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I stretched my legs, laced my shoes and headed outside for a run in my predominantly white neighborhood. As I hit my stride, a pickup-truck cruised past and slowed down, staring intently in my direction.
Adrenaline flooded my body.
The recent murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery—a black jogger minding his own business—by two white men in Georgia reminds us that a Black man running freely outdoors is more threatening to racists than a pandemic.
Some will always see Black lives the way early 20th century lynch mobs saw us: criminals needing to be contained or put down.
Of course, African Americans have navigated past the threat of racism-based retaliation for running long before Harriet Tubman launched the Underground Railroad in 1849.
And even as Christian conservatives are suddenly condemning the modern-day lynching of Arbery, jogging while Black remains a high-risk activity for African Americans.
Research from the Maryland Population Research Center found that Black men in mostly white neighborhoods are less likely to exercise outdoors because of fears that they will be criminalized. Black sociologist Rashawn Ray’s nationwide survey represents clear evidence that racism or the fear of racism-based aggression hinders Black health.
But what scares me more than jogging while Black are the conversations on social media that highlight the hopelessness of being Black in America.
It’s true that even driving to work, having a cookout, walking home with a bag of skittles, sitting in our car or sitting in our own home presents a threat to law enforcement and white racist vigilantes. But retreating is not the solution.
Jogging while Black is a revolutionary act because it tells the oppressors that we won’t police our own presence for their comfort. It tells passerby’s, police officers, and politicians that we will continue to build our physical and mental health even as their systems actively work to destroy it.
Conversations on social media should highlight the hypocrisy of White privilege, but they shouldn’t end there.
Generations before us were beaten into submission. We should beat back against forces that seek our subjugation. Generations before us were removed from public spaces. We should take up space everywhere because our presence holds power.
The image of a free Black man has always symbolized a threat to the status quote, a truth the late James Baldwin illustrated in The Fire Next Time decades ago when he wrote “well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.”
As I ran in my predominantly White neighborhood in support of Ahmaud Arbery, the pickup truck eventually moved past me, looking for some other destination. What seemed like a casual encounter could have turned into something worse.
The ever-growing names of Black and Brown martyrs we remember represent an intolerable injustice. Our collective grief over these unjust killings keep us in a constant state of tension and fear. But walking away from dismantling White supremacy will only leave the burden to the next generation to solve. We can’t allow hate to make us stand still or frozen in fear. We have to keep running.