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Runner’s World: “Why is Running So White?” Well, there is white hair and then there is black hair

Posted Nov 08 2011 10:16pm

Looking for black runners? Try Atlanta, where Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks founded Black Girls Run.

In its December issue, Runner’s World magazine had a nice spread on the paucity of African-American distance runners. (I’d provide a link, but RW doesn’t have one yet and so you’ve gotta go to your nearest bookstore to read the piece.)

As I blogged here a while back, the writer, Jay Jennings, interviewed me for the story and I was quoted twice, on page 95 in a section titled, Few Role Models, Unsafe Streets, I said, You do what your neighbors do,” in response to a Jennings question that probably had something to do with how your surroundings may or may not influence whether you run; and on page 98 in a section titled, Football, Not Cross-Country, I said “…a regular black guy who says this is cool,” in response to a question that probably had something to with what do newbie runners need to get in on the running craze?

Jennings interviewed dozens of elite and recreational runners, heads of national organizations, race directors, running club members, coaches, etc., over three months and penned a well-researched, nuanced piece that took up eight pages of glossy Runners World real estate and had plenty of glossy photos.

There was not a whole lot of new ground unearthed in the reporting about why blacks – American blacks – don’t run (few role models, social pressures to play other sports, unsafe neighborhoods, etc.), though the last section about black womens’ hair was something I’ve always wondered about.

Obviously, I’m not a black woman, but I am black and if I let my hair grow long and then washed it every day after every single run, my stuff would knot up so bad that taking a comb through it would bring me to tears. (My 1970s afro brought me a lot of grief.)

That’s just how black hair is. Yet as a black man, I can manage my hair by keeping it cut close to my head. I can wash it every day, twice a day if need be, brush it and be on my way. My hair has never stopped me from running.

But if you are a black woman…

“When I started running I had permed hair,” Brenda Stallings, of the Little Rock chapter of Black Girls Run (BGR), told Runner’s World. “It’s almost impossible to run in the morning and then blow-dry your hair, straighten your hair, curl, and get to work on time…” Stallings now wears her hair in dreads.

And Miya Smith of BGR in Atlanta added, “After you’ve sat in a salon for three or four hours and spent money, the last thing you want to do is go running and sweat it out.”

The Runner’s World folks went to Atlanta to do a lot of the story – and there are A LOT of black runners there. (Of the Atlanta metro-area’s 5 million residents, more than 1.6 million are black.) They (RW) interviewed the founders of Black Girls Run , Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks, who told them how they started the group, which has spread to several different cities. (Talk about community activisim!)

Runner’s World also took a nice photo spread of the entire BGR group. It was good to see so many beautiful black women in the same place at the same time.

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