Home Social Construct “Working Out Is For White People”

“Working Out Is For White People”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

On yesterday’s post, this comment was left:

Okay… so this was right on time for me. I was recently approached with the comment that my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well. It was really disturbing because I am seriously striving for a healthier life. To have my ‘blackness’ questioned because I’d rather have a salad than some Popeye’s (and yes… that was the exact situation) hurt. I guess veggies and the stair master make me ‘Euro-centric’ but whateves…

“…my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well.”




So… let’s follow the logic trail right now.

If Black people eating healthily and exercising are meant to be forms of assimilation…

…then that means that healthy eating and exercise are the realm of white America…

…but if almost 70% of Americans are overweight…

…and Blacks in this country only make up approximately 12.5% of the entire population…

…even if every single Black person in this country was overweight, there would still be – at least – another 55% of overweight people to account for in that tally.

Let’s follow the logic trail in another direction.

If healthy eating  and exercise are “white people activities,” then there’s a question that must be asked, here:

What are “Black people activities?” The exact opposite?

So… if exercising and eating healthily is “being white,” is it considered “being Black” to not exercise and eat poorly? It’s “accepted Black practice” to develop the accompanying illnesses and problems that come with both? The heart disease, the diabetes, the high blood pressure, the strokes? It’s “being Black” to have mismanaged your health so poorly that you’re on medications the rest of your life? “We” don’t want to claim healthier and more active lifestyles as our own… “we” want to claim the harmful and dangerous and inherently unhealthy habits for “Blackness.”

Don’t get sucked into this stupidity. It is never ever going to be a legitimate way to “question” someone’s Blackness. Don’t ever feel less than what you were born because someone else feels threatened by your desire for change.

I hate to use this cliche, but… from Urban Dictionary:

A syndrome where a group of like situated people hurt those in their community attempting to get ahead.

Often this is applied to people in an impoverished community where one person is starting to get ahead. The collective community becomes jealous or filled with a sense of self-loathing, so they find a way to pull that person back down to the community’s level.

When harvesting crab, the crab as a group will pull down any crab that starts to climb out of the barrel in an attempt to be the first out of the barrel that holds them in, hence crabs-in-a-barrel. [source]

So… try to climb out of the barrel if you want… just be prepared for someone to – eventually – come nipping at your heels, questioning your Blackness, telling you you’ll look less like a woman if you tone up, challenging your strength as a Black woman if you see a therapist for your emotional eating, telling you your hair looks a mess so stop all that working out and just overall doing whatever they can to watch you fall back in the barrel with the rest. Misery loves company. That’s how its always been and how it will always be… and while you may not be able to rid yourself of it, you may certainly be able to learn how to spot it for what it is and smile because it means you’re doing something right.

But really – am I missing something, here? Is there something out there in that great big world beyond my laptop that serves as proof that exercising and healthier eating is “whites only?” Because, I’m sayin’… I can remember a time when that kind of mentality was considered unacceptable among us…

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Ladi Ohm March 1, 2011 - 12:32 PM

“Don’t ever feel less than what you were born because someone else feels threatened by your desire for change.”
Yeah… this right here brought tears to my eyes. Another great article Erika! And thank you for this forum. It’s one of the few places where I don’t feel ostracized for making healthy choices.

ikandi0517 August 25, 2013 - 4:39 PM

Ikandi likes this response

Alovelydai March 1, 2011 - 1:21 PM

Last year for my son’s bday I set up a fajita station. We had grilled chicken or grilled sliced portobellas for the non-meat eaters, peppers & all the usual fajita offerings (lettuce, tomato, etc), fresh grilled corn on the cob, huge salad, fruit kabobs & of course the required cake & ice cream. My aunt complained the WHOLE time about where the fried chicken & macaroni salad was as if that’s the only fare we can serve at a family gathering. It really worked my nerves. Then she says, picking over my food, “I can’t eat this stuff.”

Stuff? What stuff? *sigh* It saddens me to think that for some of us if it isn’t fried, smothered, or cooked to death (string beans) it’s not our kind of food. This logic is ridiculous.

As for exercising this doesn’t seem to be a problem for men of color. They are encouraged to shoot hoops, run track & bike all day. Yet when a woman of color wants to partake in an activity it’s viewed with ulterior motives. She must be “trying to lose weight for the summer”; or she’s “trying to be cute” (or white). Being active is never viewed as wanting to maintain health or simply for enjoyment. This is bothersome.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 1, 2011 - 1:27 PM

But here’s what I don’t get – not to imply that you have to “lose weight” in order to be cute… but what if I WAS “trying to be cute?”

What the hell does that mean that it becomes a “negative?”

Am I supposed to be… uncute? And am I supposed to be uncute so that people don’t talk bad about me behind my back?

Or is this some more “crab in a barrel” type stuff that I wouldn’t understand anyway?

Is there anyone else with weird stories like this?

M March 1, 2011 - 2:22 PM

I have a situation similar to this at my workplace. I work with several women who are VERY obese (including myself). Most of the women seem to be pretty supportive of my weigh loss efforts, but it’s interesting seeing their reactions over the years to other women who’ve successfully lost some weight. There’s quite a lot of the “She think she cute” and “She ain’t cute” and “She think she all that she ain’t all that” and so on and so forth. It definitely smacks of the “crabs in a barrel syndrome”.

It does make me wonder what they’ll say about me when I lose my weight.

Jenna Thomas March 18, 2012 - 3:50 PM

I don’t know when you made this post. But please don’t care what they say. Leave them heffas mad. It sounds like the stuff I try to get my 3rd and 2nd grade daughters to not care about or ever repeat themselves.

Green Afro Diva March 2, 2011 - 12:20 AM

I don’t mean to shamelessly plug, but I wrote about this issue about black people being very picky when it comes to food, but not sex. It’s like people would go down and eat anything(no pun intended) but yet think foods like Goat cheese and sushi makes you bougie. http://greenafrodiva.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/how-nasty-are-you-sex-and-food-edition/

Natasha Christian December 27, 2011 - 7:04 PM

I love that you shared the “Crab In The Barrel” story! I’ve heard the same story but told by a personal development guru, Jim Rohn. You’re absolutely right. In general, anytime a person takes on a new project and makes the commitment to see it through despite the risk of failure, the supposedly “well-meaning” people always approach it with negativity and rejection. Mainly because they are jealous that they don’t have the same courage and ambition as you. These “well-meaning” people will near destroy that person inside and out just to come to find out that there really was an opportunity present for that person and they had what it took to meet it all along…

Charey November 14, 2012 - 5:49 PM

My mom is one of those “well-meaning” people. It takes a lot to ignore her comments as she has always been a single parent and I am an only child. Still I press on 🙂

Natasha Christian December 27, 2011 - 9:37 PM

I love that you shared the “Crab In The Barrel” story! I’ve heard the same story but told by a personal development guru, Jim Rohn. You’re absolutely right. In general, anytime a person takes on a new project and makes the commitment to see it through despite the risk of failure, the supposedly “well-meaning” people always approach it with negativity and rejection. Mainly because they are jealous that they don’t have the same courage and ambition as you. These “well-meaning” people will near destroy you inside and out just to come to find out that there really was an opportunity present for you and that you had what it took to meet it all along…

Green Afro Diva March 2, 2011 - 12:14 AM

I agree %100 with you. I hate to sound mean, but sometimes I feel like we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to this issue. Nothing wrong with having healthier fare at a family get together, but what’s wrong with trying something new? And the catch 22 is that while the men are getting it in at the gym, there are some women out there that are in denial about being ‘thick’.

Jeannine March 1, 2011 - 1:45 PM

I think we all have these stories! My father lives with me and he insists he eats healthy but I don’t see it. So when I’m trying and I throw things out of the fridge to make room for better items, he keeps bringing in more stuff! He says to me “I’m not on a diet, so I need food around”. Funny thing is it seems like he just wants to see it all the time, he just wants the fridge to be full so no matter what he’s in the mood for there is food in there to fill any craving he may have. I’m not on a diet either, but eating healtheie and fighting cravings is very hard especially when there is so much food around. I think when I get home he will be getting a stern talking to about what is to be in MY house and what is not. If he don’t like it he can go be fat by himself! We are expected to have all this food around just in case someone stops by. I don’t think so. It’s not my job to feed everyone and if they stop by my house unannounced they should not be expecting a meal!

Lorrie March 1, 2011 - 7:21 PM

Giiirl, I understand, what we as black gym rats must accept is that we are pioneers for neo black female fitness and that most unfit persons of any color will be intimidated or threatened when we begin to lose weight. MOst people are generally insecure and competitive and do not like the idea of someone looking better than they even if they are not willing to do what it takes. That is not just a black thang – it is a human thang. Black people just tend to use the race card to apply to every situation because it is convienent, I dont think its worth getting upset over. My own closest family members are the ones who remind me that I am bigger than they (well one in particualar) and that they cannot allow me to pass them up (get smaller than they). A little bit of competition never hurt anyone AND now we both are losing weight. I think its cute on some level, I am the catalyst for change. Many family members are concerned about their weight and had previously dieted and gave up but when they saw me losing weight they jumped back on the weight loss train. Unfortunately they are not open to advice, they want to “win” on their own terms their own way not because I helped them…lol, its laughable but competition is real, especially between siblings. Anyway enough of that! I began this post because I wanted to encourage your gym activities. When I first joined the gym, I chose three machines I could do and started with the easiest one built up my endurance and moved to the next then the next and alternated between them. Once I mastered them I chose new machines. Each machine I would start out with what I could handle and then increased the time on each machine each workout. It will be different for everyone, just like Erika says I will not tell you how many minutes I did or which machine first because I dont want to tell you what you should do just how to do it. Enjoy your gym rat journey!!

Beautybae101 April 15, 2014 - 10:16 PM

Lol, that’s funny J

Shana March 1, 2011 - 1:51 PM

When I saw that comment I wanted to throw my laptop out of the window. I could not, and still cannot, believe that someone had the audacity to formulate those words.

Zoe July 18, 2011 - 10:45 PM

It’s interesting comments like that they betray deep miseducation and ignorance. All the more annoying because the speaker clings to the nonsense like it is truth. I think there is also internalized racism or an underlying self hatred.

It’s the same type of thing I feel when people say getting good grades is “being white”.

If the education system is so bad (I’m not saying it isn’t) then why don’t people REFORM the system rather than stand outside and whine about anyone who tries to get involved.

And when it comes to food and health it is BEYOND ridiculous the type of thinking in this statement. First of all there are black people outside the States and their traditional lifestyles revolve around healthy relationships with whole foods. Second of all even for black people in America, were people 50 years ago eating processed calorie laden, nutritively bankrupt food: NO. Yes there was cobbler, pork, etc BUT there was also fresh produce and wholesomeness. The revisionist history that sticking to Popeye’s (seriously?!?) is staying true to culture is …I don’t even have the words…

Urs October 13, 2012 - 11:30 AM

ABSOLUTELY agree with most of what’s been said. The extent of the health issues we see now are new. Was happy to share this article with my cousin and some other women. I realized Summer 2011 what I sometimes do to my body. While on a Mediterranean cruise I lost weight. 14 days out of the country and I l dropped 7 lbs. from ebing active and eating better foods. When I came home and ate McDonald’s (my job has me on the road so I often stopped for crap) my body rebelled. I literally got sick. Didn’t make the conenction and a week or so later I ate fast food again and my body rebelled again (nausea, stomach cramps, etc.). It struck me that my body became conditioned to crap– and the break from it (plus exercise) made me feel better and I didn’t even know I was feeling bad. That fall, because I hate the gym– I began Zumba. The Zumba has kept up for almost a year now and a friend joined me. But the eating sometimes slips back into the danger zone. The weight I lost has come back– being over 40 doesn’t help. SO I am SLOWLY getting back on track. What I don’t like is that once I gained an unhealthy amount of weight a joke (meant as a compliment) was made that now I was “finally” shaped “like a Black girl.”

Nothing’swrong with being shapley– but something is wrong with being Black = unhealthy.

Retta February 22, 2013 - 4:54 PM

I am also a “black gym rat”, I don’t mind being called that, but I have a female family member, who, when I see her, she makes comments. Not bad ones, but she doesn’t know I go to the gym five days a week, hours a day. Did I add she is VERY COMPETITIVE? If I get something, she has to top it. Anyway, I used to be almost 200 lbs, and I was so depressed. My doctor told me in such a snotty, looking down his nose look, “you need to walk or something”. I fired him, but it’s been well over 10 years ago. I guess I needed that special “KICK IN THE REAR” to get to going. It is so embarrasing when a man, tells you basically, YOU ARE FAT. I have been in the gym ever since. Also, people will try to break your cycle or project, if it is weight loss or whatever. Keep it moving

JoAnna March 1, 2011 - 3:08 PM

I workout in a rehab facility/gym. Only the attendants/nurses seem to be younger than me. So lots of patients my age (40’s)or older, and about 85% white. Yesterday, I decided to up my workout by doubling my time on the seated stepper and adding the elliptical. I had tried the ellipitical when I 1st started but had to quit after a minute and was very sore. Well, the older black lady who has been my workout “neighbor” for about a month told me not to do it because it’s too hard. Then the black nurse said the same thing. I jumped on it anyway and said I was going to do 5 mins at a 60-70 strides per minute. I couldn’t talk at that pace, but I could still breathe without panting, and my heartrate was in the target zone. Do you know they kept trying to get me to slow down, or to stop? They kept warning me that I was going to injure myself.

My doc had just told me last week that everything looked good. As long as I didn’t feel pain or dizzyness, then to push myself. I finished that part of my workout and my “neighbor” just shook her head. I drank water and walked around to the treadmills to finish up and midway thru the same black nurse came over to take my blood pressure. She took it twice ’cause she thought the reading was too low for the work I was doing. Again, my readings were right where they should be and she made a remark that I was sweating too much, and could have a heartattack as hard as I was pushing myself.

A couple of the other white regulars congrajulated me on adding the elliptical to my workout, telling me it gets easier with time. My black “neighbor” told me that I was sweating too much, it wasn’t cute, and I was showing off.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this behavior, even outside of this gym. I’ve eaten out with friends and will get a green salad when they’re enjoying the bread basket, and I get snide remarks. Or when I say I purchase produce at the Farmer’s mkt on the weekend “But it’s so dirty!” Or now that I’m starting my garden seeds for Spring planting. “White folks do that. Why can’t you just buy plants at the store like everyone else?” I once brought broccoli cheese quiche and banana bread to a church potluck and choir members asked why did I bring white food to the event? The list goes on…

I’ve learned keep my enthusiasm to myself in certain circles. If I get a compliment about my weight loss, I smile, say thank you. If I’m pushed as to how, I say I’ve made a promise to myself to get healthier, and to put myself, my health first. It’s not worth defending arguments that scheduling time to workout, to eat better is more important than the beauty shop, or going shopping, or even some social events. It truly is a case of just looking good and feeling better and letting the haters wonder.

Anggie May 18, 2013 - 8:49 AM

I am so glad you didn’t and don’t let the negative comments stop you. It’s amazing that your “neighbor” and the nurse couldn’t have been just as encouraging as the other members in the gym. And you know what– there’s no shame in “showing off” your fitness cause you could do something they weren’t willing to try. Good for you. Too many times we “conform” to be less than our full potential because others are intimidated and insecure. Their insecurity lies in the fact that they realize, at least internally, “if she can do it for herself why can’t I?” – and because they’re not … they want you to stop reminding them of what they’re failing to do.

Good for your and your healthy life!!!

Eva March 1, 2011 - 3:49 PM

Great article.

Here’s what I think the “deeper” issue is.

I think a lot of black people are afraid that if you work out, get healthy, lead a great life, then you won’t want to be around THEM anymore. We black people have such low self esteem, we’ve been told for decades that everything about us is wrong, so if one of us is doing something right, we panic. Are they going to leave us? Are they going to forget us?

Dre March 1, 2011 - 4:54 PM

This is foolishness! African Americans are soo far disconnected from our roots that it is almost embarrassing. If you study the black history, you will find that the processed food diet that we are practicing now is where the assimilation really took place. When we owned our own stores and farms we were alot healthier all the way around, but once we broke away from that our health took a turn for the worse. This is true for other cultures who have assimilated into the “American” way of eating, the Hispanic Health Paradox is proof of that, this study suggests that since a large number of Mexican immigrants hold true to their native diets, they are the healthiest population in the US, but we don’t hear about this in the media. We need to go back to our roots!

Alovelydai March 2, 2011 - 11:33 AM

Totally agree.

There was also a study in CA that found that a lot of Mexican immigrants were indeed gaining weight rapidly because they were eating Americanized versions of their country’s food…even down to the ingredients. Corn tortillas here are not made the same as in Mexico. Imagine that!

Zee April 25, 2011 - 5:26 PM

“I was recently approached with the comment that my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well.”

That’s the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever heard. In response, I have to say that if choosing a healthy lifestyle means being ‘white’, then count me in. I’d much rather be ‘white’ than dead at 40.

Chintel March 1, 2011 - 6:04 PM

This article was right on time for me. Yesturday I hired a personal trainer and am so excited to get started. But anyway…When i cook healthy(which ive been doing for over a year now) My boyfriend will kinda look at the food and go, “thats some white ppl stuff?” I just tell him no, its food thats gunna save ur life and mine so shut up and eat. He doesnt ask me that too much anymore. He eats it and his blood pressure is down because of it.

I mean really, Whats the difference between white food and black food? Food is food.

June March 1, 2011 - 6:47 PM

I also have similar stories. I started working for a vitamin company about ten years ago. It was my job to research vitamins and provide the needed documentation for anything we said about their benefits. As I did more and more research I saw how I needed more vegetables, less meat and more exercise in my life. Many of my overweight, female, African-American co-workers actually started calling me names like skinny minny or less flattering names commenting on my lifestyle change. I felt like I had to defend myself and would often talk about my family’s history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and early deaths. It was almost like being unhealthy and having a dis-ease like the above mentioned illnesses was more acceptable than living longer without medication and doctor visits every month. I started getting into yoga, swimming and bike riding and then the “oreo” jokes came. You know black outside, white inside. I also would walk to the local farmers market on weekends to purchase fresh, local vegetables and fruits, and this also illicited hate filled commentary. Its truly amazing that we are more open to welcome untimely deaths as a result of poor eating habits than to change a little and live longer with a better quality of life.

Alovelydai March 2, 2011 - 12:08 PM

“I felt like I had to defend myself and would often talk about my family’s history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and early deaths. It was almost like being unhealthy and having a dis-ease like the above mentioned illnesses was more acceptable than living longer without medication and doctor visits every month.”

It’s sad ’cause it’s true.

Daphne March 1, 2011 - 8:17 PM

I’m no historian, but here’s my theory, and it relates to Southern blacks specifically:

Setting aside the introduction of commercially processed foods, I think many old(er) school blacks didn’t have the best diet, and many (most?) blacks unknowingly compensated for less than quality diets because of manual labor. They ate closer to the source because they had to, but even then, a good deal of traditional soul food is fried and or fat-laden. So no, they didn’t formally exercise because, and I think, well after slavery, all they did was move all day while at work. So, I suspect that a fair share of such backlash is from older blacks, because they don’t understand that today is a much different time than when they came of age.

My parents were older (40) when I was born, so I grew up around several blacks born and raised during Jim Crow, 1950s -1970s. And……I don’t recall a whole lot of fresh fruit and salads eaten regularly. Greens? Yes, especially collards, but that is about the greenest food I remember eating on a regular basis as a child. Well, maybe okra as well. Admittedly, this is MY experience, but that’s why I’m not particularly surprised by the sentiment of, “You eat what? You exercise how? Chile, that’s white folks’ stuff.”

And yeah, the “you think you cute/you tryin’ to be cute” reeks of low self-esteem issues. Plus, no one likes to be reminded that they can be better when they’re comfortable where they are.

Eva March 2, 2011 - 9:18 AM

I think you are right about that. The traditional soul food diet is “everything fried” and lots of it. But if you’re working from sun up to sun down, most of that food was burned off. However even though a lot of that food was fried and fat laden, it wasn’t processed, so I’m sure that helped too.

LBC March 30, 2011 - 10:27 AM

It’s not just a black thing, either. If I go to pick up my mom at her (all white) sewing group and we all go out to lunch, I get razzed mercilessly if I don’t order fried something with all the trimmings, polish off the whole plate, and top it off with pie. No wonder the smallest of these ladies outweighs me, literally, by a hundred pounds. Most of them, though, are older ladies who grew up on farms and think a good meal is fried chicken or chicken fried steak or meatloaf, with potatoes and cooked-to-death green beans with bacon, and biscuits and cornbread (because, of course, one starch at a meal is not enough, right?), and dessert, washed down with tooth-imploding sweet tea or Coke. If you don’t put it away like a hired hand they think you’re sick, or putting on airs.

Yes, ma’am; I love the food here but I don’t want to be 250 pounds with bad knees and Type II diabetes. I’ll have the spicy grilled catfish and a side salad. And a take-home box, because I know they’re going to give me two whole catfish fillets and there’s no way I’m finishing all that at one meal.

I’m not afraid of good old Southern cooking but I’m not going to eat it all the time, and I’m not going to eat more of anything than I really want.

Green Afro Diva March 2, 2011 - 12:29 AM

People really don’t make any sense. I guess it’s a white thing too to want to get an education and go to college? Sad thing about this is that we have high obesity rates and are affected the most by heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It just sounds ignorant for other black people to bring eah other down about fitness and healthier eating.

T.R. March 2, 2011 - 2:39 AM

I think like Eva and Daphane made some good points. There are deeper issues than just “crabs in a barrel”. And let’s get one thing straight, WHITE people aren’t doing any better. Yes, there are whites (specifically in certain areas like CA, Oregon, Washington) who eat healthier. But as Erika has pointed out time and time again, being thin and being healthy are two different beasts and the majority of the majority group are just as unhealthy as we are.

Eva’s point about we as black folks being told EVERYTHING we do is wrong or bad or not good enough (and we do it more to ourselves now than they do) has given us “ugly girl syndrome” . If you always hear you aren’t good enough, smart enough, financially savvy enough, pretty enough, etc etc. You believe it after a while. I think in all honesty we are afraid and in a lot of pain and most of us don’t know what to do so we viciously cling to that little bit of something that makes us feel (even on a short term basis) good.

I’m learning the hair vs. health issue is so prevalent in our community because our beauty as black women has always been questioned by everyone including ourselves. And for a lot of black women, I think the only part of our beauty we feel we can do something about (and therefore look fierce) is our hair and we ain’t gone do nuttin to mess with that including “sweating out our perm”. A lot of us believe our weight is a “community” thing of being “thick” and that black men like us thicker so we ain’t gone mess with that. I’m rambling but my basic point is that the issues run deep for us and it’s not a simple black and white of jealousy and crabs in a barrel, there’s a whole lot of multi-layered gray areas. Because let’s be honest some of us used to be those girls before we ourselves began our personal journeys to be whole. :O)

Erika Nicole Kendall March 2, 2011 - 5:16 AM

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t say that this “pull you down here with me because my misery desires your company” behavior was the only depth to which this goes. What I DID mean to imply is that this is what this behavior resembles, and the only level to which it matters is for us to develop the ability to spot it straight up. Period.

If all I want is to be able to change my lifestyle without having my Blackness questioned, it shouldn’t be my responsibility to identify the root of whatever harmful pathologies are causing “you” to act a damn fool. All I need is the ability to spot what is happening so that I can plan out how I’ll defeat it in the future.

In short, all the reasons “why” are for another blog post entirely… but I don’t think anyone’s ready for all that just yet, in my opinion. Namely… me.

T.R. March 2, 2011 - 7:44 PM

Erika, I do (and did) understand where you are coming from and I agree. I was just adding a little depth to the conversation. Personally I’ve never experienced some of the things on here that a lot of people comment about. Everyone in my life (who matters) has supported me in having a healthier lifestyle, so I don’t hear too many off the cuff, off the wall comments about what I’m doing.

Now to put it in the perspective of truth :O) there are some things that probably insulate me from the behavior. 1. I work for myself in a small office with just 2 other people who support me, so I don’t work with people…LOL which I get helps a lot. 2. My friends have informed me that I have the ability to keep people from saying crazy crap to me because I’m liable to say crazy crap back and they won’t like it. LOL so that too keeps peoples comments to themselves, because they think I’m crazy. 3. I have an uncanny ability to ignore/tune folks out and live in my own little world. So I tend not to pick up on some stuff cause I ain’t paying it no attention. BUT I have some friends who have had to deal with other peoples comments regarding choices in life they make and it does piss me off.

NO ONE has the right to question your blackness or anything else about you simply because they don’t understand, don’t agree or just don’t like what you’re doing. But I agree with you, it isn’t your job to explain yourself either, especially if it takes you out of your game.

Sorry again about the long diatribe I just wanted to let you know I do agree with you and give you little insight to where I was coming from. :O)

Nichelle Stephens March 2, 2011 - 9:05 AM

Great post! Just as reading and speaking well has been called “White people stuff”, now exercising and eating healthy is “acting white”. Thanks for continuing to advocate healthy eating and being active!

Sadiqua March 2, 2011 - 10:50 AM

If becoming healthy is a white thing, let me head down to the DMV and change my race, because really… I thought getting healthy would enable me to live longer, or enjoy life more, even become more active. Didn’t know it had a bleached skin side effect where ppl would question my Negro-ness! It’s that kind of ignorance that continues to hold us back. I am hardly the only black person at the gym when I work out, and I live in a white area…some ppl just need to shut up and think bitter derogatory thoughts to themselves instead of planting seeds of self-hate. kudos to the reader who chose tht salad and not the chicken…!!!

Rosie March 2, 2011 - 11:30 AM

When I read the title I immediately thought of the time I was running in Prospect Park and the only other black person running came up to me and said “Both black people and white people come to this park but white people come to exercise and black people come to eat”

shortER March 2, 2011 - 12:07 PM

This is absolutely ridiculous! This is why most African Americans are suffering from health issues that can be prevented! If eating healthy makes me “less Black” or puts my “Blackness” in jeopardy then so be it! I’m trying to live to be a 100.

Karla Thomas March 3, 2011 - 2:44 AM

I just had to comment on this insane logic. It’s the same logic that said, if you speak proper English then you’re talking white. I can’t tell you how many times someone would say, why are you talking white? When I first heard this I had no idea of how to respond. What’s so sad is the fact that not all white people speak proper English…just the educated ones. Even some of the educated ones still don’t speak proper English, look at Mayor Daley. Not all Black people are overweight, just the unhealthy ones. As far as healthy habits, not all white people are healthy and skinny either…just the healthy, skinny ones who make the same effort you have made (and I applaud you on that effort) to be healthy by exercising and eating nutritious food. You’re always going to run into idiots — Black, white, basically of any race. My blackness is not defined by stereotypes and our own sense of victimization about our place in this world. My blackness is just me. A Black woman came up to me once w/ cornrows that were beautiful, so I paid her a compliment and told her how beautiful they were. My hair was permed at the time. She in turn attacked me for having permed hair stating that I wasn’t black enough because I was trying to be white by having a perm. I was 18 when I first encountered the hatred we spit at each other. We never got our 40 acres and a mule but what we really needed was free psychiatric support and scholarships to the best colleges and Universities. We need that today too in order to identify our own self-hatred that is holding us back.

ThatDeborahGirl March 4, 2011 - 8:44 AM

I don’t agree with the statement that “Food, is just food.”

Food speaks to nationalities, cultural roots and family traditions as much as anything in the world society. So to change our eating habits is truly to change our lives and step onto new ground. It is a radical thing for some people. Definitely for me.

I consider myself to be a very picky eater. For all that I am overweight because most of the foods I like are salty, sweet, fat laden. And although I’ve made great strides over the years, I still have a long way to go. I never equated my issues with food as a part of a cultural issue. But there’s a ring of truth to this that I can’t quite deny. That as a light-skinned black woman it’s not easy to reject who I’m “supposed” to be and embrace “who I can be” when that means another level of rejection by my black sistas.

Because we are hard on each other. We really are. And then again, I can’t imagine not going to a funeral and afterwards not having fried chicken, green beans and macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, with baked chicken set aside for those who are trying to eat “healthy” and this is seen as an improvement.

And don’t get me started on baby showers where we really show our baking hand. And Thanksgiving and Christmas where I can still be found to this day cleaning chitlins and making spareribs and boiling greens and baking beans to get the flavor in but taking most of the nutrional value out.

How to change this when even something as simple, in my house, as vegetarian lasange or even taco salad are met, by my mother, with derision. And so I go back to cooking what she likes and what feels good because it’s home. And I if I sneak in a spinach salad at work or rack my brain to try to think of healthier ways to cook the foods we like – the idea that I’m trying not to reject decades of family history- my black history – is only surprising to me in that I never thought of it before.

Because I do speak proper English. And again I am light-skinned. And so many brown skinned black women all my life have gone out of their way to show me that, as a light-skinned black woman, I’m not as black as they are – literally and figuratively. I understand it, even if I don’t like it – it is what it is. But if one of the few ties that bind I have is food…how can I bear to loosen yet another line to those I love?

LaToya November 25, 2013 - 12:24 AM

To ThatDeborahGirl – I definitely feel what you are saying. That was one of the biggest mental shifts I had to make once I started my fitness journey. What I realized is that I cannot let our cultural food history to dictate my personal health and have to be willing to let that go to a certain extent. With that being said, the soul food we eat just needs to be prepared differently, less oil, no frying, more baking, and actually learning to like the taste of fresh collard greens instead of canned Glory greens or greens cooked with a ham bone. Remember that the reason we ate chitlins, used left over animal parts and used tons of salt and fat was for survival. That’s not what we were eating while living in tribes on the African continent. In addition, I have a feeling the idea of holding on to soul food as part of maintaining a sense of connection to our history has less to do with food and more about your experiences of having your blackness questioned in the first place. I’ve experienced the same things myself. I won’t say that changing and going “against” the cultural norm is easy. It’s not. But we all have a choice to choose between maintaining the status quo including ending up with high blood pressure/diabetes/heart problems that’s also predominant in our culture or just realizing that what you eat doesn’t determine your blackness. You yourself are black because you are and that’s it. What you eat or don’t eat doesn’t define it. You have the power to redefine our cultural food norms so that it fosters health. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Donna March 4, 2011 - 2:30 PM

If anybody really think that exercising and healthy eating is excursively for whites there just plain ignorant and unexposed.

ChelseaBeingReal March 7, 2011 - 2:10 PM

I really think it’s sad that whomever you were eating with had to assign race to the fact that you want to eat a wholesome nutritious diet. However, I don’t think it’s just a ‘black’ thing when someone changes his or her life that others can’t appreciate that or become jealous. I fully agree with your crabs in a barrel theory. I’ve actually never heard of it. When we were growing up, my mom (a single mom) was going to school to be a nurse and we were on welfare… as soon as she graduated and became a nurse her friends started treating her differently, saying “oh, she thinks she’s too good now”. Same thing goes with weight loss and getting healthy… people’s own insecurities projecting on the person accomplishing what they can’t do for themselves.

Amy Hawkins March 16, 2011 - 6:46 PM

I am not black, matter of fact, I am as white as they come, but I have to say this is a great website. Insightful, beautiful, and informative.
I have not experienced my race being questioned when it comes to being healthy, but I have been put down by others because of trying to make a better life for myself; I agree with Eva and think it has to do with self -esteem and the fear of being left behind. I don’t pretend to know how it feels to have my race brought into question with this issue, but I respect anyone’s choice to live a healthier lifestyle.

sexylocs50s April 10, 2011 - 12:10 PM

I so agree with most of you on here, I come from a family of cooks,and that is how we show our love. I am the one who cooks for our 4 of july weekend, and lately i started swaping not so good ingredients for better ingredients. I do not like my vegetables to look dead…. My mother always fight me on these changes and right now she is taking 11 meds including 5 for high blood pressure and five for urinary problems and one for antibiotics. Wth? I tried to give her my green smoothies mixed with fruits, and she said they make her gag(are you kidding) She wants me to cook my cabbage as she puts it green. sorry i love my cabbage light green and a crunch to it. My family will eat the fried chicken first before anything else(wow) so this time I will oven fried it. Introduce more baked meats this time. I noticed most black people do not want to change esp. their poor eating habits and if I speak on it they turn a deaf ear. In the meantime, esp. in the southern states where i was living the diseases are out of control: Strokes, heart disease, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, astma, etc. if they would incorporate more natural fruits and vegetables, less pork, refined grains and increase whole grains, and fiber to feel full longer and EXERCISE (walking is cheap and easy to do)! simple lifestyle changes will reverse the diseases without the use of meds. Plant based diet for 30 days will actually reverse adult onset diabetes, and heart disease. I do my part and i continued to research and teach to the best of my abilities. I will continue on my God giving talent and continued to teach others. One day someone will listen to me!

Latasha Williams April 25, 2011 - 2:56 PM

…ummmmm, so imagine being a registered dietitian at a predominantly white university and an aerobics instructor who lost over 50 lbs about 5 years ago.

Friday (4/22/2011) one of my white co-workers turned to me as we ordered breakfast and said “You know, you’re the whitest, black person I know.”…*talk about an eyebrow raising and crickets chirping*…Really?

So apparently it’s not just black people who are thinking this way about “us” wanting be and stay healthy.

Bannef May 14, 2011 - 7:08 PM

Oh, it absolutely isn’t. Except the real disgusting part? That white lady might have thought she was giving you a compliment. Not necessarily (I don’t know her, I really have no idea), but I’ve seen it happen. Blegh.

Lori (FitBodyFitLife) May 21, 2011 - 10:35 AM

This is an awesome article!! As a black woman that has been called “white” and “oreo” all her life because of my name, speech, and actions, I have learned to ignore people who taunt me about being “white” because I work out. It is about me being a healthy me, not living up to the standards of my community on how I should behave to be able to live in the skin I’m in. My skin will forever be brown and I will forever be me! 😀

Courtney May 30, 2011 - 7:54 PM

This article is 100% on point. And this backwards way of thinking applies to speaking properly, as well. If you pronounce a word correctly, know what a noun and verb is and can complete a sentence, you’re “white”; and your black card gets revoked by those who can’t even spell African American. Maybe those who can’t speak proper English (and where it with honor), are the same people who think a diet of fried foods, soda, 40s and pickled goodness equates to “blackness’.

Nikoya July 3, 2011 - 8:28 PM

Girl I totally relate… I think it is foolish for this level of psychology to exist in the realm of health matters… Continue on your path!

Alaia July 5, 2011 - 12:43 PM

I live were there are very few blacks in Hawaii..and I have not encountered this problem, however it is interesting…just a thought…in our history we were the poor as slaves but we were the fit because contrary to belief we ate the BEST food.. the pot liquor, the bone marrow and the left overs from the big house and what we could scrounge. We also worked hard all day physically thereby developing strong fit bodies. It was only when we moved up to the Big house that MAMMY got fat..so maybe there is a inborn subconscious tendency to feel that if you are fat you are a successful black living in the Big House of old instead of like the field hands who are working so hard and eating so slim… I am sure this is not a conscious thing but it may be a subconscious reaction..just thought…

Smiles ;) September 22, 2011 - 9:25 PM

Wow, samething has been said about me. People, usually the over weight, makes fun because my food consist of mostly greens.

Erica December 5, 2011 - 7:42 PM

First-time commenter, here!

I *just* had this convo with my hubby about the, um…cultural unpacking to do. Yesterday, I ran an errand for my LS, who sprained her ankle during a step class. During a meeting, she was asked how she hurt her foot and when she told them, she said she was told, “You know, exercise will kill you.”

Another person told her, “You should just eat and get fat.”


“They said this to your face?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied.

*blank stare*

Unbelievable. We still have a lot of work to do. Thank you so much for your work. Press on!!!!

Miss Fit And Tempting February 4, 2012 - 8:25 PM

Is it just me or did that comment make anyone else nauseous? It made me literally nauseous to read that someone had a story like that in 2012. I can’t…

And then as a history buff, it’s all sorts of wrong…. I can’t. *shakes head and walks out*

Jenna Thomas March 18, 2012 - 4:13 PM

Assimilation? Everyone’s experience is different. I’m born and raised in South Carolina. My generation is the first whose grocery list entirely comes from a grocery store. Historically, in my family, we ate from the land we lived on. We had cows, pigs, chickens and plentiful gardens. Neighboring families shared harvests. “Plenty fresh air and exercise” (The Color Purple). My Grandmother never served us chitterlings because she hated cleaning it. Her collards always had turkey necks. She always pushed fresh fruits and veggies. And to this day, hates seeing “us”, meaning this generation, overweight. We ate fried foods in moderation. Everytime we reach for sweets we have to hear about how she don’t eat much sweets and that’s why we so fat. And if she saw us touch the salt, we got blessed out, “I ALREADY PUT SALT IN THE FOOD WHEN I COOKED IT!!!” It is now that I finally appreciate her take on everything. I’m 40 lbs into a 100 lb weight loss journey and can’t wait to see her reaction the first time she sees me. Previously, all I would hear is, “Look at dem big ol’ legs!” now she may be proud of me again. And as foreign as the concept is to me personally, I am starting a garden. So when people say, “assimilation”. I have proudly say, that it is not far from my personal family’s history.

Lisette April 27, 2012 - 2:48 PM

On a first date, a guy whom I met when I was leaving the gym, told me that he was glad I was taking care of myself, but not all black women want to be a “skinny little white woman” like me. So trying to be healthy makes me white? Needless to say, this was a first and last date.

By the way, several posters mentioned speaking “proper English.” As an English teacher, I avoid using the term “proper” or “correct” English and instead use “standard,” which implies English that abides by the grammar rules typically taught in schools. What is proper when I’m gabbin’ wit’ the girlies is just as proper as when I’m conversing with my colleagues. There are various regional or dialectical versions of English in the U.S., and all are equally valid based on audience and situation.

JazzFest May 21, 2013 - 6:24 PM

That’s a good point. I will start to think of it think way it makes sense since there are different phrases for things.

Tim May 3, 2012 - 12:35 PM

A colleague of mine shared this with me and I felt inclined to comment because this situation is one that blows me away. I am a nurse and I am currently working on a Masters degree in Public Health. That being said it wasn’t until this year when we were going through lectures on health disparity that I realized I don’t pass black people, especially girls, on the streets when I am running. I don’t have black people, especially girls, in the gym that I go to. Now I live in a predominantly black community in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Nearly half of my graduate class at Eastern Virginia Medical School is black…so why is it in an area where the demographics should dictate that there should be way more black people exercising, there aren’t? In an area where I don’t generally see “black and white”, but people in general…I am forced to recognize that a women is black when I literally am told, “oh no honey, black girls, we don’t do that”. WHY!?!?! Where did this stigma come from? I will say however, that this is partially a generational phenomenon across all cultures. Our parents weren’t raised exercising. This is more of an activity that boomed in the last 20 years. However, this is definitely not the message that needs to be sent to the youth…health and wellness must be accepted as OK and not shunned because its not what black girls do. So this begs the question…as a healthcare professional and a public health professional, where, as a white male, do I impact the issue. I ask this question because nearly every black woman I have ever discussed this issue with has told me that I don’t understand and then they go on the defensive. UGHHH!!!

Vicki August 11, 2012 - 2:36 PM

I can’t relate to this. I’m a obese black female and non of my friends or family have ever gave the impression that getting healthy thru diet and exercise was culturally unnacceptable. Quite the opposite. My brother has been nagging me for years to lose weight. They are cheering me on thru my weight loss journey. I’ve never felt any cultural pressure to stay “thick” except from online men who are chubby chasers.

Cassandra October 14, 2012 - 9:34 AM

I can definitely relate to the “acting” or “sounding” white comments. I used to hear it from my family all the time. I especially heard it from a cousin of mine. We grew up together and she would rag me relentlessly with the blessing of the rest of the family. I was teased horribly by my family because I loved to read and I trained myself to speak standard English based on what I read. By the way, no one, and I do mean not one, of the family members who raised me reads anything unless they have to. Just recently this same cousin, who I cut off contact with, called me and left me a message that said…..”You sound white on your phone. I almost didn’t leave a message. You sound too white.”……All I could do was shake my head. Talk about crabs in a barrel.

Cynthia November 18, 2012 - 5:19 PM

In my family it was expected that the kids do well in school. So, I don’t know what was going on in other families, but my folks didn’t play around with education.

Gail March 11, 2013 - 5:54 PM

The alcoholic brain causes the person to develop and exhibit “stinkin’ thinkin’.” The processed food brain causes the same stinkin’ thinkin’ (and acting/speaking) to develop.

Kel April 22, 2013 - 4:25 PM

It’s sad to realize just how deeply rooted our self-hatred is, especially considering all of the educational, professional, and socio-econonic advances we have made as people. I support active living more than gym-rat exercise, because I believe there is a social component to healthy living (and eating) that should be included. Still, as a naturally petite and naturally toned granny who is still mistaken for being in her 20’s I’ve felt a great deal of the “hate” being thrown my way. I’ve recently tried to stop diminishing myself, my size, or my intellect to compensate for someone else’s insecurity.

S May 18, 2013 - 7:41 AM

I see white people all day at my job, in which I interact with the public day in and day out. They are NOT in shape, they eat crap and look terrible. But whatever, people will use any excuse to justify what they want to justify their position.

Cheri August 25, 2013 - 11:24 AM

I’m older and I’ve often wondered where this mentality came from. I agree with the commenter who wrote that we were eating natural foods before processed ones. When I was in K-12 school most children were thin and African-American girls and boys were usually in better shape than white counterparts. We danced, (check out Soul Train folks), we had to participate in P.E. and we did, and many were great athletes. I tend to think some changes began when parents began to work, became more lenient on children and began to use food as a reward system and as noted food choices leaned toward the quick and processed rather than home-cooked meals. So, to equate fitness with “white” is just not truth, and I think as more begin to strive for fitness will seem like the foolishness that it is.

Meri September 25, 2013 - 12:05 PM

Anyone who thinks that working out is a white thing needs to come work a shift with me at my local YMCA. I live in a very diverse large town on the East coast and by the time a short four hour shift is over I generally will have checked in people of twelve to twenty different ethnic backgrounds, none of whom seem to think they are doing a white thing, just a sweaty thing, and sometimes a fun thing. If the first gym you walk into makes you feel like you are getting looks because everyone around you is melanin deprived, try your local Y. Many Ys are part community center, part gym all in one and the number of members at my Y who have gotten healthier, met new friends, networked and found new jobs, new career paths and for a few the love of their lives is staggering! Sorry to sound like a PSA, but as a gal who is finally down to ONLY needing to lose half her body weight, I know what it is like to walk into a gym and feel like everyone is shooting you daggers because the place is clearly NOT for you in the eyes of the trainers, front desk people and clients.

Evon November 24, 2013 - 11:51 PM

Let me just say: I get this same response from black women about working out at a gym, loving sushi, owning a time share, traveling abroad to nations other than Africa, shopping at farmer’s markets, recycling, owning a cat & a dog, & living HAPPILY in our home city as my husband, who found his dream job, commutes here on weekends. I have no idea why the things which are healthy, could improve our lives. or could possibly make us happy &add to our longevity are considered “white.” But frankly, I care more about myself than I care about the grumblings of anyone. I just turned 46 last week. For my birthday, I bought myself a bikram yoga groupon. At around age 35, I stopped giving a darn about stuff like that, my family’s incredibly proud of me, my health is amazing, & my true sister friends steer clear of negative comments. That’s enough,

Andi April 21, 2014 - 11:22 AM

Oh, yeah. Some years ago, I was the chair of a hospitality committee at my church. We put together a big Easter Vigil breakfast. In years past, the church did eggs and bacon, which was a disaster because we didn’t have the capacity to keep the eggs warm, etc. The year I chaired the committee we served scones, chocolate dipped strawberries, and fresh fruit and veggies with dip. Keep in mind that this was supposed to celebrate our newly baptized members (the service ended around midnight). I was ripped to shreds by some of the old heads who told me “I don’t know where you’re from, but black people don’t eat this kind of stuff.” Then there was the parish celebration where despite the lean meat, veggies and fruit we were serving up, someone brought in a case of pig feet because they felt we were “shortchanging” them by giving them “stuff WE don’t eat.” Hold my mule. ::smh::

Erika Nicole Kendall April 21, 2014 - 5:57 PM

WOW. 🙁

Erika April 22, 2014 - 9:37 PM

Sadly, if you grew up in an urban low income area like I did, seeing life beyond your cul de sac, block, or neighborhood is a challenge. Unfortunately there was no Golds Gym or 24 hour fitness where I lived. And if you’re trying to eat right in da Hood, that’s a whole different challenge.

Tina November 11, 2014 - 6:33 PM

A lot of black women just make too many excuses about everything, and the racial excuses seem ridiculous. Get up and get it together. When you take care of yourself and things, people respect you more but most importantly YOU respect yourself more.

Erika Nicole Kendall November 14, 2014 - 10:14 AM

“A lot of black women just make too many excuses about everything,”

Not all women, just black women, right?

Y’all gotta think before you type this nonsense. You turn basic human behavior into black pathology, like we’re naturally flawed or something BECAUSE we’re black.

Think. Before. You. Type.

“and the racial excuses seem ridiculous.”

Like what? Like hair?

Comments are closed.