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High School Track in the ‘Burbs


Race wasn’t an issue for me in high school track, save maybe one instance.

Back in high school, I ran track.  I specialized in sprinting (100m, 200m) and the polevault.  I know what you’re thinking.  I’m short, white, and don’t look particularly fast.  Well, those things are all pretty much true – but I wasn’t a terrble sprinter.  In today’s America, we are predestined to beleive that African Americans are better sprinters.  They’re faster.  And history (as far back as they were allowed to compete), doesn’t really tell us any differently.  Is this fact?  Or Is this racist?  First, I’ll tell my story.Senior year of high school, I was the best sprinter on my team.  I went to a small school in the suburbs, Westchester, NY, right outside New York City.  This meant that we would face schools from all around the Tr – State Area, especially in bigger meets.  Being a sprinter, I understood that I wasn’t the most physically intiminating, but technique and experience many times could help to combat this shortcoming.  I tried to perfect my technique, and I had sprinted since I was in 7th grade.  Going to meets, I really wasn’t aware of race.  Especially from my perspective, African Americans were sometimes bigger than me, but so were many white kids.  I was just short.  The weight room helped, though.  I was able to perform pretty well for high school standards, sprinting my way into the county championships as a junior and senior.

The spring of my senior year I was racing in the Armory, a New York City venue that was used by amateurs as well as professionals.  In this particular meet, I was racing against kids from all over New York and New Jersey.  I had made the finals of the 100 meter dash, and I was the only white kid to do so.  Running in the 3rd lane, I was surrounded by African Americans.  They taunted me, asking me how I expected to compete with them.  They were incessant, and hounded me about being white right up until we got up to the line.  Of course, there were more than a thousand people in the venue; my opponents weren’t violent, but they were still menacing.  I finished third out of the eight racers.  A few seconds after crossing the finish line, I made sure to stare down those who had finished after me. 

I had never experienced racism before, and never expected to.  I always heard about the racism that went on toward African Americans in our society, and didn’t think I would ever be a victim.  In addition, in all my years of high school track and racing against African Americans, Latinos, etc., I had never run into a conflict like this.  I shrugged this instance off afterward because I knew tensions were high in a final heat of any race.  But I wondered about my identity.  I identified as being a sprinter.  I never made the distinction of being a white sprinter vs. a black sprinter.  Does society see me as a white sprinter, especially if I was up against African Americans? 

This is an interesting concept that I think helps to answer the question of whether or not racism still exists in America.  My response to that: Of course it does.  There’s absolutely racism in America, and it exists almost everywhere in the country.  However, I don’t think racism was a large factor in my story because of the historical results of sprinting.  In the Olympics, the last 25 mens world record holders have been black in the 100 meter dash.  According to history, my opponents were right.  How could I compete with them?  I told my story to explain that some conflicts between different races doesn’t involve (too much) racism.  However, I do think there’s racism in America because I hear it on a near daily basis.  White kids saying the “N’ word, and remarks made about black athletes are grossly racist.  This country was founded when those founders owned African American slaves.  America is still racist, and I’m not sure too much will change in the future.    

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About Ben K.

I'm a senior management major at Bucknell University, hailing from Westchester, NY. Upon graduation, I will begin work as a management consultant.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “High School Track in the ‘Burbs

  1. Ben – what an interesting experience. Reverse racism is definitely somewhat of a hot topic currently, and your story fits right in. I’d have to disagree with your pessimistic ending though! Certainly America is still racist, but we are making strides to help fix that. Compare our society to the one 50 years ago, 25 years ago, even 5 years ago. Things may not be much better than 5 years ago, but in little ways, we are still trying to eliminate racism. (At least, that’s how it seems to me). I think awareness is the most important component to social change, and awareness is certainly being built at this time. Hopefully 20 years from now, we can look back and say “wow, we have come a long way since 2012” – based on history, I think we will be able to.

    Posted by Caitlin H. | February 28, 2012, 11:10 pm
  2. Ben, I think it’s great that despite all of the racist stereotypes that exit in sport, especially in track, you were able to separate yourself from that and still be super successful. Even when kids taunted you and told you you wouldn’t be able to keep up with them, you still managed to do extremely well. I think that shows a lot about your character and the athlete you are. Not many people can still perform well in those types of situations, and it really demonstrates how you were able to put yourself above everything. Good job!

    Posted by Jenna | February 29, 2012, 12:18 pm
  3. I’ve had arguments with friends who claim that oppressed minorities (Blacks, women, etc) can’t be racist because to be racist, you need to be able to have your words or actions be not only mean-spirited or degrading, but to do so with the full weight of the majority’s ability to control laws, customs, language and so on. So, for a White person to say “nigger” will ALWAYS be racist while it is never the same for a non-White to call a white person “cracker” or “honky” or whatever. I kind of see their point, but I disagree.

    The other racers were being racist in that moment. In a way, they can, because track is an area of dominance. But, on balance, you or any “white” person gets more subtle and institutional benefit from how you (or me, of course) are labeled.

    I am amused when I hear some whites complain about “reverse racism.” Really? Would you like to swap out the NBA for 90%+ of the boards of the Fortune 500?

    Your post is a fascinating example of one of those wrinkles of race, achievement, and individual differences. Congratulations on your run!

    Posted by Jordi | February 29, 2012, 8:25 pm

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