Running While Black

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post initially was entitled “Person vs. Two Pickups, a Pistol and a Rifle,” until I saw a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Running while black.” One of its footnotes cites an article, Running while Black: Why we are not all in this together, in which the author, Dewayne R. Stallworth, states something that must haunt many black runners:

As an educated black man who enjoys taking contemplative runs in my neighborhood, I must confess that I leave my home with the thought that I may not return (and this is before Arbery’s killing). I think about my attire — would this shirt cause someone to think I am a burglar.

Jogging as a black person in the US is a thing. Being black imposes new risks on top of the usual difficulties with urban running: effort, breathing bad air, possible sprained ankle, collision with cars….[1] Driving in the US is also a thing. It imposes new risks to the environment, pedestrians, bikers, and animals. Where the two meet in this post is the power differential that automobiles offer. Cars and trucks make it not only easy, but extremely easy to injure nature and society with almost no effort at all.[2]

This power differential demonstrated itself vividly in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery (age 25). While he was out running on Feb. 23, 2020, he was chased by two pickup trucks and hit by one of them before that other power differential so loved by some Americans, the firearm, made the chase lethal. It’s not that violence would stop with the eradication of pickup trucks or firearms, but the terms of engagement would alter radically, creating a more level playing (or battle) field.

Consider the suspects (they’ve only been videotaped and charged, not prosecuted). Two heavy-set white males, Gregory McMichael (64) and his son Travis McMichael (34). Assume they see Mr. Arbery take his short detour into the home construction site, from which he left, carrying no stolen goods. They think he’s the same black man that Travis reported to 911 on February 11, as a burglary suspect. So they put on their Hoka One shoes, grab their baseball bats, and start running after Mr. Arbery. At the same time, a neighbor, William Bryan (50), grabs his smart phone and jumps on his mountain bike to start videoing the incident.

Nothing except embarrassment to the pursuers would have likely come from this. Gregory’s energy may have flagged first, while his son, Travis, could keep the chase up longer. Knowing that Ahmaud frequently went running, I doubt either would have caught him, and even if one had, if Ahmaud were willing to wrestle a shotgun (as he did in the actual confrontation), he certainly could wrestle a baseball bat from Travis’ hands. And William, the videographer, would have been more the witness he originally claimed to be (before it became known that he corralled and hit Ahmaud with his truck—which is why he was later arrested and charged with with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment).

In short, Ahmaud would likely be alive if these men had relied on their strength and not their machines. This post neither attempts to address the deep racial problems rooted in US culture nor pretends to offer a practical solution for even the more recent and less sinister problem of relying far too much on cars and trucks. It only stands to remind us that many problems are interrelated and addressing one may often bring another one to light. Racism strikes most of us as the greater evil because it blatantly involves human will and intention; the general ruin of the environment, however far reaching its effects, will seem to many as something inadvertently done, something that may be looked back on in history with a sigh, “if only we had known….”

epilogue

While searching the Internet for incidents of “assaults on joggers united states,” I was reminded that one of the most vulnerable classes of outdoor runners are women. The preponderance of search results about assaults against female runners stunned me. Technology, again, often accompanies the assaults. One headline that captures the breadth of assaults is from the BBC news site, From catcalls to murder: What female joggers face on every run. Being black, female, and a runner poses a confluence of bad possibilities, at least in the US. As Tianna Bartoletta, three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field said, “I’ve run through streets in Morocco, Italy, Barcelona, Netherlands, China and Japan . . . and it’s only in my home country that I wonder if I’ll make it back home.”[3]

short bibliography in no particular order

Some sources may be pay-walled, but often if you re-search for the title, the search result may allow access for various reasons:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Either word, running or jogging, suggests people who are involved in a healthy activity for the improvement of their bodies and minds and who are not out looking for a fight. Among the many articles from my search on “assaults on joggers united states” was this one, Stop Calling Women Runners “Joggers”. This article makes a point relevant to any group of runners who are being dismissed or belittled, howsoever unintentionally: “‘Running’ defines a motion. ‘Jogging’ implies a speed—a leisurely one, devoid of intensity.” The only justifications the word “jogging” has for my concerns is that it (1) suggests an outdoor, urban setting, as opposed to indoor track runners and long-distance trail runners, and (2) it is used in most of the headlines about Mr. Arbery. Outside of that, “running” seems to be the better choice unless you know the runner’s cadence.

[2] The danger of cars and trucks merits an FDA warning on every commercial and advertisement, as well as on every dashboard of every vehicle. It would be similar to the cigarette warning, “caution: Driving May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” We know, however, that the cigarette warning is often ignored, which is one reason its expansion includes thirteen proposed warnings (Cigarette Health Warnings). If you scroll down on that page, with its photos of cancer, a dead heart, a child gasping—then you get the idea of what kind of warnings our next automobile czar should make mandatory.

[3] New York times, After a Killing, ‘Running While Black’ Stirs Even More Anxiety