In the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder by two men in Georgia, Allen Price explores his own personal history with running as a Black man in America. Growing up, Price writes, “I never felt as good as I did when I was running.” It offered him a reprieve from questions about his identity, which Price has turned to confront fully in “Running From Blackness”.
The image of the Black man running goes back to the days of slavery. The visual is one I didn’t become aware of until high school. Slavery was a subject that my mother didn’t want in my head until I was old enough to fully understand. My mother believed the moral urgency that there once was—when Blacks were lynched, were sitting on the back of the bus and needed to slip into the us-against-the-white-world mentality—was no more. Michael Jackson was a big superstar Black singer on MTV, The Cosby Show was a highly rated Black television series and Spike Lee was dominating the film industry with his Academy Award-nominated blockbuster Black movies. My mother didn’t know I lived in a fuzzy dream and wanted to be like all the pretty white people I saw on TV, in magazines, music, movies and school. She didn’t know I wanted to change the color of my skin. She didn’t know that my Black identity suffered from a marred self-image, which affected my entire psychological being until 1984 when I joined the sixth-grade running program.
I was born five years, three months, and two days after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island on July 10, 1973. My mother, who divorced my father when I was five, raised me in the predominately all-white neighborhood and schools of Warwick so not to worry about me getting hurt, kidnapped or killed. For eighteen years I lived there. I was one of only two Black kids in the neighborhood, as well as in my elementary, junior high and high school. My Blackness took a back seat, though I could always see it in the mirror. I desperately wanted to be like the well-off smart white kids who wore Ralph Lauren polo shirts, spent their summer vacations in Florida going to Disney World and had both a mother and a father at home. We were poor, went to Rocky Point Park for vacation and rented movies on summer weekends, but I was determined to become like them. I emulated everything they did. I guilted my mother into buying me Polo Ralph Lauren attire even though we couldn’t afford it. I became a runner in the sixth grade because all the other sixth-grade white boys were. In high school I put myself into college-prep classes, went to my junior and senior prom in white stretch limousines and graduated my junior and senior year with honors. My desire and need to fit into white society continued after high school. I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in accounting, a master’s in journalism, attended Harvard Summer School, attained internships at Merrill Lynch, Men’s Journal, and The Harvard Crimson, became a pricing analyst at what was the world’s largest mutual fund company, Skudder Kemper Investments, wrote for Muscle & Fitness and Natural Health magazines and published literary work in well-respected journals. I’m unapologetic and proud of my accomplishments.
Throughout all of those years I never stopped running. I ran five miles three days a week. Running is what gave me my strength and determination to persevere. Running took my mind off of knowing and understanding my Blackness or rather my lack of wanting to. I was a runner for thirty-five years. I’m forty-six. Sadly, my running days ended in 2019 when I was diagnosed with severe spinal stenosis. I had three pieces of my vertebrae removed five days before Christmas so I could walk again. My sadness flags, though, in the wake of the murder of runner Ahmaud Arbery, which awakened me to my true identity.