Having worked in the fitness industry for a decade training C-suite executives and as one of the few Black women working in predominantly white spaces for most of my career, I want to share four actions the fitness industry can take to demonstrate real allyship to the Black community going forward. This means everyone in the Black community, not just your consumers, but your employees as well. These steps are an entry point into the long journey of creating workable environments for Black fitness and wellness professionals. In addition, they are stepping stones in the process of ensuring that when Black people want to enter a space that provides an opportunity to enhance their well-being, they are not met with the stressors that have been shown to increase their likelihood of chronic disease (weathering effect).
1. Learn About The Black Community’s Relationship With The Fitness Industry
Listen to your Black employees and members. There is no shortage of Black fitness professionals in these predominantly white fitness spaces, yet the atmosphere often still severely lacks inclusivity. Black people who want to address issues concerning inclusion are often not heard. Additionally, many fitness spaces are not conducive for authentic conversation about the Black experience. When Black people speak, we are sharing an experience that non-Black folks are unqualified to disregard. (No one is qualified to disregard anyone’s experience, but if you don’t know what it’s like to be Black, humbly listening is the best thing to do if a Black person chooses to share their experience with you.) Black people and Black culture are not props to be silenced and simultaneously capitalized off of. If our culture and bodies are part of the success of your company, our stories must be as well. It is essential to familiarize yourself with the lived experiences of your Black employees, not just the elements that are most convenient or trendy.
2. Avoid Performative Allyship
Allyship is not about likes on your company’s Instagram page. Furthermore, allyship is not about you. True allyship does not come in the form of a black square on Instagram or a “diversity” initiative without action to back it up. Your customers and employees are watching closely because this affects their lives, and they can tell the difference between “performance” and real company values in action. When gyms reopen, the sanctity of Black lives will still need to be acknowledged and protected. This is the time to direct your resources toward protecting the Black lives directly impacted by your company. Allocate funds toward initiatives that seek to close the fitness and wellness gap in Black communities. Put your money where your Instagram post is. Here are some examples of companies that have begun taking steps toward acknowledging and turning away from the ways they have engaged in perpetuating systemic racism. This is by no means a case where one action or initiative is the solution. It must be consistent, persistent and thorough.
3. Advocate For New Non-Marginalizing Systems
Questions to ask yourself here are:
- How might our company’s predominantly white member base be impacting our Black employees and their experience? How does it impact our Black members and their experience? What can we do to address this?
- Is this club in a predominantly white neighborhood? How does this impact our Black employees, their commute and consequently their performance?
- How is our company contributing to the wellness gap? What can we do to address our role in exacerbating the health disparities in Black communities?
- Does the structure of this company make Black people vulnerable to implicit biases and the power of those who hold them? How is this impacting their ability to succeed? How do we address this?
These are just a few questions that allow you to consider the ways in which systemic racism is perpetuated in our industry. Once you are aware of these things, use your voice, your network, your platform and your resources to advocate for new systems that combat these issues. This may be challenging you to exercise a muscle that has never been used. If you’ve worked as a fitness professional for any amount of time, you know that recruiting a dormant muscle cannot be done passively. It must be intentional. With consistency, you’ll find that you can do more over time.
4. Allocate Funds Toward Addressing Systemic Racism
Addressing systemic racism is not the same as hiring more Black people and having the occasional two to three Black people circulating in company ads. Be intentional here, and be willing to invest in making your space more inclusive for the Black community. Utilize the same tenacity used to hit sales goals for your company when it comes to honoring Black people. Outsourcing is important. It is a demonstration of humility and decentering yourself. Give space to someone who can speak to the Black experience and who specializes in diversity and inclusion. Allow room for insight that you don’t have or that your team may have previously been lacking and be willing to pay for it. Be humble. Acknowledge what you do not know. This is not the time for self loathing. Simply, learn. Then act. This is true allyship.
For many people, the blinders have come off for good. Silence is not an option. The fitness industry has a lot of work to do and huge gaps to fill. The world is changing, and those who refuse to change with it will be left standing on the wrong side of history as the rest of us stay focused on building a better future. I’m sincerely hoping to see you there.
T’Nisha Symone is a 10-year fitness industry veteran, holding a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and is the founder of BLAQUE, an emerging luxury fitness club/platform focused on serving the fitness and wellness needs of the Black community. BLAQUE has been mentioned in TIME magazine and Bustle, referencing the role the new company plays in the evolution of the fitness industry. BLAQUE will be launching outdoor pop-ups and opening its first physical location in New York City, while launching a digital platform focused on serving the fitness and wellness needs of the Black community globally. For more information about T’Nisha Symone, BLAQUE and how you can support this initiative to improve racial inequities in the fitness industry, visit ifundwomen.com/projects/blaque.