As a sportsman, I have learned to view and treat all people the same regardless of their race, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, or social class. My sports career has been characterized by over three decades of active participation in running. My love for exercising and the training of others have been impacted by the current global pandemic. COVID-19 has taken me aback and ignited a renewed sense of cognitive dissonance surrounding health disparities among black Americans.
COVID-19 disproportionately affects the lives of black people in the U.S. For those blacks who have not only heeded the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but love exercising, they might be met with lethal force from color-blind individuals – one of the most recent being the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. However, some may argue that Arbery’s murder isn’t directly tied to COVID-19. Yet, the CDC encourages Americans of all races to utilize exercise as a way to cope with stress, depression and other mental health consequences during COVID-19.
Among some Americans, COVID-19 fatalities due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and exercise could have been prevented through routine exercising in the form of walking or jogging prior to the pandemic. What is repulsive and unbearable, however, is the fact that when people of color try to exercise, instances of racial confrontations tend to heighten and might lead to black fatalities.
On the other hand, racism, as we know it, is a false assumption of a perpetuated sense of superiority by one race over another – the white over the black race, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery.
As I grapple with my own realization of how fatal such racist encounters can be for nonwhite joggers like Arbery, whose crime was jogging while black, I withstand any notions of fear that are eternized by cowardly acts as I continue to run. A popular social media hashtag, #IRUNWITHMAUD, is evidence of this form of indispensable resilience from Americans of all races. Comments such as “running while black shouldn’t get you killed” are quite revealing of the disgust that normally goes unchecked, especially since racism affects black health.
Moreover, available scientific evidence suggests that enjoyment of the outdoors provides a unique contribution to an individual’s volition, without which I could never equate the benefits of the runner’s high, an extraordinary euphoric feeling that is scientifically proven to reduce stress, often after the body is flooded with hormones called endorphins. It is widely understood that physical activity promotes healthy behaviors, a form of the social determinants of health, particularly in regards to non-communicable diseases. My own connection to the outdoors can be traced to the allure of scenic beauty that I encounter while traversing the trails along the mighty Missouri River.
Assumptions of innocence and guilt, regardless of where you are, are differently ascertained for nonwhite individuals compared to their white counterparts. Therefore, as black joggers continue to show remarkable resilience to societal pressures not to jog or to miss opportunities for physical activity outdoors, I not only encourage a deeper discourse on America’s defaulted promissory note for the betterment of its black citizenry, but also encourage blacks to jog with a family member, partner, spouse, or even solo – armed with a smart phone.
Timothy Makubuya, Ph.D. is a Ugandan-born academic and scholar. He is a tenure-track assistant professor of Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science in the College of Education at University of Missouri- St. Louis.