I went for a run this mid-morning, like I do most Fridays mid-morning. Today I ran with Ahmaud Arbery on my mind. He was killed on February 23, 2020, hunted down by two white men and shot while out for a jog. I go out for a jog all the time. One of the things I like about jogging is that it’s so simple. I put on my shoes, head out the door, and just go. It’s so simple.
But it isn’t simple if you don’t have a sense that you can safely occupy public space. Arbery didn’t have the same ease I have, and that’s because I’m white, and he was Black. That’s it. It’s not more complicated than that. It’s white supremacy, the founding ideology of this country, playing out again, like it does all day, every day. Reading the words of other African Americans talking about the precautions they take to go out for a run or a walk, and yeah, there may not be a lynching in your neighborhood every single day, but every moment is shaped by the brutality of white supremacy, by racial terror.
I thought about that on my run today, about who has what kind of access to space. Druid Hill Park has a long history of racial segregation. For a long time it had two pools, one for white swimmers and one for Black swimmers. The one for Black swimmers was so small swimmers had to be admitted in shifts. When the pools were desegregated, white swimmers still avoided the pool built for Black swimmers, and it was closed. Joyce Scott turned Pool #2 into a memorial in 1999, and it is incredibly moving.
Druid Hill Park’s tennis courts and playgrounds were segregated too, but unlike most public parks in the city, it at least had facilities Black Baltimoreans could use. Activists worked to desegregate the park, taking on the tennis courts in 1948. So much work to get to hang out in a park everybody paid for.
I also thought about how moving your body through space in a way that doesn’t align with the expectations of your gender can get you killed. How moving through space in a body perceived as a woman’s can get you killed. How moving in space not in a car can get you killed, and it will always and forever be your fault. What would a world look like where everyone had real freedom of movement?
And now we’re in a time where how we are together in public space is fraught in new ways. Are you wearing a mask? If you’re not wearing a mask, are you trying to kill me? The shaming politics in full effect as we try and figure out how to take care of each other while being apart. This assumes, though, that care is shared, and it’s not. The death toll of this disease is distributed racially. Black people and Latinx people are far more likely to die than anyone else. But we focus on the jogger not wearing a mask.
The problems are structural. We need justice for Arbery, but without rooting out white supremacy, we are just waiting for the next one. And there will always be a next one. Even videos aren’t enough for everyone to see what is happening. We’ve got to change sight itself.
I snapped this picture of the empty pool that’s being remodeled in the park right now. It likely won’t open this summer due to the coronavirus. I wonder if private pools will open, and who uses those, and when they became a thing, and how that history aligns with the history of desegregation. Told to share space–schools, pools, tennis courts, public bathrooms, restaurants, transportation–white people usually just leave and take the resources with them, build their own. It’s not segregation, but it’s segregation. It hasn’t gone anywhere.
So I ran five miles today. I stopped at 2.23, the day that Arbery was murdered. I wept. It’s his birthday. He would have been 26. That is so young, so much still ahead of him, so many left to mourn him for all the rest of his days. Multiply it by thousands and thousands, so many murdered, the depth of despair knows no bottom.