Athletics, Motherhood and Other SuperFantastic Subjects

‘Black Jesus’ Is Redundant

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde

I’m not sure whether this post is complete to my satisfaction, but if I don’t post it now it’s going to be relegated to the pile of never seen posts. I’ve chosen to discuss matters here that I feel are difficult to address and I’ve failed in attempting it in the past. By a few coincidences, I’ve had race on my mind this week. It started with a conversation early in the week with my son while riding in the car. A lot of parents can probably relate to the car ride heart to hearts with their kids. For the most part it wasn’t a remarkable conversation, mostly about the national origins of our family. Discussion of the race and nationality of our family and extended family is common place whether by design or in response to an off hand comment like the time he told me he wishes he were African because it’s warm there (“we are African kiddo, your grandfather is Yoruba”), or him wanting to have British ancestry like his friend at school (“you do buddy, your great-grandmother was born in England”). This conversation did get more in depth about skin color, and he wanted to know why he is black but his skin looks white. He has also asked me in the past how I am black but his grandmother is white. My child has quite a mixed ancestry including Nigerian, Black American, Irish, Native American, English, and possibly some others that I’m not aware of. At the same time, both of his parents identify as, and by American standards are black. He is black, but my son also is multi-generationally mixed. These are concepts with definitions that matter in the context of nasty US history, the one-drop rule, and a bunch of other stuff (or, “blah, blah, blah” as my son would tell me) that’s hard to explain to a six year old on a car ride to the zoo. Let’s be real, it’s hard to explain period! What I really started wondering about is if parents of monoracial children, who live in monoracial communities even discuss these things? I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who attempt a color-blind approach, claiming that children don’t see race, etc. Sure they do. And they live in a society profoundly impacted by it. It’s actually very interesting to converse with a child about these issues because often they are not assigning value or making a judgment, but rather making observations and connections.20130530-085125.jpg

It has been more recent that I hear things from my child that are more reflective of broader society, such as racial stereotypes. That occurred this week when my son got a bee in his bonnet about a new “The Lone Ranger” Lego set. I didn’t mind letting him get a Lego set, we love Legos- it was the specific set that gave me heartburn. “The Lone Ranger”? Of all things, why has this been revived? I will admit, I know little about “The Lone Ranger”, but the first thing that comes to mind is the ignorant portrayal of Tonto. Low and behold, when I searched the original show, I read that actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto disliked the way the character was depicted. I’d imagine acting roles were hard to come by at the time for a Native American, and I’m not so sure it’s any better now.

I had a decision to make. When my son was little, we made a concerted effort to protect him from certain things. Not just BPA in plastic, pesticides in food, or lead-laced dirt, but from something more insidious and potentially damaging to the psyche. I’m talking about toys/books/media and any other controllable images that would instill the stereotypes and negative values of dominant society, specifically around race. Anything that didn’t affirm who my son is, I didn’t want him around. I realized three years ago when he started school that I couldn’t control things as much, and as he’s gets older I can use the kind of exposure that I used to avoid (like the Lego set) as a teaching tool. So my son got the Legos. I believe that even a child who lives in a multiracial/cultural family, school and community can have their mind and ultimately their spirit permeated by race related misinformation if you don’t affirmatively work against that. I can only imagine what can go on in the minds of children who aren’t exposed to otherness.20130530-085041.jpg

What I feel I’m trying to combat is the systemic structures that have a powerful strangle hold on our ability to make progress in diminishing racial stereotypes. Obviously one nasty, cruddy person can inflict that kind of thing on another, but what is more striking and less clearly visible is the very thing were surrounded by everyday. The images propagated by mass media/social media matter. The third thing that happened this week that put race on my mind was being featured in an Ebony Magazine/Ebony.com piece, “Women Up: Black Women Rising in Sports.” As the title states, it’s a brief profile of 10 black women who are rising in their respective sports. Anytime our sport gets coverage in a mainstream publication I think it’s exciting. Well, almost every time. An exception to that for me was last year when I stumbled across an article in one of the typical (non CrossFit specific) fitness magazines. The article was a list of top ten moments of the 2012 CrossFit Games, featuring both the women’s clean ladder and the Double Banger. I won both those events but the magazine featured other women for each. The Double Banger included a paragraph with my name as the “frontrunner” (uh, did anyone watch that?), yet the photograph was of another woman. Coincedence that they chose to feature white women’s photos for that piece? Perhaps. But when it happens in a publication that routinely under-represents women of color I tend to call that whitewashing. This magazine did feature a black woman in a more stereotypical role (you know blacks don’t swim, right?). I don’t want to disparage the accomplishments of any of the women who were featured in the piece, however I despise unearned privilege and I despise entities that refuse to portray the full spectrum. In my opinion they successfully distorted the already minimally visible presence of black women at the CrossFit Games. This is exactly why publications such as Ebony Magazine exist. To “offer positive images of blacks in a world of negative images.”

I believe there are people out there who feel the issues I’ve outlined here don’t exist or don’t really matter. In my opinion, such people are often sitting in a position of privilege. The privilege of not having to notice. The privilege of feeling that their children won’t be negatively impacted by such matters. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. Whatever the case, these are the types of things that I’m tasked with steeling my child against. To educate him and to protect his intellect, his heart, and his spirit from these untruths that the world will tell.

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” Audre Lorde

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49 responses

  1. Thomas Anderson

    As a father I went through the same thing with two of my three boys at about 6 or 7. They asked why they have black family, Latin family and white family. And why they are only black. My kids get Irish and black from me. And they get Panamanian and black from their mom. And it’s so hard to explain to them why they are considered black and not Panamanian or Irish. When those two cultures are a part of who they are.

    May 30, 2013 at 9:17 am

  2. Elisabeth, you have been my hero for a long time and this post only makes that more so! Thank you for your courage, your wisdom, and your beautiful writing. You are such an inspiration in so many ways. Good luck at regionals!!

    May 30, 2013 at 9:28 am

  3. Funke

    BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO! I loved this piece. Straight form the heart. Racial struggles are real and unfortunately, not everyone feels the same impact.(Yoruba) Ku’ise. Ki Oluwa ko bukun iwo ati omo e! (English translation: Good job! God bless you and your child)

    May 30, 2013 at 9:32 am

  4. Tracy Langford

    I really enjoyed this blog post. You are very right to protect, but also help your son navigate this issue. It’s great to embrace cultural heritage and instill a wonderful sense of humanity in our children. It’s irritating to hear veiled discrimination in the things around us, but I think negavity is a learned trait. Home life is where everything starts. I think that you are a wonderful parent and a great example for other children whether boy or girl who strive to achieve their goals. Keep up the great work!

    May 30, 2013 at 9:40 am

  5. Enid Tatum

    For a sensitive issue, this a the best I have read on this subject. Thank you for addressing it as many ignore or pretend that it does not exist. I am new to crossfit but I started following you and Debra Cordner Carson because I believe in you. I want my daughters (age 17 & 15) to know there are athletes that look like them in all sports regardless of the lack of exposure. Great things are coming your way! Good luck!

    May 30, 2013 at 9:52 am

  6. Great piece Elisabeth! My daughter has African and American Indian from me and her father is Brazilian (which I guess is a mix of European and African though his skin is white). The question of “What are you” arises for her and quite often for my husband for that matter almost everyday! My daughter embraces her mixed race but chooses to answer that question as “Brazilian” which is a rather obscure designation and still keeps people guessing.

    As to your other point regarding Blacks in Crossfit, I must say that while I am relatively new to the culture, the question as to why more aren’t represented in the games has crossed my mind almost to the point of troubling me. I don’t know if it’s exposure, availability, or opportunity. But I love what you’re doing with inner city Chicago and with the inner city obesity rates, especially among black, as high as it is, more programs like that are desperately needed. I will say, that on a marketing level, the demographic that Crossfit as an entity seems to be geared toward, intentional or not, is young, 20 something, whites which is sad. But I do feel the games and sport is young and as it grows the color lines will fall…

    BTW, I actually watched you win the Double Banger on youtube before I had known the overall games outcome and was actually rather shocked to learn you didn’t win it all… Go get yours sis! Now is your time!

    May 30, 2013 at 9:53 am

    • fmbradshaw

      Lisa you bring up a great point about the diversity of CrossFit.
      It’s not an insidious plot but just lack of access and knowledge.
      Unless you are in the inner city, I’m sure even at your box, you are one fo a few persons of color. And that’s ok
      Jackie Robinson helped tear a barrier down.
      Bill Russell helped tear a barrier down.
      Tiger Woods wasn’t the first black golfer, but the barrier he tore down was that we are capable.
      And folks like Elisabeth, Neal Maddox (going to the games), Christian Harris and Carla Nunes de Costa (won Africa regional http://games.crossfit.com/athlete/17774 ) from South Africa.
      Elisabeth’s work with a Charter school in Chicago is a start
      The more the above people compete, the more they and we share CrossFit with our children (i love seeing Elisabeth’s videos where her son pops in and lives a PVC and my two biracial kids can’t wait to go to CrossFit Kids)
      The more Elisabeth, Neal, Christian and the Carlas of the world continue to be seen on TV and kids go, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool’, we’ll get there
      Until then, you, me and other CrossFitters of Color keep going to our box, keep extolling the virrtues of CrossFit (especially to people of color) and keep telling our black children (thats another whole other discussion how we talked to my biracial daughter into accepting her “blackness”) that lifting a lot of weight, sweating and having a good time at it is ok!

      Lift Long and Lift Heavy,
      Frank in Brooklyn

      May 30, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      • M^2

        Awesome response Frank!
        I spend a lot of time convincing and talking to friends and acquaintances about the CrossFit, heavy weights and E. Akinwale; it’s tough to introduce a completely different regime to folks that still carry some doubts that are leftover from our history, our families, ourselves (i know bc that was me too!) But everytime i get one to try it, to invest 3 montha in to themselves, its a win; its pulling down more and more mental and physical barriers…in CrossFit, life, business, whatever.

        If theres one thing i get from CrossFit and Elizabeth and the women of African, Caribbean and American descent that pushed me to just try it, its thaf yes, CrossFit is hard. So.is life. It is wrought with pitfalls, fails and problems…but getting back.up to try again, to be smarter, better, improve yourself and your family, your society…its worth it. Even when.it.means just talking about racial challenges that still exist and permeate our lives.
        #teamakinwale
        @blackchickswod

        June 3, 2013 at 8:49 am

  7. bret

    Great post and well communicated.

    Thank you for deciding to post this.

    I have struggled as a parent of a girl to minimize the influence of the messages popular culture bombards us with regarding what a girl should be, what classes at school she can be ‘good’ at, how smart she should be, how assertive she should be and of course what attractive is for a girl. The list goes on and on.

    There is a lot of swimming against the stream.

    May 30, 2013 at 9:54 am

  8. Awesome post Elisabeth. I have been in similar situations with my children who are of mixed heritage. 2 of my children’s complexion is clearly black while my youngest boys’ skin is white, but his facial features are clearly black. He almost looks like an albino. I do get the questions about why they are considered black and not considered English like their Mom’s heritage or why is their baby brother white and they are not. I try my best to explain why and their differences and to let them know how special they are and not to believe some of the portrayals they may see in their lives. I teach my daughter that she comes from a strong culture of woman who are proud and brave. Women like you. My daughter “discovered” you last year while I was watching the Crossfit Games. She was so hypnotized at what you were doing out there and it was clear she was happy that there was someone who looked like her on the TV screen being among the very best. We have tried to keep updated with you and your career, and she often asks when you will be on tv again. She is pulling for you. I thank you for that. There needs to be more positive examples for her to see. Thank you for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

    P.S. I saw you in the Double Banger last year, and how any publication or anyone that even mentions it doesn’t include you in a huge way is incredible. You killed it!!

    May 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

  9. matthewdavis

    I. LOVE. THIS. Having multi-ethnic kids (who look white) and nieces and nephews who are all sorts of colors, we get to have the best, most interesting conversations. Thank you for being bold and calling things what they are.

    May 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

  10. Alisha Garcia

    As a Native American Woman from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in MN, this really touched me, especially the last paragraph and the preceding few sentences. I joined the Army 9 years ago and experienced a culture shock because I had rarely interacted with people who never met a “real” Indian before I joined. Even though I dealt with racism and stereotyping while at home as a youth, I never realized the general lack of knowledge some Americans have about cultures that aren’t their own. Thank you for talking about the issue from a non-hostile, non-bitter, intelligent, yet honest view. For what it’s worth, I thought everyone in the world was a Native until I got to grade school, and even then, it didn’t matter because my parents loved me and taught us to have respect for all living beings. :)

    May 30, 2013 at 10:35 am

  11. Elisabeth, this post was absolutely incredible. Not only were you masterfully articulate in such a clear way, but you addressed an issue that is extremely important! One particular part I took note on was how kids in many settings are given the “you don’t see color or race.” And you are right, they do. My 3 year old son, Noah, recently saw our neighbor’s kids playing outside when we came home. One of them had fallen over and was crying. Noah’s reaction to that was “Daddy, that black boy fell over and is crying.” Now, he is too young to know and retain anything in depth about different races, but he was observant in what he saw. We live in a society where we are all “equal,” but the sad truth is that we are not. In a report I recently did, I noted that women in the workforce are paid 82% of what a man makes in the same industry and position. This is up from 64% in the 70’s, but we shouldn’t look at that as improvement, rather still a grave concern in equality. Factor in race and I am horrified to know the statistical outcome!
    What you are doing for your child, Elisabeth, is incredible! I wish more parents would do the same. Many would look at this post and think you are being harsh or even racist simply because they don’t want to acknowledge the barriers that are present in this society. We must ALL infect change! By the way, I was at the Games last year, and I saw you win those events, so you weren’t a front runner to me and my family. And this year when we are there, you won’t be then either! I hope to get the chance to meet you this year at the Games. Not necessarily as an athlete, but as a amazing mother and person!

    Tim Klinedinst

    May 30, 2013 at 10:55 am

  12. Elisabeth, this post was absolutely incredible. Not only were you masterfully articulate in such a clear way, but you addressed an issue that is extremely important! One particular part I took note on was how kids in many settings are given the “you don’t see color or race.” And you are right, they do. My 3 year old son, Noah, recently saw our neighbor’s kids playing outside when we came home. One of them had fallen over and was crying. Noah’s reaction to that was “Daddy, that black boy fell over and is crying.” Now, he is too young to know and retain anything in depth about different races, but he was observant in what he saw. We live in a society where we are all “equal,” but the sad truth is that we are not. In a report I recently did, I noted that women in the workforce are paid 82% of what a man makes in the same industry and position. This is up from 64% in the 70′s, but we shouldn’t look at that as improvement, rather still a grave concern in equality. Factor in race and I am horrified to know the statistical outcome!
    What you are doing for your child, Elisabeth, is incredible! I wish more parents would do the same. Many would look at this post and think you are being harsh or even racist simply because they don’t want to acknowledge the barriers that are present in this society. We must ALL infect change! By the way, I was at the Games last year, and I saw you win those events, so you weren’t a front runner to me and my family. And this year when we are there, you won’t be then either! I hope to get the chance to meet you this year at the Games. Not necessarily as an athlete, but as a amazing mother and person!

    Tim Klinedinst

    May 30, 2013 at 10:56 am

  13. no one watching could forget who won either of those events. everyone in the arena was on their feet, losing their minds when you hit 235 +5 (even before you picked up the bar, actually, because everyone sort of “knew” what was about to happen). and again with the double banger.

    love the audre lorde quote.

    great share.

    May 30, 2013 at 10:57 am

  14. Fallon Alexis Jefferson

    PERFECT Elisabeth, just perfect and yes I live for those care rides with my sons age 3 and 5. Full of questions and me realizing what all goes through their mind. This subject came up in the bathtub for us. Someone at school (a teacher) said something to the effect that my child’s hair wasnt “black” it upset him highly, for a different reason though, in his eyes his hair color is black, even though they were referring to our race. That led to me explaining to my child that we are African American. I honestly wasn’t prepared for this to be brought to the forefront yet, I thought he was going to come home and ask what was for dinner. But I am glad he is hearing the correct terms at home. I tell them everyday “You are faster, you are smarter, you are stronger!”

    May 30, 2013 at 11:34 am

  15. James

    Unfortunately racial issues will continue to plague American society. I commend you for your candid discussion of a topic most would shy away from. You’re a strong beautiful black woman…keep those interesting blogs coming.

    May 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

  16. Thank you for this piece. Race is a very tricky and sticky issue in the US. My daughter has also been asking a lot of questions about race and ethnicity (she is 7). I’m Black but a mixture of African, White and Native American. My husband is White, mixture of German, French and Norwegian. My daughter is trying to figure out her place in the world, a mixture of two parents who love her dearly but living in a society that lives to categorize people by the color of their skin.

    Please keep this interesting and thought provoking posts going.

    May 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm

  17. Lori Wangerin

    You also have some German running through your veins! Trudy did some ancestry and your great grandmother (Grandpa Farrell’s mother) was German. We are all a mix of something!

    May 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

  18. fmbradshaw

    Wow…I am not alone
    I am … black and my wife is white (to keep it simple :) )
    My daughter has struggled with what she “is”.
    According to what we say here in the US, it was easiest to tell her to embrace being a ‘black woman’ and enjoy the gifts of being multi-racial.
    My daughter loves trapeze and gymnastics and action dance (see streb’s lab for action mechanics – SLAM [ http://www.streb.org ]). When she saw videos of Elisabeth, literally, her mouth dropped open and she was in awe.
    She said she looks like Elisabeth (“she even has hair like mine”) and wants to be able to do like her.
    So thank you Elisabeth, I know race is a tricky thing, esp. here in the US.
    We will continue to use ‘person of color’ but until then, my daughter is okay being a ‘black woman’

    May 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm

  19. Dayna

    I really enjoyed this post. I feel you were very eloquent in your words. Parents of all races and ethnicities should take note and raise their kids in this manner – celebrating who they are and respecting and rejoicing in the differences of others.

    May 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

  20. The issues you discuss absolutely still exist. I cannot believe it when I hear suggestions that discussion of race (I kind of dislike using that word, I think I prefer ethnicity…) shouldn’t be necessary–I am similarly disheartened by those who are “post-feminism” proponents. If your child (or anyone’s child, as suggested by the commenter before me) is struggling with their identity, issue isn’t dead.

    May 30, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  21. Great blog post! I have a 4 year old son who is bi-racial and has noticed the different in skin tones of daddy and mommy. In a sport that does not have a lot of people who share my heritage, I am glad we have you. You honor us with your words and your heart.

    May 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm

  22. Gail

    People are simply ..people. Why do we have to label everything. Elizabeth is a strong competitor in cross fit.If we just instil that we are one maybe we wouldn’t have all the global issues that we do. Nobody is better or worse…just people.

    May 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm

  23. Elisabeth,

    You’re my favorite Crossfit athlete after reading this. The fact that you are also one of the best in competition is just icing on the cake. I also think your son is pretty lucky. Keep doing what you’re doing.

    May 30, 2013 at 7:05 pm

  24. megan1028

    Thank you for writing this post. I am the white mother of a white daughter, and often find myself in the position you describe, of not having to think about hard issues I know many other people do have to think about.

    I struggle with how to raise my daughter, not to be color blind, but to be appreciative of the many cultures there are to learn from. To think of her ethnicity and her culture as something unique and special, and different from everyone else’s. Less she grow up to think everyone is the same.

    Reading things like this from a perspective that I am not able to draw from on my own will help me be a better mother to her, so thank you for that.

    And Go Get it this weekend! I can’t wait to watch you knock those workouts out!

    May 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm

  25. I have to say as a regular cyclist for past 22 years, one doesn’t see lots of black women cycling..in ie. Toronto where Canada’s largest % blacks reside. And even less in competitive world of cycling –either road racing or mountain biking. In fact, there has been informal chatter among cyclists, why is it that one doesn’t see many blacks in competitive bike racing at the regional, national and international levels? Reasons for less money (for cycling gear, …can’t be that much more than ie. golfing), socialization, etc. are trotted out.

    And I notice stuff may be because…I’m Asian-Canadian and notice the paucity of Asian descent women cyclists competing at the international level.

    I totally agree with your last statement particularily about privilege of not noticing or even being aware or experiencing “otherness”.

    May 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    • Mat

      Elisabeth,
      Thank you for writing such a well thought out post. I was planning on writing a well thought out response but don’t think there’s any need. All I’ll say is that I would definitely be considered a privileged individual, yet one who has always been aware of inconsistencies and injustices around me. I also see/hear many other privileged people who turn a blind eye to such inequalities simply because it doesn’t apply to them and is therefore inconvenient to deal with. If it’s frustrating to me I can only imagine how it must make those on the receiving end feel. Keep being awesome.

      May 31, 2013 at 10:30 am

  26. Well-said, Elisabeth. As a multiracial woman identifying as black, I totally get where you’re coming from. I think you’re an extremely positive image for us, which is helping to get more black women into Crossfit. Keep up the good work!

    May 31, 2013 at 7:45 am

  27. StacyJ

    I really appreciated this post. I was that kid/girl/woman who struggled with “who I was” a lot growing up. I would get asked all the time, “What are you?” I liked to respond that I was a girl. I didn’t just walk out of a zoo people!! :) I was interviewed at last year’s Regionals and asked how I felt being one of so few “black” athletes there competing by a writer for The Washington Post. While I’m conscious of it, it sure as hell doesn’t affect my times.
    This year I’m on the cheering squad as I’ve got my 4-week-old son keeping me busy. :) (so in love!!) I’m loving watching you compete partly for your relateability to me, but even more so as a mother. I have always loved watching the moms out there crushing it. Incredibly inspriational.
    Keep up the great work!

    June 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

  28. Ed Jackson

    Very nice post EA!

    June 2, 2013 at 2:50 pm

  29. Marie

    I know exactly what CF article you’re referring to and I had the same “but wait?!?” response.

    June 3, 2013 at 7:36 am

  30. M^2

    Reblogged this on BlackChicksWOD and commented:
    This, right here, brings up multiple subjects inherent to sports, women and children, as it relates to race.
    Pick one:
    – A Child’s Identity
    – Racial Depictions (past & present) “Lone Ranger”
    – Limited Representation in Media

    Akinwale does not shy away from hard realities (truths?) that affect her family, her sport or her business.

    Read, marinate and then leave some thoughts.

    June 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

  31. graham weedon

    I liked this post (and several of the comments) for it’s balanced points though the title confuses me. (i’ll guess it’s hollywood’s suggestion that Christ was blonde with blue eyes).

    Only because i didn’t see others point this out yet, i offer the following: guaranteed the forthcoming Lone Ranger film will address the inequities of the old TV show. Yet, this summer’s big budget revival picks Johnny Depp to play Tonto? Hollywood blew a real opportunity there. To your point about Jay Silverheels, it really says something that a Native American played a Native American, especially in the 1950’s!

    As for people of color in CrossFit…interest and opportunity can’t be forced. I teach a Chinese Martial Art created by two women, yet i have one homeschooled teenage girl and one Chinese man who fit either description…the rest is a mix of mostly white men in their 30’s to 50’s . I don’t advertise at all. Whoever is interested and has the time and money to pursue it gets to join. I think its the same with CrossFit. I’ve been around CF for 8 years and am unaware of any diabolical plot or selective avoidance. Getting the games on ESPN with a Reebok partnership was a huge first step. Folks like you giving it your best year in and out is another huge step.

    Keep up the good work and good luck this summer!

    June 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

  32. James

    Whether it’s race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or whether you are a CrossFitter, a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, an olympic lifter, a runner, or a couch potato, there are a million different ways to label people.

    The problem lies when you judge someone based on a label and don’t get to know who they really are.

    Thankfully, my kids have grown up in a very inclusive environment. Their two first cousins are half caucasian and half Vietnamese. Their mom’s first cousin had children with an African-American woman, so they have cousins with that type of mixed ethnicity, as well.

    And they love all of their cousins.

    So while I’ve never really had to talk to them about judging other kids based on labels and not the content of their character, I have a feeling that asking them how they would feel if their cousins were treated unfairly because of their ethnicity would get them in check quickly.

    And as far as diversity in CrossFit goes, I wonder how much economics play into it?

    June 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

  33. I loved this post! I have so much I would like to say, add, question, but I do not write as well as you do so I will just say a few things. I absolutely believe families of all ethnicities, mixed or otherwise, have these conversations with their children. I know we do (and we happen to be all of light skin tone with mixed ethnicity). My sons are 9 and almost 11 so we have had quite a few of these and I have never felt the need to correct any perception they have. I feel they see things for what they are and I’ve always liked this. I’ve explained to them we are all different and that is what makes us special and ourselves. One of my sons has a broad strong build and my youngest has a long lean build. Same parents, completely different build. It’s one thing that makes them different and special. I’ve tried explaining saying certain things to anyone can offend them or hurt their feelings. I’ve asked them to consider this thought as they move forward in life. I am hoping they will always react and act the way they have to date. Also, I am appalled with the lack of respect and celebrating you received in the article you are referring to regarding your 2012 Games accomplishments. I am not aware of the article but I find it so frustrating that publications and companies still operate this way. I think a lot of people want full equality, if not for themselves for their children. I think if role models like yourself keep speaking honestly on tough topics we can get there though.

    June 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

  34. A moving and wise post. I gave a silent cheer when you wrote:

    When my son was little, we made a concerted effort to protect him from certain things. Not just BPA in plastic, pesticides in food, or lead-laced dirt, but from something more insidious and potentially damaging to the psyche.

    I know a few adults whose ethnic background is mixed (in particular, 1st generation Chinese and 3rd or 4th generation mixed-European) and are now middle-aged, so they grew up in an even less tolerant USA. They relate to me their parents were in denial about the overt prejudice they faced in elementary and middle school. In particular, one person gave out to their parents why they so hated going to school, and rather than getting support from their parents, they were told to ignore it and to “grow a thicker skin.”

    This person is still plagued by anxiety and feels under scrutiny and mistrust in some areas, notably suburbs that aren’t particularly ethnically diverse.

    These folks came of age when it was generally believed that parents shouldn’t interfere with negative attention or even bullying in school. That would be to mollycoddle them, and they wouldn’t develop confidence. I think now that piece of “common sense” has been shown to be false and disastrously so: leaving a child exposed on a daily basis to negative attention is what disturbs the development of confidence, or yet worse. A child is a growing organism, and if the abuse is sufficiently bad, it actually leaves physical artifacts. A researcher at Mass General Hosp. here in Boston found that children who’d been the objects of severe physical and sexual abuse show asymmetry in various parts of the brain that cross hemispheres and are symmetrical in the control group, i.e., people who hadn’t suffered such abuse.

    You’re giving your son the strength and confidence to achieve what he wants in life. Bless you for that.

    June 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm

  35. Johnathan Keys

    This is by far the most enlightened and truthful expression of the “race debate”. You have masterfully expressed the difficulty of navigating race in western civilization. Especially considering the conversation of race in sports, and then take into account the role of gender, and how white female athletes are represented and adored in the greater public view. I appreciate your insightful post. As an African American male, who has coached young men and women, I think you bring a fresh perspective to those that are not privy to the inner workings of those on the “outside” of popular society.

    June 18, 2013 at 11:50 am

  36. Yolanda

    Ms. Akinwale your post was very thought provoking, as at times I dismiss the challenges my son face celebrating his Nicaraguan and Black American heritage. I too tried to shield him from the world and choose a multi-racial neighborhood, at best to rear him. However, I noticed no matter my efforts some of his friends retreated to their circles of comfort, when college choices neared regardless of their academic standing. Parents or society influence, we’ll never know?? Therefore, I’m happy we provided him with some doses of reality along the way a difficult a job indeed, as there’s such a fine line so we centered on reinforcing his character something we hope will sway even the worst stereotypes.

    CrossFit?? I never even heard of this event until I saw a picture of you with my BFF from high school on Facebook today. Needing to lose a few pounds myself, I was like does my BFF have a personal trainer now? If so, l need to get it together lol.

    After googling you, your stats from CrossFit Construct appeared, and I was so proud to see you accomplish so much with so much commitment, and then you’re a mom with an amazing and obviously insightful little man :-) How awesome is that!

    However, I was disappointed that I hadn’t heard more about you before, as I know many young women and men could gain motivation from you! It makes me want to scream at the sports world! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Now, that’s off my chest :-)

    I pray that you continue to do well in this field and continue to enjoy motherhood as it’s very evident that you do. I see you get the fact that they’re our real rewards. That son I mentioned earlier is heading off to Morehouse in 2 weeks, and I hope he will always remember our lego moments!

    God Bless, Yolanda
    Burtonsville, MD

    July 28, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  37. I’m black and Native American, and my ex is from Ghana. My daughter is also six, and when she was born I had the same concerns about protecting her from anything that would project the idea that she was less of a person for being black. I would often buy her children’s books about Ghana and black America, including a colorful picture book about Kente cloth. I only buy her black dolls, and when Princess and the Frog came out I welcomed the movie into our home full force. Right now she is in Ghana with her father where she lives and goes to school, and I will be joining her there later in the year. I believe that living in a place where she is not a minority during her early years will make her a stronger person.
    Something that black Americans have really been deprived of is a true sense of self, culture and worth. There was a question that I really struggled with after she was born: Do black Americans really have a heritage? When I compare my heritage to the rich one of her father, do they even compare? And the answer is yes, though the beauty of black American culture been systematically minimized throughout history. It took awhile for me to embrace the fact that black Americans do indeed have a rich heritage, which also belongs to my daughter. I want her to grow up with a strong sense of self worth that comes from her cultures, and the values her parents instill in her. I really admire you so much Elisabeth for being a black person who excels in a sport with not many black people in it. It’s a valuable scenario for your son to live and grow in, and also valuable for the rest of us black girls too.

    August 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm

  38. I’m black and Native American, and my ex is from Ghana. My daughter is also six, and when she was born I had the same concerns about protecting her from anything that would project the idea that she was less of a person for being black. I would often buy her children’s books about Ghana and black America, including a colorful picture book about Kente cloth. I only buy her black dolls, and when Princess and the Frog came out I welcomed the movie into our home full force. Right now she is in Ghana with her father where she lives and goes to school, and I will be joining her there later in the year. I believe that living in a place where she is not a minority during her early years will make her a stronger person.
    Something that black Americans have really been deprived of is a true sense of self, culture and worth. There was a question that I really struggled with after she was born: Do black Americans really have a heritage? When I compare my heritage to the rich one of her father, do they even compare? And the answer is yes, though the beauty of black American culture been systematically minimized throughout history. It took awhile for me to embrace the fact that black Americans do indeed have a rich heritage, which also belongs to my daughter. I want her to grow up with a strong sense of self worth that comes from her cultures, and the values her parents instill in her. I really admire you so much Elisabeth for being a black person who excels in a sport with not many black people in it. It’s a valuable scenario for your son to live and grow in, and also valuable for the rest of us black girls too.

    August 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm

  39. Martie

    You wanted to hear from someone monoracial raising monoracial kids, and that is me. I am white (with possibly a splash of Native American, but there is no evidence of it) and live in a white suburb in a white city in white Idaho. My 4 year old recently started asking about why some people have different skin tones, and what do we call them. I think it started when I sang him “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I learned this song from my great-grandmother and had always focused on the message that Jesus loves everyone, no matter what color they are. But my son focused on the “red, yellow, black, white” because it confused him. He wanted to know what a red person or yellow person looks like. This was actually a great opportunity to talk about history (at a 4 year old level) – how people used to call people those colors just because it was easier, but that people aren’t really red, yellow, black or white. I held a piece of white paper up to my skin and showed him that I am not actually white, but very light tan. And I had him think about a dark skinned person and how they are not actually black (likewise compared to a black piece of paper), but a very dark brown. We looked up pictures online and discussed pigment and how each person has more or less than other people, but it’s the same skin and the same pigment. Just like some people have lighter or darker hair. No one has truly red hair. Blonde is not yellow. These words that we use to describe people are just that. “The woman with long brown hair.” “The dark skinned man.” “The boy with green eyes.” We pick striking features to describe people and distinguish one from another.

    When I was in school I was friends with a boy in one of my classes. He was just another kid to me. When I found him on Facebook a couple of years ago I discovered he is a professor at a university who teaches about race relations in the US and has written a couple of books. It turns out he is Latino and very focused on race and racism. This surprised me, because I never thought of him as a “race”. He was just who he was. But when he started making a big deal about his race and how he and “his people” are treated poorly, it created an issue where there wasn’t one. Now I am not saying there isn’t a problem – there are some awful people in the world and there are many who have other worldviews (raceviews?) than me. But for me, who never considered race in my interactions with people, this made me more cautious and timid in approaching someone new. Because now I wonder how they are considering me – are they the militant kind who are hypersensitive about race references? I am going to offend them accidentally? Is it easier to just avoid them completely so I don’t cause a problem? I push these thoughts aside as best I can, but there is no denying they are there. I have and have had several friends with different ethnic backgrounds than me, and I enjoy them as much as my white friends. I am trying to teach my son that people are people, no matter where/when/what/who they are.

    I guess what I’m saying is that maybe race relations goes two ways. Ebony magazine exists to provide positive images of people of color, but it also helps solidify the divide.

    I chose to follow you because you are my height, weight, age, and have 2 kids like me. As a Crossfitter it is great to have someone similar to me to watch/follow/aspire to/etc. I don’t care what your ethnic background is. Really.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:54 am

    • Hi Martie!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write an in-depth and heartfelt response. You’ve said to much here (and some of your points seem similar to things I’ve heard from other folks) that I really want to do an additional blog post addressing this. Thanks again, I hope all is well in Idaho!
      Elisabeth

      September 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm

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    September 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

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    October 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm

  43. Cecil

    Dear Elisabeth,

    I’ve been a proud member of CrossFit just over 18 months now. What drew me to the sport was the challenge to test myself again, a love for cross training, and the fact that women and men worked hard alongside each other for health and fitness. What was supposed to be a three month trial run has turned into a 5 day a week love-athon.

    About 4 months in, I searched for people of color in the sport. I found you first and stuck close to any any caption, image, video or article I could find or subscribe to about you. Your work ethic and values outside the box (as a parent) and inside the box (very evident) has solidified my admiration.

    So here I am! A follower on FB, IG and Twitter. You recommended a piece from Tabata Times today via FB. I dutifully began to read it. You’re quoted and I sit in my office in awe: My love for my Shero is stoked once again!

    All I can say is thank you!! After the last few weeks of CF Headquarter posts on race and the crazy responses many in the CF community made, I can only dedicate my first comment (something I basically never do) on your blog to you!

    From one parent to another, Continued Blessings & PRs!!

    Sincerely,

    Cecil

    October 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm

  44. I have observed you as a strong and impressive athlete. With this first time reading your blog I appreciate your strength as a thoughtful, caring mother even more so. God bless you and strengthen you through all challenges.

    October 25, 2013 at 11:10 pm

  45. Quarles

    Good commentary. Food for thought in reference to, “My child has quite a mixed ancestry including Nigerian, Black American, Irish, Native American, English, and possibly some others that I’m not aware of.”
    If you’re going to list Black American as a race, shouldn’t you should list White American as a race too?

    May 13, 2014 at 11:29 pm

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