So, the Black Lives Matter movement is going to protest at the Twin Cities Marathon. This has people pretty upset, apparently. I learned about this via Outside Magazine’s Facebook post. The article was pretty benign, reporting the facts without any real indication of a bias (as good journalists are trained to do). The comments section was pretty incredible, both in the article itself and the Facebook post.
I’ll be honest, I was surprised. I don’t know why—I don’t know why I think that outdoor enthusiasts are somehow aligned with social justice initiatives, equality or progressive causes. I guess I just somehow made the leap that people who care about the environment, who respect and value the earth and the beauty it bestows would also value equality. I was clearly misinformed.
The comments section (as most comment sections are) was chock full of vitriol. There were a few things, though, that stood out to me as utterly fascinating and really quite disturbing.
The fact that the majority of the commenters were not only opposed to the #BLM movement’s protests, but violently so. One guy called the group terrorists. Another commenter asked “they do realize that all the top marathoners in the world are black, don’t they?” All I could think was about how privileged the whole experience of training and participating in a marathon actually is (this coming from someone who has run three).
First, you have to have the time to commit to training—and it’s not a little bit of time. We are talking this is a 20-hour a week job. Which means, unless you live in like, San Diego, you have to find the time to run some seriously long runs, often during the work day or run under cover of night. I trained the spring and I was lucky enough to have a flexible work environment so I could come in late or run at lunch when I had an 8 or 10 mile run to do in the middle of the week so as not to have to run entirely in the dark. I was lucky enough to not have to work on the weekends, so I could spend my entire Saturday or Sunday running (I’m slow, okay?). I don’t have kids or a second job or any of the things that might make that challenging.
Second, you have to pay to run these things, and they aren’t necessarily cheap. Think $150 on average for the registration fee. Unless you are lucky enough to live in the center of a city where a marathon is being held, you’ve got to travel to one, stay in a hotel near the starting line, etc, etc. Let’s be honest, folks, this is an activity that is geared towards those with money and time. Or, in other words, privilege.
So, here are a bunch of privileged people who are pissed that their hard work is going to potentially be interrupted by a group of people who are trying to draw attention to the fact that their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY are fraught with fear and oppression. I get it, training for a marathon is a feat. Finishing my marathons is one of the things I’m most proud of accomplishing. And yet, I have never had the experience of worrying about my nieces and nephews getting shot in a park because of their skin color. Or thinking, “I shouldn’t put up my hood, people might think I’m going to rob/rape/murder them.” Or, when seeing the red and blue lights behind my car, worrying about anything other than the fact that my insurance rates might go up.
So, this dichotomy is stark and it’s supposed to be. Make no mistake, the #BLM didn’t pick this race to protest because it would be convenient. Quite the opposite.
The vitriol was pretty aggressive. Brian and I made a decision a while ago that one way we can contribute to moving the conversation about racial equality forward is to use our own voices. Our voices aren’t necessarily loud or impactful on their own, but we believe the more people open themselves up to understanding privilege and oppression and then speak up, the further we as a society can come together. We are learning. We are not always doing it right. Maybe there isn’t a right way—right? I think a huge part of what we (Brian and I and our fellow allies) can do is pledge to try, to not always do it right, to make mistakes, but to try. To speak up instead of being silent. Sometimes gently, sometimes with more assertiveness.
So, we comment. I write. Brian conceptualizes art that embraces the movement. We think about how we can use art to bring people together. We talk at length about how we can use our own privilege, our art to break down walls instead of building them. We read a lot. We read things that aren’t mainstream. We write. We comment. It is not necessarily enough, but it is what we do.
Sometimes, the commenting is antagonistic. I commented on the Outside article. I suggested “check your privilege people.” The response was interesting on one level, and scary on the other. After my passionate response about the movement, human rights, democracy and privilege (you can read it here if you want), one commenter told me I was delusional and another said “My ability to do anything is more important than your life. Always will be.” For the record, that guy features a photo of someone (himself?) picking his underwear out of his butt-crack, so I guess I should consider the source. But both statements had me really shaken. They were aggressive and frankly, they raised my heart rate and adrenaline.
I know. I can hear you saying it. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
To that, I say this. When people are so angry or defensive that they make statements like this (and the many others that weren’t directed at me), it means the foundation is quaking. The very bedrock that white privilege was built upon is cracking.
And that means the movement is working.
I have noticed this over the last few months, but never more than in the comments section of this article. Where are the women? That comment section was noticeably devoid of female commenters.
You could say that this is because Outside Magazine attracts a more male audience (I question that, too, but I have no idea) but I have seen this trend across the board. I am a woman, and I have many female friends and acquaintances who I know are as committed to racial equality as I am. I know we are out there. This could be a lot of things—maybe fewer women use Facebook, maybe fewer women comment online, but find their activism elsewhere. Facebook is not everyone’s chosen vehicle to voice opinions for many reasons. I get that.
But, still. Anytime I post anything even mildly controversial on Facebook, I find that most of the comments are from my male friends who theoretically have just as much at stake as the women I’m connected with. But I think it speaks to another issue—that women’s voices are muted. I’m not going to offer any further commentary on that. But the fact that more white men than anyone else find themselves commenting on ANYTHING ANYWHERE does not escape my notice.
I’ve read Outside magazine for a decade. I’ve had print subscriptions, read online, followed on Facebook and Instagram. When Brian and I decided to sell our house in Seattle and go looking for our next place to live, one of the first places I looked for guidance on where we should go was Outside’s Best Places to Live.
We have been to many of those places now. We have struggled with the lack of diversity and how that meshes with our commitment to this issue. It breaks my heart that some of the places I’ve always dreamt of living might be comprised of people like those who are commenting on this article. And, frankly, it’s changing our vision and my dream of where I might want live for the foreseeable future. We can’t responsibly and honestly commit to living in a place that does not welcome (or even acknowledge) making strides in this movement.
We’ve been wrestling with this conundrum for a while, but this experience, this article, these responses have really shined a spotlight on something we cannot ignore: home, for us, means a place that is diverse, inclusive, and comprised of people who are willing to fight for those things.