I wish going for a run were as simple as lacing up my shoes and pounding the pavement. Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Before I step outside of the house, I run through a mental checklist:
Is my beard too thick?
Is it too dark outside?
Am I dressed like a runner? God forbid I wear mesh b-ball shorts and a loose T-shirt in the suburbs of Dallas.
Then, while on the run, I have to consider:
Is my rap music too loud? Can they hear it?
Does my cap, worn backward, send the wrong message?
Do I open up my stride now or wait until I get out of the neighborhood and into the open roads so I don’t appear to be running away from something or someone?
How many times have I looked over my shoulder on this block? Does that look suspicious?
Then there is scenario planning while running — if this, then that:
If you see a young white woman on same path, cross street immediately and try not to make eye contact twice.
If there is a white older woman/man on same path, wave/nod/smile, cross street casually.
If you’re running behind them and they don’t hear you, cough loudly/clear throat, cross street.
If the sidewalk is narrow, always give way to walkers or bikers and step into the grass or street, even though you’ve shattered your ankle twice, once on grass and once stepping into the street from the sidewalk.
Turn down volume on music when passing by neighbors. Need to be able to respond if they say something — don’t want to come off profiled as angry black man.
If a raised pickup truck approaches, immediately take to the sidewalk and get a good look at driver. High alert. Ready to dive into someone’s yard in case he swerves into me.
It sounds crazy until it’s not.
What’s sad is that I’ve been performing this mental exercise while running since I was 16. I’m 37 now, and I expect I’ll continue doing it for as long as I live, or at least as long as I can run.
I’m not worried about the Rottweiler in the front lawn next door. Or the bobcat that prowls the neighborhood, or even the occasional coyote. I worry mostly that one of my neighbors may one day fear me. So at Mile Five, when I’m sucking wind, sweating in 90-degree heat with an elevated heart rate, you’ll always catch me across the street waving frantically and smiling.
Not because I’m so sociable — just because I don’t want you to shoot. It’s easier to prioritize other people’s comfort and safety ahead of my own because it yields predictable and desired outcomes.
For some people, safety is a shotgun. For others, such as myself, safety is accepting that power structures continue to bend in favor of the privileged, and that all you can really do is figure out how to navigate until your time on this earth is over.
No one should have to live like this, but many of us do. What’s worse is that no institution, future politician or individual could say or do enough to restore my confidence in humanity to make me feel differently about a jog around the neighborhood.
And this is just my experience while jogging. Just imagine how I — just imagine how we — go about the rest of our lives.