Black Men Less Likely to Run in White Neighborhoods (Participation)

Black Men Less Likely to Run in White Neighborhoods

Sociologist’s survey sought to understand racial disparity among activity levels.

Published October 02, 2013

Black Man Running tshirt

Recent research by sociologist Rashawn Ray, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, found that black men are less likely to run outside if they live in a predominantly white neighborhood. The opposite, however, was true for black women. They were more likely to be active in predominately white communities.

Ray surveyed 500 college-educated African-Americans living in urban and suburban areas across the United States in 2011 to explore why middle-class blacks were less physically active than their Caucasian peers.

“Research has shown that the higher one’s social class, the more likely she or he is to be physically active,” says Ray. “However, among blacks, social class does not explain the high prevalence of physical inactivity. Why do we see this? Without a better understanding of the barriers that lead to racial differences in physical activity among the middle class, we cannot devise effective policy solutions to combat the obesity epidemic.”

Ray says 50% of blacks get no physical activity at all, compared to only a third of whites. He cites racial bias as a key barrier.

“Black men are criminalized by the inability of others to separate a black male from crime,” says Ray. “Black men in white neighborhoods are more cautious of how they exercise and less comfortable in those neighborhoods because many black men have had social interactions in which they were profiled simply for being black and male.”

To counter the association, black men exercising outside will try to signal to others that they are not a threat, he says. They may wear a college sweatshirt or cap, or wave and smile at neighbors, and they’ll often limit their running to daylight hours.

Ray’s favorite signaling device is a t-shirt with the words “Black Man Running and It Ain’t from the Police” printed on the back. He used an image of the shirt (pictured above) in a recent presentation of his findings at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In addition to the survey, Ray collected ethnographic data that examined the activity level in public spaces in different parts of the country. He found that Atlanta, Georgia and Prince George’s County, Maryland had the highest concentration of college-educated black men in the country, and that the physical activity level among black men in these communities was higher, likely, he says, because the men were less likely to be criminalized.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bloomington, Indiana and Brentwood, Tennessee had the lowest percentage of college-educated blacks, and his data showed that black men were less likely to exercise in the these whiter communities.

Black women, on the other hand, were less likely to be physically active in black neighborhoods because these areas are perceived to be, and often are, less safe, according to Ray.

Lack of welcoming exercise facilities was another factor keeping black women from being active.

“Black neighborhoods have fewer parks and gyms,” says Ray. “And if there are facilities, they cater to men. Gyms might have weights but few cardio machines, for example, or there are basketball courts, but not bike paths. And when women enter these male-dominated spaces, they are more likely to be sexualized, or gazed at. This is less likely to happen in predominately white facilities because they have women-only zones. Curves or boot camps are good examples.”

Ray says the running community can help break down stereotypes by advertising upcoming races and running clubs in churches, hair salons and barbershops, places where black people congregate.

He also encourages race directors to route their events through black neighborhoods, an idea supported by the National Black Marathoners Association.

The practice would let “blacks see we can run something longer than a quarter-mile,” says Anthony Reed, the association’s co-founder and executive director.

Ray suggests race directors and other running organizations also seek out representatives of black organizations and bring them to the table.

He’s encouraged by groups like Black Girls Run, a 62,000-member strong community that’s helping to diversify running.

“These organizations are creating a movement across the country,” says Ray, who mixes running with cycling and other activities to stay fit. “More importantly, they are creating a comfortable social support network for blacks in all types of neighborhoods.”


4 thoughts on “Black Men Less Likely to Run in White Neighborhoods (Participation)

  1. Being a black male I can agree that I would be less likely to work out in a predominately white neighborhood and if I were to I would be more aware. I say this because from my experience when white people see a black male running they automatically assume in their head something is up. In middle school my friends and I use to run places in the city like most kids our age would but we were in a predominately white city and there have been times where the police stop us because we looked “suspicious” or “someone in the neighborhood reported black boys looking suspicious”. After a while me a few friends and I decided to try out a little experiment that worked. Every so often at lunch my friends and I would just start running around the school and after a while you would see almost the whole school behind us because they think we are running to a fight. It really sucks though to feel you have to limit what you do in certain neighborhoods because you look “suspicious”. The crazy thing is that most of the good workout facilities are in white neighborhoods and in black neighborhoods you’re more likely to find a park in poor condition and basketball courts. I could understand where black women feel more comfortable in white neighborhoods running and working out than black neighborhoods because some black neighborhoods can be pretty dangerous to be outside doing something for too long. Also from my experience in black neighborhoods black men are more degrading towards women and a little aggressive in their come-on’s sometimes while in a white neighborhood most of the time you would see more respect for the women and people in the community.

    • When in seventh grade my three best friends were black and I always remember whenever I would go over to their house and we would tell their moms what we were going out to walk around they would always tell us never to run around. I never really thought about it then but my friends always took it to heart and got where she was going with it. Growing up and living in multiple predominantly white neighborhoods I would agree that you would never see a black male going for a jog around those neighborhoods, while I would see quite a few black woman walking for exercise. I have also experienced living in a predominantly black neighborhood where I was a member to a local gym that lacked equipment for both men and woman to use. Compared to when I was a member to an LA fitness in a white neighborhood that had a large variety of equipment.

  2. For me it is hard to relate to this because, one I am a white female and two, I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood. But I can see where this black male is coming from, growing up my dad had a very close friend who was a black male and when we would go over to their house for dinner or some occasion he would only let us play in the back yard. I thought the reason for this was because it was fenced off and he wouldn’t have to watch us a closely because there was no chance of getting hit by a car but it makes sense that now it was because it was in a white neighborhood and maybe he didn’t feel comfortable with us being out there with all of the other neighbor kids and parents to see us.

    After reading this article I spoke with my dad about his close friend and asked if he knew any details about him going on runs or anything around his neighborhood and my dad confirmed that his friend never worked out in the public eye around his neighborhood. If he was to work out he would go to the gym with friends, never alone. He didn’t give me a specific reason why he did this but after reading the article I could make the connection with all the studies being done about black males and females working out habits. I think the scenario is a perfect example on what I just read.

  3. Blacks are usually perceived as troublemakers and people that are swarmed with negativity and crime whenever they’re associated with active motives. Because of the various social constructs that have been placed on Blacks over time, the automatic reaction to blacks running down the street night or day spells trouble. It is sad to think that blacks go through so much hiding and self-image changing simply because of the color of their skin. It makes no sense and hopefully one day we’ll be able to move on through racism and be a free society, but I have no idea when that day will come.

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