Being loud doesn't necessarily mean bringing the right kind of attention to a cause, and, as others have noted, posting a black box or a pink ribbon on social media accounts one day of the year, wearing a shirt, or shouting a slogan isn't the same as learning about a specific cause, donating to it, or supporting the people dedicated to making real changes. For many groups advocating for change, some issues will slide into the political arena. For example, some of you might be familiar with the Breathe Act, an important and necessary bill created by some of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This bill addresses police brutality in the United States. It is supported by many racial justice groups and politicians, and this is just one way BLM is associated with politics.
If you go to the BLM website, the group describes itself as a political and social movement. In October 2020, Black Lives Matter launched a PAC (political action committee.) This was done specifically so that the group can effect change in a concrete way through legislation and by educating voters. I believe this to be a good move on their part. Another organization, and one I donate to, the ACLU, is also dedicated to fighting for racial justice and against systemic racism. According to their website:
The ACLU is committed to combating racism in all its forms. Its advocacy includes litigation, community organizing and training, legislative initiatives, and public education to address the broad spectrum of issues that disproportionately and negatively impact people of color.
Targets of oppression are usually women, migrants, people of color, indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and people who are poor, in no particular order. If you're a runner and exercise at all in public, chances are you've been yelled at, but that's not the same as facing oppression and systemic racism.
This is all just to say that political groups are usually necessary in order to accomplish lasting change in this country. It's fine to pay attention to the social aspect of an organization, but observable change has a better chance backed by legislation. It's also important that those who support a group or movement have a good understanding of all that the organization represents. As is often the case when it comes to large, diverse organizations, not everyone has a comprehensive understanding of all that the BLM movement entails. While it's clear that BLM has a political agenda, as it should, supporting citizens or people of color and minorities is not political, and it's great to see more and more people making an effort to learn just how to do this, whether it's supporting businesses (some ideas here and here), donating to specific organizations, or simply listening to others talk about issues, there are quite a few active ways to help.
In 2019, Outside Magazine Online published a gushing piece on Gary Cantrell, going into great detail about the kind and dedicated man and his ability to put on some of the most difficult running races around. If you googled his name then, you would find all kinds of information on his impressive charity contributions, his running, and, of course, his role as a race director. What a difference a year makes. In 2020, Outside Magazine online published an article about Cantrell that included a lie by omission in the title itself, hinting that their beloved race director might be a racist. As is often the case with biased reporting, no real evidence was offered. In fact, the author presents more evidence to the contrary, despite the misleading title. Google Gary's name now, and you will find a mess of contradictory pieces, those in support of him and those that look more like hit pieces, very little in between, though I found one article that did a better job than most of presenting both sides of a recent event that landed the race director in the hot seat.
After reading four articles, a blog post, far too many social media posts, and listening to two podcasts on the topic, there are still inconsistencies about minor details relating to the events that caused Outside to state that Lazarus Lake "took a stand against BLM," which isn't accurate. From what I can gather, a runner, Ben, who entered one of Gary's virtual races also joined the race's Facebook group, posted an image of himself in a BLM shirt that either violated the group's terms --which everyone is prompted to agree to before joining -- or caused a big stink while Ben was sleeping and was either immediately deleted or deleted after arguing in the group started and complaints began to roll in.
Either way, Laz and the moderators of the Facebook group have the right to delete whatever post they want for whatever reason at any given time. It's his group. Either you make exceptions for everyone, or you stick to the rules. I or others may not agree with what the mods choose to do, but it's not my group.
A few years ago, I was part of a team of moderators for an eating disorder recovery group, and our rules were very strict. As a result, we deleted a lot of posts and images that might not cause issues on Instagram or in other forums. People sometimes wanted to argue that certain images sent a positive message, but in that particular group, we didn't allow images of bodies, period. People who joined were given the rules and could leave if they didn't like the atmosphere. It's a judgment call, done in order to keep a group running smoothly and to hopefully prevent anyone from being hurt, and it's not like the Internet is lacking when it comes to places to post content.
Most of the time it's an easy choice for moderators as to what gets deleted, but sometimes it can be more complicated. Reading through the comments in that group, several other forums, and on Reddit, it seems most people at least understand the position Laz and his moderators were in and can see why he or his moderators made the decision to delete the post in an effort to keep the forum free of conflict. They consistently delete posts related to politics, ads, and spam. It's a group about running, and that's what they want the focus to be on.
As far as I know, the others who have had posts deleted in that group never brought their complaints to running magazines. Ben stated in a recent podcast, "I put up the post at about 9:30 at night. I wake up the next morning, and the post is gone. It's been deleted, and so I'm like. This is weird...like, why would it be deleted?" He goes on to explain that he got a message from Laz and thought it was interesting but not surprising because he apparently knew that many people see BLM and associate it with politics. But then he wondered who was framing it that way and naturally assumed it was white people. He goes on to explain that whenever white people talk about politics (I assume he means in this kind of setting but could mean generally speaking because he didn't specify), it's "code for this makes me and other white people uncomfortable." At some point, after the photo was deleted, Ben contacted journals to cover the story. Runner's world and Outside both picked it up, and Get Out There took a more balanced approach.
After the photo incident, Ben and several teammates tried to join one of Laz's virtual races under the name BLM and were told they couldn't. He and others who chose what some see as controversial names or names that were bound to bring up politics were welcome to enter under different names. Again, this was a rule that applied to everyone, not specifically to Ben. There are other races that announce a political-free zone, too. I ran one in Longmont, Colorado a few years ago, in fact. I come back to the distinction of BLM being associated with a political movement versus supporting people of color because Laz never banned anyone from joining his race. He simply told people that he had certain rules everyone had to follow in order to participate.
What's clear isn't so much the individual stories, neither has been completely consistent; it's that journalistic integrity has gone to the shitter, and this has nothing really to do with those involved in the incident. The title of the Outside article, Why Did a Virtual Ultra Ban "Black Lives Matter"? is misleading, because Laz and the moderators banned all political posts including Black Lives Matter from both their Facebook group and later from a virtual race, not specifically BLM. There is a distinction. And the publication did this at a time when most people read only the headlines. Laz's group also banned posts that weren't on topic, spam, ads, and anything else they felt was a detriment to the group. BLM wasn't specifically targeted, and nobody banned people from supporting people of color, as evidenced by the image of Amelia Boone sporting a temporary tattoo that reads "say their names" and a team that initially wanted to enter Laz's race using the title BLM but, instead, entered under the name "Breanna [sic], George & Ahmaud” after finding out that the former name wouldn't be permitted. It seems as though Laz and at least some runners found a compromise. Laz seems more concerned with continuing his efforts to raise money for charity than getting involved in online spats, and he has raised an impressive amount for food banks and animal rescues.
From the Outside article regarding Laz:
He maintained that the purpose of controlling the language of team names and race forums didn’t reflect a personal ideology, but an honest attempt to keep things from devolving into, as he put it, “pointless” arguments.
...he and his nine teammates changed their minds after Cantrell informed them that they could not use “Black Lives Matter” as their team name. In an email to the group, Cantrell stated that he was unwilling to allow a team to call itself Black Lives Matter, just as he would be unwilling to let a team use the “MAGA” acronym. “If I thought one heart would be changed, it would be different,” Cantrell wrote, “But all that would happen is the race would fill up with the same crap that permeates everything.”
Keep in mind that by this time, the articles in Outside and Runner's World were out, and Laz and his family had started to receive hate mail and threats. Both Laz and Ben were invited to be guests on podcasts, Laz on Ultrarunning Magazine and Ben on Citius Mag.
Ben wasn't about to let anything drop, so when he was interviewed on the podcast, he laid out his assumptions about Laz for all to hear, and people took what he said and ran with it, especially the host, Emma Zimmerman. Boy, if you're going to state outright that Lazarus Lake "banned Black Lives Matter from his events" and "shared his racist speech openly on a prominent podcast.", you better fucking back it up with some proof. That's a serious accusation. Ben went on to say, "Neither Laz nor Amy say the words "black lives matter", but that's what
Laz is referring to when he says " ...the ugliness of people and their
politics." only it's not because if you take that statement in context,
Laz is talking about the arguing in general, not specific politics, and it was related to him deleting multiple posts in the group. He reiterated this sentiment in his post (below). I listened to both podcasts, and unless you take Laz's generalizations personally while Carly Simon is playing in the background, it's not a racist speech, not even close.
Speaking of backing up statements with evidence, as far as I can tell, Ben does no such thing when he claims Laz (and his moderators) left up posts containing images of people wearing blue lives matter shirts. Unless I missed it, I never saw a screenshot or image in the group, and most of Ben's "evidence" is a list of links to his own posts on social media.
In response to all that was going on, Laz posted the following:
For whatever reason, Ben recently put up an Instagram post insisting again that he thinks Laz isn't a racist... after calling Laz's interview in a podcast a "racist speech". And shortly before that, there was another one of Ben's posts with the title "Lazurus Lake's White Lie" in which Ben first ties Laz to unrelated events and then brings up the race incident claiming that "white runners left nasty comments in a concerted effort to convince Laz to remove the post," but if he was asleep, how did he know those commenting were white or that they wanted the post removed? Ben may have seen people respond to Laz's post that the race director apparently posted later and then deleted, but how does Ben know who commented on his own post if it was deleted before he saw what unfolded? Anyway, that's another big assumption that may be accurate, but Laz claims otherwise, that it wasn't just white people. Both Ben and Laz seem to agree that the post caused an argument, but not everyone was awake to see who was involved.
For someone who talks about fighting racism and the importance of inclusivity, Ben sure does speculate, assume, and generalize about white people, a LOT. Creating division isn't actually supporting BLM or their principles, and one person doesn't represent an entire group.
From the Get Out There online article, Ben says, “Laz, we haven’t written you off. This would be so much easier for us if we drew a line and declared everybody on our side good, and everybody on the other side bad. We haven’t done that, and won’t because it goes against our guiding principle of inclusion, which is one of the central tenets of Black Lives Matter.”
But the more you push the narrative that someone's a racist whom you agreed is not, the more you go against your own supposed principles. And calling someone's speech racist when it's not isn't just lying, it's potentially harmful. It comes off as an attempt to damage someone's reputation. There are better ways to promote a cause. Ben still posts about Laz every now and then on Instagram. He claims he doesn't want people to choose sides, but he certainly isn't living in the gray.
I can see why Laz is fed up with all of this. It's exactly what he was trying to prevent, people arguing, more division, nasty comments, big assumptions spread as fact, and some threatening others over the issue. None of it helps the BLM movement in any productive way. People can look at Ben as some sort of hero, but what's the cost of him speaking out in this way as opposed to dropping the attacks on Laz and simply promoting BLM in his own way? Is he planning to make a fuss at every race that doesn't allow political sentiment? I really don't want to see anything like this happen to the race director in Longmont or any other race director.
I was hesitant to post this and took an eternity to write it because I
know this is a sensitive topic. By pointing out what I see as problems in journalism and with social media, I'm not encouraging anyone to get involved, and I have already made it very clear that I support BLM and will continue to do so. I just don't think that anyone should have the right to shit all over what someone else is doing under the guise of activism. That pisses me off, no matter what the cause.