Faith E. Briggs
Apr 29, 2019 · 4 min read

WHY RUNNING MATTERS: FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Photo by Michael Estrada @mikey.ae

Freedom of movement is one of the things that I feel like people least understand. But it’s the key to why we have to keep talking about diversity and inclusion in the outdoors.

The very act of running, walking, biking, hiking, mountaineering, climbing, fishing, skydiving, road tripping is firstly a sign of privilege for everyone. As an act, it signals that you have time for recreation, disposable income for gear and transport. So if you’re doing these things, you are privileged. Be grateful. You don’t have to feel guilty.

Realize however that for some people it is not only privilege it’s also radical and an act of reclamation. It’s reclaiming a promise that was never seen through.

You cannot understand freedom of movement as a radical act without first acknowledging a history, and not only an ancient one, of CONSTRAINED movement.

WE.

In the past, we were not allowed. Our relatives were not allowed. We come from a history of people who were not allowed. Whose movements were made illegal.

And then once we and our movements became legal. We were never officially invited. Only permitted. There is a difference.

We don’t get to take freedom of movement for granted.

When your ancestors were forcibly removed from their homelands. When your ancestors were brought to this country in chains. When your great great grandparents were enslaved and tethered to the land but still asked and entrusted to make fruit from it. When your grandparents' lives were regulated as to where they could sit on buses. Which beaches they could go to, what parks they could play in. When your grandparents and your parents have always worked the land but never been the landowners. When you grow the food and pick the food but cannot afford to eat it. If this is your inheritance, you don’t take freedom of movement for granted. When you are born in this country and then told you are not a citizen and you must go back but you have nowhere to go back to. When boundaries were drawn through your great-great grandparents' property and suddenly their cousins cannot come to visit because they are thought to be illegal. And your cousins now too, generations later. When you can’t go to your grandparents' funerals because you might not be able to come back to the country of your birth. When these are the truths of your existence. You do not take freedom of movement lightly.

One of the most salient learnings from Carolyn Finney’s essential and instructive book, “Black Faces, White Spaces,” for me was after Brown vs. The Board of Education, rather than go forward with integrating parks, many parks were shut down and the historically black parks were defunded. This means that while during segregation there were places where blacks could recreate freely, despite them being subpar, when segregation ended there were no longer places where blacks could freely and publicly recreate. Most states shut the parks down since they were no longer legally instructed to keep them open. Large areas for black recreation no longer existed. But Brown vs the Board of Education wasn’t an invitation. It was just a forced law. It still takes decades to change a culture. (Please at least know the story of Ruby Bridges or the Little Rock 9 before reading further). The day after the law passed Black people couldn’t freely ascend on the Grand Canyon with no fear of attack. And if you think the fear of attack is somehow unfounded, there is much work for you to do related to statistics on lynching in the U.S., pay close attention to those dates.

And has it changed so much?

When you can’t be twelve and play with a toy gun in a park. When you can’t walk home from the store with skittles without your movements being surveilled. This proves that your existence, your survival, your continued existence in some places are in fact radical acts.

That is why this movement matters. Why our movements continue to matter, continue to be political. Every time we have walked in the woods our bodies have been surveilled. Every time.

That is why we talk about the need to diversify outdoors. What we are doing is radical. We are claiming legal inheritance. We are claiming public space. We are showing up brilliantly with our skills, our desires, our curiosity, our dreams, our loud voices, bright colors, our anger, our pride, our flowery words, our flames ready to burn it down if it needs burning and we are sharing with others “yes, you are invited.” We are taking up space where our brown bodies have been missing, erased or uninvited. If an explicit invitation was never made, we are making it now.

WE.

Faith E. Briggs

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