White privilege on the running trail

Years ago, long before I became aware of how much my whiteness obtained things for me without my asking, my friend who was adopted from Korea regularly schooled me on ways people of color adapted to people like me.

I would debate her about how non-racist I was, how I came from an immigrant family, how I was a woman, how I had been a victim. None of that mattered because, for her, it was about how I showed up day to day as a white person, regardless of how much personal trauma or baggage or therapy I carried with me.

Here is what I did that made me oblivious:

I went first. I didn’t move out of the way first when a person of color approached me. I interrupted her, a lot. I got the final word. I made most of the decisions in the friendship.

When you realize this about yourself as a white person, you see it everywhere and it makes you angry. Here is where I see it the most: Lake Harriet.

Several mornings a week, my neighbor and I run around Lake Harriet. I love this ritual and I love my neighbor, who is a good friend and also is a person of color.

My neighbor and I will approach large group of runners (as in three or more). Sometimes they are all women, sometimes all men, sometimes a mix of men and women, sometimes there are dogs on very long leads along for the run. They have always been all white (appearing), and they have never once moved over a single inch for my friend and me who are running the opposite direction.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. I even stay on the running path and play chicken with these people and, nope, no movement. I have taken to actually saying something, but I think it doesn’t get heard in the din of voices and fast heartbeats.

But, I gotta say: Check yourself! I will do the same.


Kim Kolstad