Black Hustory · Black Present · fitness · hiking · racism · swimming

Exercising while black: a few women’s stories

As a white woman who wants to be a better ally, advocate and collaborator for racial justice, the number once piece of advice I’m hearing is: get yourself educated! Read and learn about the history, politics, economics, etc. of systematic racism. Read about the experiences of people of color as recounted by them. Learning is necessary for white people to acknowledge, be aware of and look for situations where racism harms people of color; these situations are everywhere, and happening all the time. Then, learn how to respond. Learn to be uncomfortable, and accept that others will be made uncomfortable by your responses.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about discrimination against cis and trans women, against older women, fatter women, women with disabilities, and women of color.

Today’s post offers you a few sites and stories of African American women, in motion in a racist world.

I am asking you, dear readers, a favor: if you could add any suggestions in the comments about women of color doing physical activities whose stories we ought to know about, we’ll publish them in a follow-up post. Thanks as always.

First up–Black Girls Trekkin’. this is a group “for women of color who choose to opt outside”. Tiffanie Tharpe, one of the founders, was interviewed in the Guardian about the need for support and safety for women of color in the outdoors:

I feel like it’s important for black girls to hike. When I was young I would have loved to have had someone encouraging me to get outside. To not be afraid. I’ve decided to apply for a master’s degree in parks and recreation management, and a friend and I set up a hiking group for women of color in LA called Black Girls Trekkin’. I want to be a model to other young girls.

Here’s a photo from their Facebook page from one of the events they sponsor:

Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.
Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.

Second: Outdoor Afro. Founded by Ru Mapp, Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization based on Oakland, CA. They have local leaders and sponsor events in 30 states, organizing hikes, kayaking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. In their stories section, you can hear from Taishya Adams about the ways being in the outdoors and organizing and leading outdoor groups has helped her develop skills for community organizing and political action. She says:

As an Outdoor Afro leader in Colorado, I build on their 10-year legacy of reconnecting black people to the outdoors and our role as leaders in it. I believe that human relationships are at the center of our work towards justice, the foundation each of us can build upon.

Taishya Adams, in Colorado.
Taishya Adams, in Colorado.

Third: The Howard University women’s swim team. Howard is the only historically black university in the US that has both men’s and women’s swim teams. The BBC spent time with the Howard women swim team to create a documentary podcast called Black Girls Don’t Swim. The swimmers talk about their early experiences with swimming and the barriers they’ve encountered. One of the obstacles is the harmful effects of chlorinated water on their hair. The team discusses hair care, competing in a white-dominated sport, tips on being a successful student athlete, and how much they love swimming in this video interview, conducting by blackkidsswim.com.

Howard university women's swim team member in the water.
Howard university women’s swim team member in the water.

There’s a long and complex and racist history of the relationships between swimming and black communities all over the world. This article in The Conversation by University of Toronto PhD. student Jacqueline Scott provides a short introduction and starting point for learning about these issues.

Finally (for now), there’s Jacqueline Scott’s excellent blog, Black Outdoors. She writes about all sorts of activities from birding to snowshoeing, has published widely and also been interviewed for her research and her passion for the outdoors. Bonus for Torontonians: Scott also leads 2-hour Black History Walks (currently paused), which you can read more about here.

Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking  about Black History.
Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking about Black History.

So readers, any suggestions for stories and sites to visit to learn more about women of color in motion on land, sea or air? I didn’t cover much here, so I’d welcome input. We’d love to see them, and will put them together for another post. Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Exercising while black: a few women’s stories

  1. I’m sure there are some reasons why not 1 of the regular several bloggers on this blog, is not non-white. There have been guest bloggers (which I was several years ago when Tracey published mine.) Possibly they don’t want their voice buried over time, so a blogger just goes somewhere else, ie. publish on their own blog, though there might be a smaller (different) audience there..I’m serious.

    Last year (I think) there was a public ruckus when Mountain Equipment Co-op, a Canadian national sporting clothing and gear retail store chain was criticized for not featuring more non-white models in their catalogs,doing sports stuff, etc. So MEC got better.

    2 years ago, I wrote to MEC and told them to recognize the colour choices for women’s sports apparel for especially the tops….during that time, there were truly awful colours..dun, greyish /puke colours. I realize those don’t show stains or look more “earthy”. But I said that many women of colour don’t want to always buy tops with crap shades/ colours…it doesn’t look good against their skin tone!! Imagine wearing dull yellow or dull grey against yellow skin tone. So I suggest tops with more jewel/bright colours/hue choices which look better against dark/black hair also.

    Anyway the response I got was a $80.00 gift coupon…which I promptly bought a needed Terry bike saddle to replace a long-used, now broken saddle. 🙂

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  2. This blog post explains best my background in diet and income as it relates to my background and upbringing on a non-Western diet while also growing up in Canada all my life:
    https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/judge-not-the-poor-eating-healthy/ Since we do discuss food choices in this blog…. just thought as a reminder how one has to be careful not to paint all poor/immigrant communities as having bad food choices.

    I also believe that income by having enough money for a family to enroll child(ren) in post school sports/invest in some sports equipment and child having a friend or sibling to enjoy the sport/exercise for support, is very key to offering enjoyable options later in adult life, when a person naturally chooses the exercise activity that suits them/they like a lot to do it often enough ….without thinking of it as a chore. https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-fitness-match-made-in-heaven-your-personality-and-your-favourite-sport/

    So equity among different racial groups in sports is: access,support, participation outside of structured classes/solo and understanding one’s own personality /lifestyle to make good personal choices for exercise activity …for life: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-fitness-match-made-in-heaven-your-personality-and-your-favourite-sport/

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  3. My recommendations will be mostly distance running-focused, since that’s what I follow the most these days!

    I really like Mirna Valerio (themirnavator.com), who is a plus-sized, black distance runner. She seems to find a lot of joy in running and in being outside, and has been writing and talking about her experiences for many years.

    The Diverse We Run instagram page, which is run by Carolyn Su, highlights people of color in running.

    In the 2020 U.S. Woman’s Olympic Marathon trials, the first- and third-place finishers were black women – Aliphine Tuliamuk and Sally Kipyego. I don’t feel like tracking them down right now, but there have been some good interviews with and articles written about both women.

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