On Tuesday, apparently in response to the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the young black man who was reportedly jogging when he was shot by a white man in Georgia, The New York Times ran an opinion piece titled, “Jogging Has Always Excluded Black People.”
The author, historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, began her polemic by suggesting that the idea promulgated in the late 1960’s that jogging was accessible to everyone has been proven false by history, and the “sport of running has maintained this fiction.” Petrzela posited that black runners reacted to the video of Arbery’s death by asserting that they routinely steered “clear of certain neighborhoods,” ran “only in daylight,” wore an “Ivy League sweatshirt to broadcast respectability.” She continued, “Many white runners, by contrast, were aghast that the sense of peace they feel when hitting the open road reflected their racial privilege.”
This disparity should come as no surprise: Running has been a pastime marketed primarily to white people ever since “the jogging craze” was born in the lily-white Oregon track and field world of the late 1960s. Black people have not only been excluded from the sport — one survey by Running USA found under 10 percent of frequent runners identify as African-American — they’ve also been relentlessly depicted as a threat to legitimate, white joggers.
The author notes that the “jogging capital of the United States” was “99 percent white Eugene, Ore.” She cites marketing and media, claiming, “The joggers were almost uniformly depicted as white.”
The author admits that “Black track athletes, by contrast, were familiar and even celebrated in the United States. But to some white Americans, cheering on an Olympic athlete on television was entirely different from embracing black participation in an activity that took place on the streets of their neighborhood.”
The author cites the African-American periodical “The Crisis” from 1985: “The homeless and downtrodden are most times a ‘disgusting’ irritation to the jogging, orange-juice drinking yuppie who must step over or past them on his or her way to the office.” She mentions the case of the “Central Park jogger,” remarking, “when five men of color were wrongfully convicted of raping and attempting to murder a white runner.”
Another citation: The Michigan Chronicle in 1997: “If you’re driving, walking, or — God forbid — running (jogging), and you simply look like an African-American, you are subject to a stop-and-search.”
She concludes, “Mr. Arbery’s death and the ensuing outcry is in some ways the latest data point in the sick mash-up of structural racism, gun violence and vigilantism that’s become a hallmark of American life. But it’s also an example of the glaring whiteness of recreational running — a hobby that 47 million Americans embrace in part because of its enticing illusion of universalism, but that has never been, and still is far from, an equal-opportunity endeavor.”
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