Noted sociologist says fears keep many African Americans from exercising
A rising star in the sociology field said that black men are less likely to jog in their neighborhoods if they have a number of white neighbors.
“It has a lot to do with criminalization. It’s the inability for people to recognize or kind of separate a black man’s identity from criminality, so being black and male subjectively infers being criminal,” Rashawn Ray, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, said during a presentation last Thursday at Wake Forest University.
As a Robert Wood Foundation health policy fellow at the University of California at Berkley, Ray conducted a nationwide survey to probe why African Americans were less active than their white counterparts. His presentation, “Black People Don’t Run in my Neighborhood,” drew a standing-room-only crowd at Wake, whose American Ethnic Studies wing sponsored Ray’s talk.
“The main question that I attempt to answer is what are the ways that racial inequality is manufactured and maintained in society,” Ray said of his research.
He said more than 60 percent of all U.S. adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, which is either 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. He said 50 percent of blacks aren’t physically active at all, compared to only a third of whites.
Black men have a legitimate reason to fear exercising in some neighborhoods, he said, citing the Trayvon Martin killing and the recent death of Jonathan A. Ferrell, an innocent 24-year-old black man recently shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer. The criminalization leads black men to take certain precautions, according to the professor.
“Black men have to go through a signaling process, particularly middle class black men, when they try to be physically active outside,” he said.
Ray said many black men will always carry their IDs, jog in places that are well lit and wave to everyone they see to assure them that they aren’t up to anything criminal. They’ll also wear things like college t-shirts to show that they are educated and non-threatening. Some even find levity in their predicament and sport shirts with slogans like,
“Black Man Running and It Ain’t From the Police.”
Ray included an image of one of the shirts in his PowerPoint presentation.
He found that many black women face a different dilemma.
“When black women live in predominately black neighborhoods, they perceive, in many cases it is real, that they have less safety in black neighborhoods,” Ray said.
Ray said there are fewer gyms, parks, sidewalks, outdoor lighting and other factors that encourage physical activity in black neighborhoods. There are also less fitness spaces specifically for women. Ray found that black women are more likely to be watching than participating in male-dominated areas like basketball courts, out of fear of being sexualized if they participate.
“They will be sexually objectified in this space,” he said. “They will be whistled at if they tried to run. They will be whistled at if they try to do something.”
He said barber shops, beauty salons and churches that push fitness initiatives have the ear of the black community because such places are institutions where ideas are exchanged and fellowship flourishes.
“The barber shop to black men is what the golf course is to white men,” he said.
WFU senior Jelani Ince said he identified with the black men highlighted in Ray’s research. The Columbia, Mass. native said he’s used the signaling process while jogging.
“I grew up in the suburbs, so I kind of related to what he was saying in so many different ways, in terms of how I am perceived in my neighborhood,” said Ince, who said he wasn’t aware of some of the barriers black women faced before Ray’s presentation.
Danielle Ambrogio, a senior sociology and psychology double major from Connecticut whose honors thesis focuses on how black college students find their identity, said she found the lecture fascinating as well.
“I think I grew up in a very sheltered predominately white neighborhood, so (the lecture brought up) things I didn’t consider before,” she said.
The WFU American Ethnic Studies will co-sponsor a symposium on the end of the Civil War on October 17-18. For more information, visit www.nccivilwar150.com/events/freedom.