Race and racing

Runners at the start of the 5K/10K

I finally got around to reading an article in December’s Runner’s World entitled Why Is Running So White?.

It’s an interesting question, especially for someone interested in issues of race and ethnicity in all facets of life. However, the author, Jay Jennings, doesn’t really answer the question in the headline. He’s answering another question: why are there so few African Americans in the running community nationwide?

I got through the article, which discussed issues of safe communities for running, a dearth of US-born black distance runners to look up to, high school coaches’ insistence that young black kids interested in running become sprinters and not distance runners, hair, and black running groups.

It’s a good read, but at the end I felt like something was missing. While the article mentions minorities and people of color interchangeably, it’ really only about African Americans. While Latinos are the largest minority group in the US, we’re mentioned a few times in the 6,000 word article. There’s no discussions about issues that might affect Latino participation, which likely overlap a lot with black runners. Instead, the only time we’re mentioned is for statistics about running and health issues (for reference, comparison to blacks and whites, maybe). Examples:

Still, the numbers, compiled between January and May 2011 from nearly 12,000 respondents, are eye-opening: “Core runners” (who tend to enter running events and train year-round) are 90 percent Caucasian, 5.1 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and, in perhaps the most startling figure, only 1.6 percent African-American. (The sample adds up to more than 100 percent because respondents could mark more than one choice.) Those numbers are consistent with ones from other surveys, such as Runner’s World’s, and have remained low even as the number of runners has grown by 56 percent in the past decade, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. (The overall population, from the 2010 U.S. census, is 72 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic or Latino, 13 percent black or African-American, 5 percent Asian, and 1 percent American Indian or Alaska native.)

According to a 2006–2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control, blacks in the United States had a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, compared with whites. As for diabetes, these groups fare even worse: Compared with non-Hispanic white adults, the risk was 77 percent higher among non-Hispanic blacks, 66 percent higher among Hispanics, and 18 percent higher among Asian-Americans.

What gives, Runner’s World? Last time I checked, Latinos were people of color too. It’s 2011, articles about race in ______ or people of color in ______ shouldn’t be so black/white.

I had another issue with the article. There’s little about socioeconomic issues or costs associated with running. Poverty rates are higher amongst blacks and Latinos. The recession hit both groups hard and unemployment rates are higher. As someone who is middle class and employed, running isn’t something I consider expensive. I can afford to buy $100 running shoes every few months, pay for $30-$130 for race fees, and buy new running clothes when needed. If I was one of the many un- or underemployed in the nation, I wouldn’t be so willing to spend what little discretionary income I had on a hobby. A lot of people say running is a relatively inexpensive hobby, but my guess is that the “core running” community is also fairly middle class. I’m pretty sure poor people don’t think it’s inexpensive.


7 thoughts on “Race and racing

  1. trucks_here says:

    I run my long runs around Lake Balboa Park (great place to run) in the Valley, and I think the regular runners are pretty reflective of the local population. Same when I used to run a lot at Griffith Park.
    Wrt to socioeconomic issues, yeah, I think in addition to affording gear, just time to devote to running can come at a cost.
    Also, after re-reading the RW article, I noticed it gave suggestions on using photos in their content, but didn’t quite go as far as the cover.

  2. I read this article a couple of weeks ago. For some reason that I couldn’t quite pinpoint it left a really bad taste in my mouth. I think you’ve vocalized a bit of what I have an issue with.

    While the article was not meant to be disparaging to blacks it came across as once again another article asking why blacks just can’t get it together. And as you pointed out minority means a lot more than just black. It can be Latino, Indian, Asian, etc. The list goes on. However, this read as another “oh those poor blacks” article.

    I work in a running store and see plenty of black runners. However, I live in a really integrated community and South Florida has a fairly large black middle – upper class.

    Completely off topic – I think your blog domain name has been hacked or something. If I try to click over directly from Google Reader it goes here: Same thing if I do a search from Google and click the link for your blog. Might be a DNS issue, but I’d definitely check your server! Email me if you need any help.

  3. I often read such articles and am left feeling the same way. Even outside of the world of running, I think there’s a dearth of actual information regarding how Latinos fit into these broad generalizations because people have a harder time generalizing Latinos! (Although to be fair, their generalizations of African-Americans are often off base.) It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem, now that the sheer numbers are expanding to where they are, because huge swaths of the population are being left out of such analytics.

    (Also FYI I clicked over from Google Reader and got here just fine, not sure what issue GeekGirl is having!)

  4. I don’t know why people think running is a cheap hobby. Even if a runner doesn’t pay for races and fancy tech/clothing, adequate shoes are expensive. I don’t make that much money, so I try to keep my races local, use my office’s gym when it’s too cold/dark outside and tighten my wallet on other things.

    As for the race issue: Yeah, I have definitely noticed that most recreational runners are white and middle- to upper-class. I live in the Bay Area, and I have noticed more Asians at races, but not in the clubs I belong to. There are so few minorities, I was referred to as a “dragon” by an older gentleman during a post-run brunch. And this is a San Francisco club! I was so offended, I almost quit the group altogether, but the other members aren’t offensive.

  5. César says:

    I was once told by the executive director/head of a university’s hispanic association that it was my fault that I had very little funding because I made the decision to pursue a career in writing which to this executive director was clearly a “upper-middle class white” career. Instead, she continued to inform me that I should instead invest my time in more practical careers like math and sciences, where hispanics belong–that’s where “all the money is.” I was floored, this after telling her that I was the only hispanic in one of the most competitive creative writing programs in the country. I was not only fighting for my own place but also I was conscious that I was paving the way for other writers just like me. And here I found myself seeking help from someone of my own kind who was putting me down instead of supporting me. I was floored.

    What does that have to do with running? Well, after reading that Runner’s World article, I immediately thought of this experience I had and your thoughts–is running just out of reach from Latinos and African-Americans because of expense? Only whites and educated Latinos and African-Americans can enjoy running because it’s been set up this way. I highly disagree with this assessment. Running is not out of reach from anyone much in the way creative writing is not out of reach from Latinos and African-Americans. I do not distinguish–I refuse to distinguish running (and writing) to just one class and income bracket. Instead, I’m excited to see that there’s a program out there for African-American women to gain access to the sport of running for all of the wonderful benefits that you and I know about. I wish this was the case for Latinas and Latinos. But if society and the ignorance of people like that university head keep us thinking that running (and writing) are a “white” “rich” unattainable things, then we will never see a person of color in the pages of Runner’s World or a writer of color succeed in the arts.

  6. My husband had the same reaction to the article. He just ran the Philly marathon and I did the Philly half-marathon last year and this is a subject that’s come up in conversation. But I’m glad to say that at least in my Facebook circles I knew a lot of Latinos who in the past year have run halves of full marathons.

    As for price, all I can say is that you’re going to have to buy shoes and proper clothes regardless of which exercise. At least with running you just run out your door and go. No gym or yoga studio fees. And no expensive lululemon clothes.

    I bought the book Born to Run (by Christopher McDougall) for my husband’s for his birthday — about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico who are super-runners. He’s totally convinced that a diet of beans and tortillas will make him faster and is trying to convince to cook nothing else 🙂

  7. Trucks_Here,
    I’ve only run around the Hansen Dam in the Valley. That’s a tough run with all those hills, but it was excellent training. I think there might be some pretty big regional differences in the racial & ethnic makeup in the running community. I follow a few running bloggers. Those from Southern California seem to be pretty diverse, or maybe those are just the people I look for.

    Oooh, really good point there. I know there were some aspects that didn’t sit well with other friends. And I think it was probably for the same reason you listed. It reminds me of the articles about how black people use Twitter. There’s an “othering” aspect to it. Also, thanks for pointing out the hack. I think I got most of it cleaned up after spending a few hours on it Sunday night. What a headache.

    Yes! It’s so hard to write anything about how a particular community approaches or views a certain issue when that community is quite heterogeneous when it comes to lots of other hobbies.

    I can’t believe — well, yes I can — that you were called a dragon. I’ve hit up a few group runs in LA. One sponsored by a local woman’s fitness store was pretty diverse, but still mainly white. I’m not that outgoing of a person when I first meet people, so I felt a little out of place. I’ve also run with some of the youth Students Run LA groups. I love what that program does.

    I don’t mean to imply that running is only for rich or middle class people. I just think that the assertion that it’s a cheap sport are overblown. I assume the people who say that are college-educated, middle class. Those are the people who write articles in national magazines, not poor people. I know the students who participate in the Students Run LA program for LA middle/high school students to prepare to run the LA Marathon get lots of financial help to do so. They get free shoes, running shorts and singlets, and paid entry in to the several races they run while training. I know of some Latino focused running groups and clubs in the LA area. In fact, the first race I ran was a 5K organized by the Aztlan Track Club. Pretty much everyone there was a person of color.

    I think there’s growing participation in running distance races for lots of communities. I know people who are getting in to it, but probably not doing multiple races a year. I get most of my running clothes at Target or on sale at Running Warehouse. The most expensive thing I run with is a Garmin 405cx (it was a gift). I looooved Born to Run. Congrats to your husband on running Philly.

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