March 9, 2018
It has been 6 days since my attention was drawn to an image posted by ASICS, an image which I am afraid to post again here through fear of legal action.
It has been 5 days since an ASICS employee tried to shut down my views
It has been 4 days since one of their ambassadors contacted me which prompted me to write a blog to share my views fully rather than through private Facebook messages
It has been 3 days since that ambassador decided to write an open letter to me on his blog which, in effect, called me out as a racist. Although he states he “isn’t” calling me racist but instead is claiming that I made a “racist comment”. But the two can clearly be confused.
These last 3 days have all been a bit of a blur, as I try to get my head around everything that has gone on and find an appropriate way of responding. Yes. I have been noticeably quiet on the issue. No. I have not taken up the ambassadors public call for a face to face meeting. I have my own reasons for this. I have instead tried to focus on my core purpose, that of showcasing the underrepresented group of women that I represent.
Now a few things.
I do not believe that by having a passion for supporting one group, means you do not care about other groups. It just means that is where you focus your efforts.
I do not believe there is ever a right way to respond to social media shit storms like this
I do not believe that everyone reading this post will walk away being on the same page, and that’s ok.
These are some difficult and challenging issues which are complex and emotional for everyone involved.
In that open letter a screen shot was used with words which I did indeed type. Words which when seen on their own are inexcusable and provocative. What you did not see however was a string of messages that started at 7am accusing me of condoning racism. You also did not see the messages of apology from me that by posting that image I may well have shone a light on the ambassador.
My comment, the comment which may have you thinking I am a racist, was the final frustrated comment posted where I felt the ambassador was justifying the image, whereby I was basically questioning whether he was happy to be the sole black face in the crowd using a phrase which was being used by other people online. For reference, I used the term black above as a descriptor and not as an insult, just in the same way that I use the word fat…it is always about tone and intent.
I do not believe that this ambassador is a token member of this team, I have never questioned the selection, only the image. It is unfortunate that other more diverse ambassadors were not at the photoshoot or were at the back of the photo. My issue has always been about the power of imagery and its impact on marginalised groups ability to enter and fully feel part of any given sport.
There is evidence and research that fully supports the fact that mainstream sports marketing has a long way to go in this matter.
In the ambassadors letter he said,
You mean well but when it comes to diversity, in particular race relations, as a white woman in the world, you must admit, you have no clue what it means to be racially discriminated against.
Well, I am sorry but you are the one making assumptions based on my skin colour.
You are right I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated for being black. However, I have been discriminated against for as long as I can remember on race, gender, lifestyle choices and my size. But don’t think for a minute I believe any of this is comparable to your experience. They are simply our own differing experiences.
With respect though, perhaps I know more about race politics than you give me credit for.
You see, I grew up in East London and went to primary and secondary school where I was as a white child in the minority. My best friends (oh yes I said it…I have black friends…and don’t think I don’t understand the “but I have black friends” response) at secondary school were predominantly African, or Afro Caribbean girls. Aged 16 I was in a street dance crew called 8Pac, where I was the only white girl.
At university, where I was the first from my working class family to attend, I was not a minority any more, in fact it was the opposite. Winchester in the late 90’s was predominantly white, and I grieved the diversity that I had taken for granted before moving there. It was a massive wake up call for me to realise that not all areas of the UK were like my home town of Forest Gate.
In the 2nd year of my performing arts degree I decided to focus my research on an area that interested me, an area which I believed would be useful for me when I eventually moved back to London. My dissertation was entitled, “Looking In – Dance, Identity and Urban Life” and explored the power of the arts to help young people explore and express their own cultural identity and that of those around them.
My 10,000 word dissertation on this topic, and the 3 month community dance project I set up back in East London, earned me a first class degree which was a massive surprise to me and everyone else around me, but it also became an important part of my drive when I returned to East London to secure work.
Over the next 10 years I:
- Worked in Hackney, Newham, Southend, and the Thames Gateway with young offenders and youngsters at risk using arts to help them understand and tell their stories
- I worked with young people from the 5 olympic host boroughs to help them understand the regeneration process of the Olympics and find common ground among a backdrop of postcode wars
- I managed a multimillion pound programme across 10 London Boroughs to improve access to new sports for young people who may not be able to access them otherwise
- I worked to recruit and train volunteers in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics, working on policy to ensure the Gamesmaker Programme was inclusive and represented the communities of East London, particularly groups that did not traditionally volunteer in sports and not just those who could afford to take time off
- I developed a dance programme called the Golden Years Dance troup which pulled older people together from a range of ethnic groups who wouldn’t normally have a reason to be with each other
Why do I tell you this.
Because this context matters.
The reason I got so angry at the ambassador’s suggestion that I was racist, is I abhor racism and have spent my life calling it out and seeking community cohesion, in EVERY job I have ever had.
Now I know discussions on race are challenging, and we often come to them with our own experiences and agendas, even now I can hear claims of “She doth protest too much”
But this is my truth and I will speak it, despite being afraid to do so.
I also happen to have a family that is ethnically diverse. I myself have a child that is of mixed heritage. And although I know this doesn’t abdicate me of an ability to hold racist views, what it does do is show that this is not as clear cut as you make it out to be.
You open letter which uses my full name (when I have never named you) is not only a low blow, but without going into details actually has the potential to put both me and my daughter in danger. But I can only hope you never meant to do that, and assume you could not see the wider implications of using my full name in this way. I ask you please to remove the letter for these reasons, and the wider implications of having my name associated with racism which is damaging to any future work I do.
Enough damage has been done no? Your point has been clearly made. I have listened. I have heard.
I have been negotiating race issues for a long long time, and with the people that know and trust me I am always happy to have a respectful honest debate, however in the aftermath of that open letter I felt silenced. Shut down in the worst possible way. I could not even bring myself to look at the comments from people who have no idea who I am or what I stand for in life.
I felt silenced.
And anyone who tried to defend me was shot down and silenced too…often because of the colour of their skin.
This whole thing is so unnecessary and so damaging to everyone involved.
I hate bullies, and try my best not to fight fire with fire, as everyone eventually gets hurt.
Nobody reading this post will truly understand the things which have gone on this week away from the glare of social media. The decisions I have had to make. The people I have tried to protect. You may not have seen people of colour coming to my rescue publicly but they have done so privately, as have lots of other people from the world of sport and just generally.
You may look at photos from my community and think they are just a bunch of white privileged women and that there is no diversity within my ranks.
Have you considered that perhaps women from my community don’t feel empowered to post photos of themselves online? Have you ever considered that ethnic diversity is not the only kind of diversity out there? Sure I have black and asian women in my online running club and coaching groups, but also I have gay, disabled, transgendered, abused, women in chronic pain, women on low incomes and CEOs of major charities, women with facial disfigurements, women who run in secret because it is frowned upon by people in their communities or families…and I am incredibly proud of the safe space I have created for them online to discuss health and happiness and to thrive and survive in the world of running.
You will notice I have not in any of my messages been calling for them to defend me, nor to boycott ASICS, nor to take any action of any kind on my behalf. I would never sell them out like that, neither have I been pushing the original blog post or speaking to the media some of whom could turn this into even more of a nightmare.
I really want to draw a line under this now and move on.
I apologise wholeheartedly for any distress or hurt I caused with my comments, even if they were taken out of context and used against me. I will not however apologise for shining the light on that image which ASICS themselves admit,
Did not immediately demonstrate the diversity within the community and we respect your right to have an open conversation on this topic.
I have learned some important lessons from this whole thing, lessons which will shape how I behave as a human moving forward. Because ultimately that is how I negotiate my way in this world, as a human first.
I have decided to take some time away from the online world for a bit for my own sanity.
I have no desire to start a crusade or attack on anyone
I need some time to consider my work moving forward.
I need to consider whether I feel ready and able to continue my training for the London Marathon
Throughout the month of March as planned weeks ago, members of the Too Fat to Run Clubhouse which is my online running club for plus size women and those who feel excluded from the sport for other reasons, they will be blogging with race reviews, stories, articles and tips and I am sure you will agree it will be refreshing to get some different voices out there moving forward.
I appreciate everyone’s support during this time, and hope we can bring this issue to an end and all find some common ground to move forward with. Please, can we not use this response to stoke up more bad feeling and perhaps wait for a more appropriate time to discuss how we all improve representation in sport.