August 10, 2021 8 min read

By Chrissy King

Following the murders of George Floyd, Aumaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and, among others and an increased resurgence in the BLM movement due to police brutality, folks were rushing to the pages of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) wellness professionals suddenly interested in anti-racism and to “amplify” Black voices. We saw an uptick in discussion about anti-racism as many Americans, as well as the world globally, woke up to the realities of racism.  Conversations about the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) were at an all time high. While this was a pivotal and important movement, many anticipated that the attention would be short lived and the interest was performative in nature. 

Now more than a year after these events, we reflect to see if those newly interested in anti-racism were actually committed to the work or if it was mere performativity, as many were worried about. According to astudy from Creative Investment Research, Following Floyd’s murder, U.S. companies pledged $50 billion toward racial equity, but the firm says that since then, only $250 million has been spent or devoted to a specific initiative. That said, it seems a lot of folks' concerns with performative activism,also referred to as performative allyship, a pejorative term referring to activism done to increase one's social capital rather than because of one's devotion to a cause,was valid.

I have been discussing the importance of anti-racism and D&I in fitness and wellness long before the events of 2020 because the necessity of the conversation has always been there, regardless if the masses recognized it or not. While most would agree that racism is a serious problem, how many of us have considered the impact of racism on health? What's more, have you considered the importance of the wellness industry's responsibility to be part of the conversation on racism? 

There are a myriad of health implications caused by experiencing discrimination and racism, including increased levels of stress hormones, high blood pressure, increased instances of heart disease and breast cancer, and even premature mortality. In addition, Black women aretwo to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women andCOVID-19 deaths among Black Americans are substantially higher (92.3 deaths per 100,000 people) than white Americans (45.2 deaths per 100,000 people), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Racism is a public health issue. 

Unfortunately, for far too long, the fitness and wellness industries have been catering and marketing to a very specific audience- think able-bodied, white, thin, and young. As a result, it’s historically been oblivious to issues of access, diversity, inclusivity, and intersectionality, as are a great many of its trainers and instructors, both in terms of staff at a given gym and more prominent influencers.

Fitness and wellness go far beyond exercise and nutrition.

After all, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are equally important to a person’s wellbeing. All of these aspects of wellness have a direct impact on physical health. We can’t adequately take a holistic approach to fitness without addressing racism (and all the other - isms) and how it affects wellbeing and prevents some people from feeling safe in their bodies.

Perhaps you found yourself emboldened to create change following the events of last year and perhaps some of that fervor has died down. Or perhaps you are still just as committed to anti-racism as you were last year. Either way, I encourage you to think critically about your commitment, but more importantly to the actions you are taking to live a truly anti-racist life, which is the foundation for creating inclusion and equity. 

Create the change the world needs by creating the change within yourself. - Layla Saad

Everyone wants to talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion. However, the reality is,without being firmly rooted in anti-racism and paired with solid action, diversity and inclusion are just terms that sound good but lack any real meaning. In order to change the landscape of the wellness industry and create environments which are truly inclusive, we have to build on the foundation of anti-racism. With that goal in mind, let’s some time to through seven steps to ensure we aren’t engaging in performative allyship.

1. Acknowledge privilege

By definition, privilege is the societal advantages possessed by a group of people based on their race, gender, class, sexuality, sexual ability, education, or body size, among others.  We all, regardless of background or identity, have access to varying degrees of privilege, some of us more than others. It’s important to note that none of us asked for the privileges we possess, nor did we do anything to deserve them. It doesn’t make us good or bad people.

White privilege describes the unearned advantages that are granted because of one’s whiteness or ability to “pass” as white. It refers to the fact that white people have advantages in society that others do not.

White privilege doesn’t mean that anyone hasn’t had to work hard or struggle. It doesn’t mean that you were born into money or had an easy life. A white person could lack economic means and education, but still hold white privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t had any struggles or don’t work hard.However, white privilege does mean that there are certain things youhaven’t had to struggle with because of the color of your skin.

2. Unlearn Implicit Bias

Implicit bias, also referred to as unconscious bias, is something we all possess.  No matter our race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, we are all susceptible to implicit bias.  Our biases can cover a whole range of topics ranging from our favorite sports team or cars to our favorite bands to more serious matters like topics such as gender or sexuality.  One of the most important things we can begin to do for ourselves in our quest to be anti-racist is to be honest with ourselves about the fact that we do in fact have biases and then start to consider what our biases are with curiosity and kindness, not judgement or shame. 

When left unchecked and unexamined, our biases affects the way individuals engage with people, even if they have the best of intentions. The first step to unlearning our biases is to recognize and identify them. We can do this by questioning the initial thoughts that pop into our minds about things. These are the thoughts that are often easy to ignore, however, we compassionately interrogate these thoughts, we will often discover our biases.

Another super accessible way to begin to recognize our biases is to take some of theImplicit Association Tests (IATs) created by Harvard University. These tests range in topics from gender, sexuality, and religion to topics like race and weight and were designed to help individuals recognize their stereotypes. If you have no clue where some of your biases may lie, this is a great place to get started on uncovering your biases.

Once you begin to recognize some of your biases, you can work on behaviors that naturally follow these biases by replacing them with fair and equitable behavior while also unlearning your previous social conditioning. Examining and unlearning our biases is a lifelong process that we need to continue working on for the long haul.

3. Stay Engaged For the Long Haul 

While it is understandable that many of the events of last year have drawn more attention to the need to have ongoing conversations about the state of race relations in the United States and globally, the reality is that none of these realities are new for Black and Brown people and racism is not a new phenomenon. 

It’s tempting to be outraged when the newest injustice gets national attention; however, we must remind ourselves that these are not new occurrences and they occur every single day, even if it isn’t getting national attention. Racism occurs on a spectrum, ranging from very overt racism like the KKK to everyday racism such as microaggressions,the daily, casual, and often unintentionally harmful and hurtful comments that marginalized people experience from people in positions of privilege. That being said, we have to stay engaged in the work of anti-racism year-round, not just when it’s getting a lot of media attention.

4. Commit to Actual Action Steps

Social media activism, which is one way to do activism work, requires a lot more than just posting a black square on social media in solidarity supporting Black life. The reality is that posting a black square on Instagram does little to change systemic racism. While bringing awareness to issues and sharing information via Instagram stories has its merits, real change takes a lot more action than that. 

In an effort to ensure that we are not engaging in performative activism, it’s important that we commit to actual action steps beyond just posting and sharing on social media. This could include activities such as donating to Black organizations committed to doing the work of anti-racism, calling your local and federal politicians to demand change, examining the ways in which we have been complicit in our own lives, and holding ourselves and those around us accountable. 

5. Educate Yourself and Those Around You

Perhaps a lot of this information is new to you or maybe you're just beginning to broaden your understanding of racism and white supremacy and how it shows up in all areas of life, even the wellness industry. If you haven't been having these conversations or even considering the intersection of racism and wellness, this can all feel a bit overwhelming. But the wonderful thing is, there are so many ways you can begin to educate yourself independently.

In her book,Me and White Supremacy, author Layla Saad, encourages everyone to "create the change the world needs by creating change within yourself." To truly understand the implication of racism and health, you also need to examine the ways in which you're engaging in racism or being complicit within the system of white supremacy. 

Additional books that will help you along your journey includeSo You Want to Talk About Raceby Ijeoma Oluo andHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

6. Don’t Be the Expert 

It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing racism. If you are a member of the dominant group, be mindful of the privilege that you hold. As you are engaging in education regarding racism, be mindful that you don’t attempt to become the expert, particularly if you don’t have lived experience. It can be tempting to teach others, but instead of taking that approach, I encourage you to share resources, books, and webinars from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) who have been doing anti-racism work well before the recent resurgence in anti-racism. 

While there is so much more to do, these steps are a good start. As a reminder, if you ever feel tired of learning about racism, just imagine how exhausting it must be to experience racism. The work of dismantling racism and white supremacy belongs to everyone.We need to continuously ensure that we are upholding our commitments to living antiracist values. This is a lifelong journey, and it’s our responsibility to treat it as such. The work never ends. Our goal is to change the systems in place but that requires that we all individually change and work to create change within our own networks and circles. Once we have gained new knowledge and understanding, we must commit to the actions ofbeinganti-racist and having conversations with our peers, friends, partners, coworkers, and families.


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