It’s Our Job to Rebuild This Sport

Running While Black: Finding Freedom in Sport that Wasn’t Built for Us
By Alison Mariella Désir
288 pages, $37CAD/$27USD, Penguin Random House

Désir wrote this book for two audiences. First, Black people and people of colour so they too could finally have representation in this space, a place to identify with. Second, for people like me, for white people. Désir set out to humanize her and other BIPOC experiences without shaming white people but opening a door for us (me and other white people) to reflect to take action because we must do better. 

Désir’s book got me thinking about meritocracy, this notion that “everyone with skill and imagination may aspire to reach the highest level.” When you dive deeper into the definition it also says “a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people.” What I’m trying to get at is what Désir so eloquently argues for in her book – North American society, including Canada, is built upon white supremacy – not everyone with skill and imagination can rise to the top. It’s not about how smart you are or how hard you work. It’s about who you know. The systems that supported you, founded on a cis-white male lens that continue to support the privileged. I sometimes worry that in Canada we think we are doing better, and while through comparison that might be true, still does not make what we do and our current systems ‘right.’ 

It was a good lens back on my own privilege. The self-reflection that it is a lot of work to think about the bias you bring to everything you do. It’s exhausting. And that’s the point. Those of us who have benefited from this white supremacy society and are where we are need to reflect back upon how we got here, as step one. The next steps are to always think about what bias (unconscious or conscious) we bring in our decision making, as a step two. Step three we have to continually seek to do better, to see what’s in the standard deviation away from the norm, to recognize the systems of privilege around us, and start to dismantle those to see that everyone really has a ‘fair’ chance. We (white people) need to continue to educate ourselves about the past atrocities, the making of our systems, and start to ask the hard questions. 

I want to go back for a second to speak to the definition of ‘white supremacy’ and while we’re here talk about ‘white fragility.’ White supremacy is not just the belief that white people are superior, as Désir reminds us “it is by design that white people are unaware that Black people and people of colo[u]r move through the world differently, despite the fact that it has been white people and white supremacy who created the laws and environment and maintained that.”

White fragility also reminds these structures are in place but we don’t want to acknowledge that they are and worse get upset when someone points it. Robin DiAngelo says “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protec- tion builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress.” If you are a white person consider reading DiAngelo’s book, but at a minimum read this short paper. 

Alison, your book has done so much for me. My goal is to take the lessons to be a better version of myself. I will continue to do the work. I will continue to speak up when I see something or someone behaving in a way that is not inclusionary, that is harmful to others. Runner or not, everyone who does anything needs to read this book. Alison, thank you. The work was not easy, nor is it done, but you’ve opened doors to make this world a better place. 

While this is not an official Sasha’s Stories Episode, I will be on a panel with the Women Run Canada’s Running and Reading Book Club. If you want to join Alison for an intimate evening book club, sign up for the Women Run Canada Running and Reading Book Club on Tuesday January 31st starting at 7:00 pm EST: