As I was heading out for a run a few days ago, my mom asked how long I thought I’d be gone for. With the pandemic canceling my training plans, I now run more based on how I feel as I go. I told my mom I didn’t know when I’d be back, and she asked, “Okay, but when should I worry?” This is also a typical question from her, but this time it stuck with me. I gave her my guess for the longest I might be and spent my run thinking about her question. I became aware of all of the fears I had internalized over the years about being a woman running alone.
My mom also asks where I go so that if I’m not home soon enough, she knows where to look for me. I get nervous when a car slows before pulling into a driveway or when someone larger than me looks in my direction for too long. In case someone starts to follow me, I wonder which houses are safe to run up to. I think about how close a friend’s house or a public building is.
When someone catcalls me, I want to yell back so that they know it’s not okay, but I don’t want to risk confrontation. I think about the attention my outfit will draw. I run in more populated areas if it’s hot, in case I decide to take my shirt off. Even though I’ll likely be objectified more, more people means a lower potential for danger. I never run in the dark. I think about how my legs are feeling and how far I’d be able to outrun an average person.
With the Black Lives Matter movement in full force, I have been thinking a lot about the racism that Black people have dealt with their entire lives. As a young white woman, I have only had a taste of the systemic oppression that exists in this country. My fears about running alone are only a fraction of the fears that others have.
As a white person, I don’t have to run slow enough or dress a certain way to avoid looking suspicious. I don’t have to worry about what people might think if they see me running in a wealthy neighborhood. If I stop to stretch in front of a random house, no one will look at me twice. I never worry that someone might call the police or kill me just because they don’t like my skin color. Seeing a Trump sign in someone’s yard makes me angry, but doesn’t make me fear for my life. I worry about getting abducted, but not that the police won’t listen to my parents or care enough to look for me.
I do not speak for all womxn runners, and I certainly don’t speak for any Black runners; these are only my own thoughts and concerns. I can’t help but wonder how many of these fears members of the Black community internalize, as I have done with mine? How have we normalized a person taking so many precautions because of their race or gender, just to get some exercise? I am fortunate enough that the risk for me does not outweigh the reward of doing something I love. This is not true for everyone.
This is why intersectionality and acknowledging privilege are vital in the fight for equality. Yes, my concerns are real and valid, but my skin color doesn’t provoke threats or violence. This is why we have–and need–social movements. Women and people of color, especially Black people, fear for their safety in everyday activities. We push back for safety, for survival.
To hear the experiences of Black womxn runners, I recommend listening to Episode 20, Running While Black, of the Keeping-Track podcast. Listen here on Spotify, here on Apple Podcasts, or here on their website.