Dear fellow humans born into white privilege,
Many of you by now are aware of the story of Ahmaud Arbery, a young 25 year old man of color, who was senselessly gunned down and murdered, by two white men in Georgia on February 23rd, 2020, while out for a run. His crime, being black while running and allegedly in their minds, matching the description of a robbery suspect from the area. They saw him and intentionally chased after him in their vehicle, and shot him dead. For running, while black.
Yesterday would have been his 26th birthday.
I learned of this story, as many others did, via social media. Earlier in the week, the hashtag #justiceforahmaud started popping up, along with the tragic story of this young man, followed by the video of his death, which I still cannot and will not watch.
Like many, I had the question, “Why is this now just making the rounds on social media, almost two months after the event occured?”
As it turns out apparently, the two men responsible for his callus and intentional death, based purely on racism, were not charged. Yep, you read that correctly. Not charged, for chasing down a human being in a vehicle and intentionally shooting them dead. Allegedly, the two men argued self defense, that they were just abiding by Georgia state laws, which allow for a citizen’s arrest when someone sees a crime being committed. Because of their ties to law enforcement, they were taken for their word.
As more details came out about what actually happened, more and more people shared the story, including celebrities and professional athletes with a large social media following, giving it the public eye it needed for justice to finally be served. Two of the three men involved were finally arrested this week for murder and aggravated assault. Though to be clear, it never should have taken posts on social media for that to happen in the first place.
Fast forward to Thursday, the day before Ahmaud’s birthday. Again the story made rounds, but this time with the hashtag #irunwithmaud. It was suggested by his former high school coach, that in solidarity and support for Ahmaud, people go out and run 2.23 miles for his birthday on Friday, to honor his memory. The 2.23 for February 23rd, the day he was murdered.
Like most, I joined the various Strava groups that were setup as awareness for this run of solidarity for Ahmaud. Friday is usually an off day of training for me, but why not get out for a few extra miles and “join the cause” to support a fellow member of the running community.
Throughout the day, I watched the flurry of posts pop up showing support for this run, then I started to notice a theme. For every one comment from a white person applauding this plan, there were about five or more comments in return from someone of color, all with pure outrage at the idea of a bunch of white folks “doing their part” by going for their 2.23 mile run, a run that they likely had zero fear of being shot during mind you, then posting a selfie and a hashtag and continuing about their daily life of privilege, making no real change.
I spent some time reading all of these comments and genuinely letting what they were saying sink in.
As many pointed out in their outrage, those of us who could never fully understand the daily weight of fearing for our own safety due to the color of our skin, were incapable of not making it about us. And they were right.
Looking back, every post “in support” was the same story of “I just can’t imagine…” followed up with a personal anecdote of how they too have felt unsafe running before, but never simply because of their skin color.
It made me think, and nope, not once in my twenty seven years of running as a white female have I ever had the thought during a run of “Will I be killed because I am white and running down the street?”.
So really, how will my going for a run and posting a hashtag in solidarity change anything? The idea of participating in it suddenly made me uncomfortable.
Skip to Friday, and again my social media was flooded with the expected flurry of selfies from 2.23 mile runs, and hashtags #irunwithmaud and #justiceformaud and again a theme occurred. Many were followed by the statement “I wish I could do more!”.
One Facebook post however, from a runner who I have not met but is in a number of my local running circles online, really stood out. He in detail described his routine and mindset yesterday morning (and all mornings), as a man of color, going out for a run at an hour when many are in bed asleep.
Describing his well thought out outfit choice, and his fearful need to make sure what he wears leaves no question to anyone on the street that he is running to exercise, and not running because he committed a crime. His fear of going down a wrong street, into a wrong neighborhood, and being mistaken for someone he is not, because of the color of his skin.
And here I am, preparing for today’s frigid long run, wondering which color of pom pom hat will go best with my outfit.
It really resonated with me, and from the comments, others in the group as well. It made people think, “what can I, someone of white privilege, do to make change?”.
Going for a run of support is great, but just not enough to make any real change.
So instead of running 2.23 miles yesterday, I instead am choosing to share and participate in some of the things that stood out to me, as suggested by others, to at least take a step forward towards real change.
- Educate yourself on racial inequality and learn what you can do in your own life or neighborhood to stop injustice. Atlanta Georgia, ironically of all places, has an amazing Civil Rights museum, The National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It is loaded with exhibits that are both educational and eye opening. If you are a person born into white privilege, do yourself a favor and go there. When you do, be sure to sit down at the Lunch Counter exhibit, and listen to the entire damn thing without getting up because it makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Speaking of being uncomfortable, the most suggested topic was have those uncomfortable conversations with your friends of color to get their perspective and really listen to what they go through day to day, without chiming in with a “me too” story. Take those conversations to heart, and think about what you can do personally to help evoke change in this world for those who are not seen as equal by their community.
- Sign petitions for change or donate to organizations aiding in civil rights.
- And last but not least, be the kind of person and portray the kind of energy, that someone of color never has to be fearful for their life around.
Maybe if we all do a little more than just go for a run and post a selfie, we won’t need another hashtag for the next victim to this senseless violence.