Monday, January 25, 2010

Racism in America

Remember the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? Boise State had gone undefeated during the regular season and made a great case for why the BCS system is screwed up. Even though they didn't get a chance to play in the championship game, they did get to play against football powerhouse Oklahoma who many had thought would battle for the national championship before they lost to Oregon and Texas in the regular season. Boise State beat Oklahoma and showed people that a team for a smaller conference could compete with the big boys.

To this day, a lot of people still reference that game as one of the best arguments for why we need a better system to determine a national champion. But the most memorable part of that game happened on the sidelines after time ran out. The star football player from Boise State got on one knee and proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on live TV. She of course said yes and the crowd went crazy. The young couple appeared on all of the talk shows and gave a fairy tale ending to a fairy tale season that was so perfect and cheesy you would have thought Disney wrote it.

What wasn't reported in the national media were the threatening letters and phone calls that the young couple and their families received. The death threats that made police protection necessary and forced them to change the date and location of their wedding several times. You see the football player is black and the cheerleader is white. To be accurate, the football player has a white parent and a black parent and is of mixed race but that is irrelevant to most people in this country. The bottom line is that if you appear to have any black in you, if you have brown skin, then you are black and any other part of your ethnicity is not important.

The fact that just seeing an interracial couple on television incensed so many people that hundreds of them decided to threaten them is disgusting. But the fact that none of the media outlets reported on it is even more disturbing. Sports Illustrated recently ran a "Where are They Now" story and reported this information for the first time to the general public in a mainstream publication. Was there public outcry? Did it become the lead story on the news? Did Oprah do a show about it? No, of course not. Not even a letter to the editor (or at least none published).

What does that say about us as a nation? That such rampant racism exists but isn't reported. When Barack Obama became president I heard a lot of ridiculous talk that this was a sign that racism was no longer a big issue in America. If you don't believe that a large portion of the people who say that the president is Muslim, not an American citizen and all the other bullshit that these protesters are saying has more to do with the color of the president's skin that his politics then you are lying to yourself.

When the Princess and the Frog became Disney's first movie to feature a black princess people said that it wasn't a big deal. These people have obviously never tried to find a black Barbie doll for their child. Mattel only makes some of the Barbie's in black. Many of the special edition and themed Barbies only come in white. As do many baby dolls and other toys that are mass marketed to little girls.

Anyone who believes that Hurricane Katrina wouldn't have been handled differently if it happened in a predominantly white area is lying to themselves. If there is a shooting at a school in a middle class area it becomes a national news story but a shooting at an inner city school is often back page news. When a black athlete or entertainer gets in trouble with the law or has tattoos he is a labeled a thug but that tag isn't applied to a white athlete/entertainer with the same bio.

I experience racism on a regular basis in this country. It is usually fairly subtle. No one is yelling the n-word at me or refusing to serve me but I would almost rather have that. When sales people don't wait on me in the store but ask other customers several times if they need assistance, that is racism. Or when those same sales people show up at the end of every aisle that your shopping in because they think you're going to rob the store, that is racism. When people meet me for the first time after only speaking to me on the phone or communicating with me via e-mail and tell me I don't sound black, like its some sort of compliment, that is racism. When people assume that I'm the secretary when they walk into my office because I'm the only black person there, that is racism. When complete strangers feel comfortable asking me if I'm the first person in my family to go to college despite the fact that black people have been graduating from college in this country since 1823, that is racism. When people assume that I grew up in the inner city, that I listen to rap music and that I have certain cultural and political views solely based on the color of my skin, that is racism.

It is no surprise that there isn't a large civil rights movement in this country like there was in the 1960's. Most people don't even know that this racism exists because it isn't reported. I don't know what its going to take for this country to take a serious look at itself and for people to be outraged. I am almost afraid of what sort of catastrophe would need to happen to spark a civil rights movement

Monday, January 11, 2010

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

A year ago my husband and I registered for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. The marathon weekend includes a kid's fun run, a 5K, a half marathon and a marathon. Some people participate in all events and others in just one or two. We have friends who are serious runners who have participated in the two long runs in the past and they convinced us to sign up. We liked the idea of traveling to a destination and enjoying a vacation while we were being active. All of the information that we found on websites and message boards was all very positive about the marathon weekend and what a great experience it was. As best we can tell, everyone lied or has a different idea of fun than we do.

On race day, Disney transportation picks you up from your hotel between 3-4 am. You are then bussed to a parking lot where you stand around for an hour or so while a DJ pumps techno music and says encouraging things. You then walk with the other 17,000 runners the two miles to the start line. You start the race somewhere between 5:30 and 6:20 depending on what corral you are in. You stand in a holding pen with the rest of your corral until you are released. Even if you visited one of the thousands of port-o-potties before the race, you will probably have to go again during the race. Bathrooms will be randomly placed throughout the course so if you're lucky you can wait in line for 5 minutes to use a port-o-pottie and then resume running. If you are unlucky then you will squat behind a tree that faces one of the parking lots where spectators have lined up and give everyone a show. If you are really unlucky, running this early will stimulate your bowels and you will have to go #2 during the race or quite urgently after the race.

The registration for the half marathon is $125. For people who regularly participate in road races, you know that often the best part of the race is the swag that you get from it. For such a hefty registration fee (the average road race is usually $15-25) we were expecting some great free stuff. A long sleeve technical shirt and some trial size free samples of power bars and athletic tape were it. The post race food was meager and the biggest disappointment of all. Apparently a bagel is too much to ask for after running 13 miles. There were tons of items available to purchase at the Disney Expo that you had to attend to get your race number and in the post race area. I wasn't aware that the $125 fee was my registration to go to a really expensive shopping mall.

In addition to the cost of the race is the cost of your stay at Disney. It is highly recommended that you stay in a Disney resort or it will be almost impossible for you to get around on race day and for the other required pre-race activities. If you plan to eat inside the parks the Disney Dining Plan is much cheaper than buying each meal individually. And of course, you need admission to each of the parks. For our 4 day, three night weekend, including race registration, hotel and dining packages, flight and airport parking/transportation, spending money and park admission we spent around $2,500 on this trip. Disney did not provide any discounts to people who were registered for the races. You would think there would be some sort of discount for runners but clearly the "D" in Disney stands for dollar.

The race was poorly organized. Catching the right bus to and from your hotel, getting around pre and post race, even the organization of the event itself was horrible. It is hard to believe that Disney has been running this event for years and continues to expand the field of runners every year with the level of chaos that exists. You would think that with $$2,125,000+ in registration fees from the half marathon alone that Disney could put on a better event.
The worst part of the race is that while Disney separates runners into different corrals based on their estimated finish times but they did not enforce this designation at race time. My husband and I average 11 and 12 minute miles, respectively, for long races. This pace put us in the last corral with runners that average anywhere from 10 to 17 minute miles (which is a problem in itself). We spent several miles weaving through the thousands of walkers that were participating in the race. We figured we would be free of the walkers and slow runners after 2-3 miles but spent the entire race passing people. It was clear that people who did not belong in the faster corrals had lined up and started where they weren't supposed to. We heard this same complaint from other runners who are much faster than us. In some sections it was impossible to pass people because of how narrow the paths were. In these areas you either had to slow down until you could get past these people or off-road it. Many people injured themselves running in grass, gravel and other uneven surfaces along the side of the course. There were a few times where I just gave up and walked because I was expending too much energy passing people. Disney should either schedule a separate race or have separate lanes for people who are not serious runners and plan to stop throughout the course or enforce the corral designations and add more corrals to prevent the gridlock.

There were people talking on their cell phones, taking videos of the race and stopping at every potential photo op to pose for pictures. This only added to the gridlock. If you can do these things during a race then you aren't running. If Disney billed this event as a fun run and not as a race then that would be acceptable. But to bill it as a real road race for serious runners is a disservice to those of us who trained for it. My husband and I finished 10-15 minutes slower than our expected finishing times because of the congestion. It is frustrating that we have to justify our race times to everyone we know with the long drawn out story of how crappy the event was. Now we have to look to another half marathon to show how fit we actually are.

If you are looking for a walk/run event that is not competitive and want to spend thousands of dollars to get up at the crack of dawn to wade through 17,000+ strangers for 2-3 hours and then enjoy a fruit cup and a banana for your efforts then this is the race for you. Not to mention the joy that your body experiences after running for hours in the days after/before you have been/will be walking around the parks for hours and the children, old people, rude people, inexperenced travelers, foreign people (its not asking a lot that at least one member of your party speak the language of the country that you are traveling too) and just plain annoying people that make travel and particularly amusement parks less fun.