Charleston, South Carolina this week has shaken me to my core. By no stretch did I imagine that we actually lived in some kind of a dream "post-racial" society, but I've now been forced to acknowledge that race relations in the U.S. are far worse than I had been willing to admit. On a day-to-day basis, the struggles of people of color are not on my radar, unless I go looking for them. Nor are the challenges of the poor, those without U.S. citizenship or a strong command of the English language, the LGBT community, or those with intellectual or physical disabilities. I'm a social worker, and I understand the issues faced by disenfranchised groups academically and intellectually. But I don't live them, and they're easy to simply not see.

No, I don't blame myself or feel guilty about my position of privilege as a white, middle-class, English-speaking, heterosexual person without disabilities. But I do believe it's important to acknowledge the advantages I've been afforded through these basic facts of my life. As Robin Diangelo* eloquently summed it up earlier this week: "I did not set this system up but it does unfairly benefit me and I am responsible for interrupting it."

As these thoughts have churned over the recent months, and in these especially difficult past four days, my impulse was to write about them, a self-soothing activity when I am in pain. And as the thoughts churned further, I was struck by the fact that my outlet for writing is a blog that is (sort of) about running. Talk about living a life of privilege! I not only have the resources, capacity, and ability to run, but I also have the resources, capacity, and ability to then turn around and write about the fact that I run. What I think is missing from the distance running and blogging community's well-intentioned and near-constant expressions of "gratitude" for the "blessings" in our lives is the uncomfortable truth that most of us are not merely lucky or blessed. We are privileged. Yes, some of us have worked hard, we may have put ourselves through school, cultivated careers and relationships, and taken care of our physical selves. But most of us started out with - and continue to live with - at least a few advantages. We hint at this self-knowledge with our ubiquitous #firstworldproblems, #whitepeopleproblems, and #runnerproblems hashtags, when we have to wake up early for our weekend long runs, or when Whole Foods is out of organic kale. But let's be willing to dig a little deeper.
When I open a running magazine, 
or scroll through social media,
I see people who look like me.

When I open a running magazine, or scroll through social media, I see people who look like me. On a 20-mile run, I'm often carrying more calories in my pack than some people will take in all day. When I go to an expo, or line up on race morning, no one notices me as an exception in the crowd. I've got more articles of running clothing in my closet than many people have of the regular clothing they need for school or work. When my husband cheers for me on the sidelines, and kisses me at the finish line, no one looks twice with interest or judgement. Every morning I run through the quiet streets of a neighborhood where I feel safe, and where nobody wonders what I'm doing there. If a police officer stopped me in the park to ask me a question, I would not be afraid. I have time to run for pleasure, and the energy to write about it, because I only need to work one job in order to survive. 

My identity as a runner is an important part of who I am, and it's made possible through much more than a willingness to wake up early and put in the miles. I don't know how to close the great divides that separate us, but I know that I've got a role to play. I've identified and am owning my positions of privilege - at least the ones of which I'm currently conscious. I'm committed to being conscious of them as I move about in the world, and as I observe and make judgements about how others move about in the world. It's not enough, I know, but it's the only way I can think to start.


*For more reading on this important topic, please see Dr. Diangelo's excellent post from earlier this year on The Good Men Project, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism."


  1. Wow!! GREAT post!! I applaud you. I agree with every single word that you so eloquently said!! Thank you!! And starting a conversation, being aware and bringing is a start!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad to know it resonated for you, and am really grateful for all of the important, if painful, conversations that have been happening over this past week.