Not too long ago, there was a commercial that showed how boys would run when they were instructed to run like a girl. They put a smile on their faces and kinda ran in place but mainly hopped, laughing, acting silly. The same age girls were told to run like a girl. Did they smile? Nope. Did they hop? Nope. They ran fast and fierce. And inspired #runlikeagirl.
Thinking back on how I saw girls running growing up, I recall that even in elementary school, one of my good friends – a white girl – always had the fastest time when our class would run timed laps. I was always toward the end of the pack…but I digress.
On February 23, 2021, we mourned the one year anniversary death of Ahmaud Arbery. In case you don’t recall, Mr. Arbery was out for a run when he was gunned down by white supremacists. For some reason, the anniversary of his death caused me to think of how “run like a girl” is really meant for white girls. It really means, “run like a white girl” because white girls can run early morning and even late at night…without too much fear.
Run like a white girl.
But let’s be real. There is always fear when running alone as a female. As a half-marathon/marathon runner for years, I know. It’s why I always have my phone with me while running and tell my husband the route I plan to take.
Honestly, I’m not really afraid unless I’m in a dark, non heavily trafficked area. I do my best to avoid those places. But I’m not afraid of being shot or killed. I’m nervous of what white guys – and yes, I mean white – may think they can do to a woman in running pants without them facing consequences. And yet, I’m not afraid of death.
That’s not the same for my girls. When my girls begin running or even being alone around town, I will fear for their safety. Even as I write this, I’ve had to stop writing several times due to the tears welling up in my eyes and the anger in my bones. I’ll always be concerned about my daughters because they are female living in a patriarchal society. But the biggest fear is not due to their gender. My biggest fear comes from their race. And the fact that black females have been targeted in our society for 400+ years.
You can’t step onto a neighbor’s yard.
Even when our girls came home with us, my race radar was raised to the nth degree. As we would take walks in the neighborhood, I realized that I didn’t fear for myself accidentally stepping into a neighbor’s. But I do fear for my girls taking even one step onto a neighbor’s yard – or worst yet – a stranger’s yard. Will the stranger invoke Missouri’s ridiculous castle doctrine and say they shot at my 4, 6 or 8 year old daughter to protect themselves and their property? I’m not so sure the neighbor wouldn’t.
But I get upset with my girls when they step onto a neighbor’s yard, especially a stranger’s yard. I get close to yelling at my girls for doing this. They’re response is usually that one of their white friends always runs through people’s yards. But I have to tell my girls that they don’t get to do so. It’s not fair, but I hope my girls have learned to not just follow their white friends.
But I still worry. What happens when my girls go out playing or running alone, even in our semi-diverse neighborhood? How will the neighbors see them? How will strangers see them? What will happen if my girls become runners and go for long-distance runs around the neighborhood?
I think about this constantly, even in the mornings as I walk our 15-pound chug, Sabrina. It’s been cold in the St. Louis area lately so the dog and I go for brisk, short walks in the mornings. On the way home, I often run through our alley. Sometimes, if we’re a couple blocks away, I’ll run through multiple alleys.
And every time I do, I think to myself, will my girls be able to do this? Will they be able to run through an alley without the neighbors fearing that my girls stolen something…without the neighbors seeing my girls through racist eyes? And then I think to myself, will my girls ever receive the privileges in life that I have received?
And I’m just not sure. I’m just not sure.
P.S. If you’re white, it’s time to listen to our black siblings. They’ve been sharing their truths for a long time. It’s time we do the hard work of dismantling white supremacy. An easy way to start is by reading and being open to learning from experiences that are different from our own.
Here’s a short list of a few reads I recommend, including the new book by Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us. If you’re ready to do more, get involved in local government, support public school education, call out racism when you see it, and vote!
In May 2017, Chris and I became parents to our three daughters. We are forever learning how to best support our three black daughters as we navigate life as a transracial family through adoption.
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