Privilege

Generally speaking, I think the running community is pretty welcoming to new participants. There are programs, like C25K for the novice, blogs written by amateurs (example: me), community running clubs, and plenty of fun runs throughout the year for which to register. That being said, there are a few areas that I feel we, the running community, could do a better job examining and addressing privilege. Privilege is a group of unearned, advantageous rights bestowed upon individuals based on their membership to distinct social communities or classes. Some privilege is not easily named or recognized by those who hold it (Black & Stone, 2005). Just a few thoughts that are in my brain as I explore the inclusivity of running, specifically regarding thin privilege, ableism, and class privilege:

Thin Privilege. Is running body positive? In some cases, there are wonderful role models. However, do we see accurate portrayals of diverse bodies, particularly female bodies, in the mainstream running media, such as Runner’s World? Not so much. Do advertisements for running products or races show the cellulite, stretch marks, and cosmetic-free faces of so many women runners? Not particularly. Do we see different ages, races, and body types in promotional material that is not related to weight loss from running? Do running stores carry sports bras and tops that can support a full bust line, or armband MP3 holsters that span a “larger than average” bicep? Can women with a larger or wider foot hope to encounter options when they shop for shoes? I wonder how many potential runners disconnect from the practice because they do not see themselves in the community.

Ableism. We’ve got an inspiration porn problem in the running community, and the best way to tackle that is to start welcoming people with disabilities to meaningfully participate in our events. This means thinking about the routes of races and the accessibility or group meet-ups. It means featuring runners with a diverse range of abilities, including wheelchair racers, in popular running media. It means challenging our local marathon organizers to add a wheelchair category (something I am currently doing in my hometown). While it is popular to publish stories about people running marathons and pushing their relatives with disabilities along, we need to stop and think about whether or not we have an equivalent or greater number of newsworthy and noteworthy stories about strong, determined, and independent athletes with disabilities accomplishing feats of greatness. [Absolutely no disrespect to Team Hoyt… I am just challenging how some stories end up on morning news magazines and why… is it a conversation about disability culture and empowerment, or is it perpetuating the dominant narrative that people with disabilities need to be helped and assisted in an able-bodied culture?]

Class privilege. “Running is low investment—you just tie up your shoes and go out the front door!” How many times have I been guilty of saying a version of this? Let’s be honest… between race fees, special shoes, and appropriate clothing, running costs money. But that’s not all. Running takes time, which could be much more challenging in families with a single parent or two working adults who are over scheduled with work to make ends meet. Running in the neighborhood might not be convenient or a good idea, particularly if you live in a high crime area and you regularly feel unsafe. Running requires good fuel—and eating healthy organic foods is not cheap. Are you at home with one kid? Two kids? Need a stroller for them? Well, that is another chunk of change.

This is just the beginning of my own explorations on how I can challenge some of the privileges in the running community. I am just starting to delve into this topic, so if you can think of more examples of privilege in the running community, please comment below. I look forward to reading, and revisiting this topic.

Black, L., & Stone, D. (2005). Expanding the definition of privilege: The concept of social privilege. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 33, 243-255.

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6 thoughts on “Privilege

  1. Very interesting blog post, which provides several interesting points.

    However, I am kind of stuck on this part: “Privilege is a group of unearned, advantageous rights bestowed upon individuals based on their membership to distinct social communities or classes.” Is privilege really “unearned” in every case? The common statement that “driving is a privilege, not a right” pops into mind, and a license is clearly earned, and many advantages enjoyed because of inclusion in a higher economic class are due to that person earning his or her spot there. (Of course, you could then argue that how much money is in your bank account is not an accurate description of your worth to society.) My point is that I never heard of privilege being 100 percent unearned and wanted to touch upon that point with you.

    • Good points, Matt! I think yes, some privileges are earned. But Privilege plays a role in which people will have access to higher paying jobs (education, connections, being more easily promoted in the workplace) and other advantages. I know, for example, the privilege of a driver’s license is something that divides documented residents/citizens from undocumented residents in many states… regardless of whether or not someone has the skill to drive a car.

  2. I do absolutely agree with you that many (most?) privileges are unearned, even in the case of a driver’s license. (Just not *all* as that definition implied.)

    Otherwise, great post. It definitely is thought provoking.

    I may be mistaken, but I seem to remember Runner’s World having more “normal” looking runners on their covers not too long ago (both male and female). Also, it seems that more can be done in general to encourage people to pick up running, including the quality of the interactions between curious, possibly overweight, runners-to-be and those working at running or other sports-related stores.

    And the Boston Marathon bombings really got me thinking about the ableism point that you later made here, given that so many people who were affected would not be able to run again, at least on their own two legs, and how fortunate I am to have the ability to do so today and that I should not take that for granted. (With that said, if I do ever become disabled, it would be nice to know that I am treated with the respect that you alluded to in your post in regards to racing as well as other areas of my life.)

    One other thought on ableism … as my interest in British culture has increased over the last several years – as has the number of my web page visits to sites such as BBC.co.uk – I have noticed that the Paralympics receive a pretty significant amount of coverage other there in mainstream media such as from the BBC, while here in the U.S. that event is largely – and nearly completely – ignored by all forms of media..

    Your class privilege point is a good one, although much of what runners purchase are not necessarily that essential. (However, spending $100 or a little more on shoes is highly recommended due to how important the quality of running shoes is to keeping your feet and legs uninjured.) But where you are living is a very valid point as there are absolutely places in this country – and in the world – where it is just not safe to run. I remember hearing about marathon runners training in war-torn Yugoslavia and trying to figure out if they were brave or crazy for doing so.

    Time is a great point, too. Obviously, a single person working part-time (perhaps with a significant amount of savings) would have significantly more time to run than a single parent with three children working two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. (Unfortunately, the latter person of those two examples would likely have more to gain from running as it relates to helping him or her focus, relax, etc.)

    And, of course, food is a whole other issue that does even have to relate to running. Unfortunately, the higher quality foods tend to cost (significantly) more, which is a very disturbing situation for society as a whole. The healthier we are as a society – in regards to both nutrition and being active – the better it is for all of us.

    As far as other instances of privilege as it relates to running … there is also the ability to travel to races, both from a monetary as well as a travel standpoint. Of course, participating in races is not necessarily an essential part of incorporating running into your lifestyle, but – at least for me – it does make it more fun. But you need to be able to get to wherever the race is and be able to afford the entry fee.

    One indirect privilege that many runners enjoy is growing up in an active household. I don’t have studies offhand to back up this point, but I absolutely believe that those who grow up in more active households are much more likely to be active themselves, both in childhood and adulthood. Personally, I grow up in an extremely inactive household (my parents and brother are unfortunately still very inactive), and I have felt that running off and on for a significant number of years has me as more of an exception than a rule. And, sometimes, I do find it harder to get motivated to go running or work out when I am around them and tend to be more likely to simply stay home and watch television or other inactive things that they tend to always be doing.

    Conversely, it seems like those who grow up with active parents and/or other members of the family are much more likely to be active themselves. Of course, as with other things in life, you can overcome that; I’m just saying that the odds are that how active – or inactive – your family is or was likely plays a significant role in how active or inactive you are or will be later in life. I suppose this plays into a bigger picture of how big of a role society plays into it. For example, if you are living in the Northwest, you are much more likely to associate with runners in your day-to-day life than if you are living in Mississippi (since more people tend to be active in the Northwest than is the case in places in or near Mississippi), and simply being around more active people likely increases the odds that you will become active as well.

    • I so enjoyed reading this response. Definitely some great points, and it is giving me a lot to think about. I especially like your point about growing up in a family with physical activity or sports as a value and practice.

    • Matt, I agree with so much you’ve posted. I’d add to the dimension about class that while some running gear is certainly not mandatory, even basic safety equipment can get pricey/add up and be limiting for people with limited incomes: headlamps, reflective clothing/vests, etc. While these may not be a requirement, being without them can make running even more challenging to pick up and exacerbate safety concerns and injury. It can sometimes feel unnecessary or excessive to don all the gear, but without it a runner can face more time consuming and costly challenges.

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