Why Is Road Running Such a White Sport in the U.S.?
On this, the holiday celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream: that one day, running will be a more multi-racial sport. The starting corrals at most road and trail races are as white a snow-covered ski hill: a few pops of color, but the overwhelming hue is white. Dimity and I are struck by it at race expos we attend across the country: We meet mother runners in all ages, shapes, sizes, and speeds, but the overwhelming majority of them are caucasian. Reflecting back on the events we’ve attended in the past three years, in cities like Seattle, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Portland, Anaheim, and Nashville, a flurry of white faces fill our minds. It’s only been in cities in Texas, such as Austin and San Antonio, where we’ve met a good number of Latina runners; only in Annapolis and Atlanta were a relatively decent percentage of the racers African American. There are some Asians at most of the expos, but not many.
Specific racers come to mind: Bridget, a lithe African-American mother, who was the 2nd-place finisher at 2010 ZOOMA 10K in Annapolis. Irma, an effervescent Latina we first connected with at the 2010 ZOOMA expo in Austin; she ran the race with a group of other Hispanic mothers. There’s Lavon, an Indian mother of two who grew up in Dubai; she and I first met at the Happy Girls Run in Bend, Oregon. (She’s also the mother runner modeling two of our latest tees: I freely admit I asked her to model for us because she’s a mother of color. The fact that she’s beautiful was a bonus.) But for every one of these women of color, I could paint portraits of hundreds of white mother runners we’ve engaged with at races.
I’m puzzled about why running is overwhelming white. Is the barrier cost? Available time? Childcare options? Resources? Access to safe running routes? Cultural influences? Role models? I’m at a loss to find an explanation; I just know it saddens me.
I’d love to hear from runners of color who can enlighten us. Is there something we all could be doing to make all runners feel more welcome? Is there a way we can make the running community more like a rainbow and less like a ski slope? Please click on the orange Comments ribbon to say what’s on your mind about this topic.
To continue this conversation, next month, we will be doing a Q&A with someone from Black Girls RUN! (BGR!), a nationwide organization that promotes fitness and healthy living among African-American women. In less than two years, BGR! has launched roughly 70 running groups across the U.S. with more than 52,000 African-American women. Good stuff, really good stuff.