This weekend’s event in Charlottesville, VA incited a whole slew of emotions for me. However, the one feeling I did not have was that of surprise. None of this was surprising because this type of violence against people of color (POC) has never gone away. Yes, it’s 2017, and racism is alive and well in 2017. I struggled at first to write anything because I had so many thoughts running through my mind. But I would be remiss if I used that an excuse to let myself off the hook.
The message I have to share may be unpopular, and it’s polarizing for sure, but luckily, I’m at an age where I no longer give a shit about being popular. Being popular doesn’t change the systems of oppression in this country. Being well-liked doesn’t help the marginalized.
I have met a fitness professional or two (actually a whole lot) who choose not to speak on issues of racism, white supremacy, and violence against marginalized groups of people. Let me be clear, there are lots of marginalized people in this country. However, I’m speaking specifically about POC for the purpose of the article, mainly because of the events that transpired in Charlottesville.
I’ve heard every excuse in the book ranging from, “I have a lot of conservative clients”, “I just prefer to keep my business and personal views separate”, “I don’t know what to say”, “I don’t want to argue with people on Facebook”, “I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers”, “I prefer to spread positivity”, “I would lose clients”, and most interesting, “People come to me for health and fitness. They come here because they want to get away from that stuff.”
Just to be clear, all of these excuses are bullshit.
I want to deal with the last excuse. “People come to me for health and fitness. They come here because they want to get away from that stuff.”
I’m not even sure where to begin with unpacking that statement.
By “that stuff” do mean the pesky and annoying topic of racism? Or bigotry? Or terrorism in our own country? Is that the stuff they intend to get away from?
Yes, I realize this must be really inconvenient for you and the people who come to your space to “get away.” But I ask you to do me a huge favor and stop making this about you. For one minute can you please just stop to consider how pesky this must be for the POC who are actually on the receiving end of oppression? I’m going to let you in on a secret; it’s a little bit tougher.
So while you prefer to pretend it’s all unicorns, rainbows, workouts, smoothie recipes, and dog and cat videos, some of us are emotionally exhausted right now. Some of us are fighting to help people understand that our lives matter. We don’t all have the privilege of staying in our “happy” place or to remain neutral. It’s a little difficult for me to do that when people who look just like me are under violent attack. It’s difficult to do that when I don’t feel safe or protected in my own country.
Have you ever taken a road trip and passed up going to the bathroom because you pulled into a gas station and the entire parking lot was filled with confederate flags? I have. That is my reality, and I can’t just go on with my regular exercise and nutrition talk because “that’s what people come to me for.”
Here’s the real truth of the matter, your role as a fitness professional goes far beyond exercise and nutrition. At least I hope so. I hope your objective is to aid your clients and your audience with overall health and wellness. If that’s not your mission, maybe it’s time to reconsider your career choice?
If it is your mission, then you have to acknowledge that overall wellness also includes mental and emotional well-being, among other things.
As such, you cannot simultaneously help women (and men) with their fitness and wellness while remaining silent on issues of racism and the events that occurred in Charlottesville this weekend. Unless of course, you are only here to serve white clientele. In that case, I guess you can.
As a woman of color, racism and white supremacy directly affects my mental health, my emotional health, my stress levels, and my overall well-being. It's a threat to my ability to feel safe in my own skin.
In case you are questioning me on the issue of how racism affects fitness and wellness, other people get it, so the problem may lie with you. I caught this one the Girls Gone Strong's Instastory as I was writing this.
Just to be clear, Girls Gone Strong did not promote white guilt as this individual wants people to believe. What they did in fact do, is use their platform (both social media and email) to explain to people the importance of showing up for the marginalized and provide practical ways their readers could do just that.
If your response to education on these matters even vaguely resembles what is shown above, you are part of the problem.
If you choose to ignore the mental and emotional component, you are doing your clients a huge disservice. Your silence lets POC know that you aren’t really concerned with their wellness. You are only concerned so long as you don’t have to disrupt your clients who come to you “to get away from that stuff.”
Even if your reasoning is different, if you choose silence in the face of oppression, you fall into the same category.
It's all bullshit. Point. Blank. Period.
Let me be crystal clear. Making a vague FB status which includes verbiage of how we all need to get along, how we are all created equal, how we need to love one another, how we need more love in the world, how sad it is that this is happening, or any other form of watered down passivity, does not count as showing up. Unless you are explicitly calling out racism, white supremacy, bigotry, and the oppression of marginalized groups of people, you have not shown up.
Please don't trick yourself into believing that you have used your voice to create change and please refrain from patting yourself on the back.
I will never attempt to tell you how to handle the silence of fitness professionals you follow (or anyone for that matter), but here is how I personally handle these situations in my everyday life. First and foremost, I don’t support people financially who don’t show up when it matters. I don’t do business with them, I don’t spend money with them, and I don’t promote them.
Instead, I choose to support fitness professionals (and people in general) who are doing the work. The people who show up when it matters, who care about the total well-being of their clients, to include the oppressed and the marginalized, and who actively use their voices and their platforms to create change in the world.
Those are the people I invest in and pay attention to. Luckily, there are a lot of people doing just that. If you are looking to connect with more fitness professionals who are clear about what they stand for and who actually mean it, here are some off the top of my head:
This list is far from conclusive, but it's a start.
In closing, I’m not going to call you out publicly if you choose silence. That’s not my style. But I notice, and whether you care to think about it or not, other people notice as well.
However, I implore you to remember the words of Desmond Tutu.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
There’s no way around that, and you can’t excuse your way out of it.
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