Today I went for a hike in the woods and had a triggering, recurring experience: white runners, unmasked, forcing me off a path during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the fast zombies of the here and now – mindlessly running and potentially harming people they should be in community with. Is this rude? Yes, but that is not the whole of it. What I am actually seeing here is a replication of colonial mentality on a micro, mundane scale.
Hiking is supposed to be a pandemic-safe wellness activity – open air, easy distancing, exercise, etc. On a magical and medicinal level, even as an indoor kid, I think it is important to be out in nature and develop a relationship with it. But...who actually gets to take up that space and at who's cost? This is where it starts to look like a small scale replica of colonization. Right at the get go, everyone that I encountered on today's hike was white. In past instances where I was run off the sidewalk or trail it has always been white runners (sometimes cyclists) with no mask. It is not just about rudeness when there is an obvious pattern and repetitive power dynamic. It is a centering of individual need over greater collective wellness. It is an entitlement to space and disregard of who might be harmed in the taking of that space.
I have tried many different responses to the white runners with no great success. Today was avoidance. If I see them coming, I grab my dog and get as far off the trail as I can ASAP (cuz THEY DON'T SLOW DOWN). Most of the time they don't even acknowledge me as I stand awkwardly in a shrub. Occasionally, they'll thank me for moving out of their way and then get upset when I do not respond to their chipper space taking. I am going to assume that the white runners are not concerned with getting infected because people like me move out of the way since the alternative is an even bigger violation of our safety.
Why don't I just stand up for myself? For those who are closer to me I am normally very direct in my communication. Well, I have learned that trying to verbally establish boundaries with the white runners leads to violence – angry yelling, mean mugging, or completely ignoring the MINIMUM 6 feet distance and being close enough to rub elbows with me. Like fast zombies, I can't reason with them. My appeals to their human decency don't really sink in.
Passive aggressive tactics I've tried include coughing really loudly (into my mask + elbow) or yelling that I or my partner might be sick so that they have to go around me (this was before it was easy to get tested). This has actually been the most successful way of getting white runners to stay away from me since it seems to jar people into the reality that they might be harmed. Even though we should all practice universal precautions anyways, I hate using this survival tactic because it is alarmist and costs even more of my energy.
I am also someone who is read as Asian. I am also read as queer, sometimes trans/nonbinary. Let's sit with what it means right now for my safety to at best inconvenience and at worst horribly offend a fast, athletic white person working out whatever Type A, colonizer, white fragility nonsense they are carrying around on their run.
Additionally, can we talk about consent? I know that people are exercising different safety protocols around COVID-19, but shouldn't we assume, until proven otherwise, more conservative distancing and masking? I do not consent to be within 6 feet of people who's risk levels I don't know. I do not consent to endangering other people, even white runner zombies, in very avoidable situations.
These are all aspects of colonization: taking of land and resources, centering colonizer needs and desires at the expense of others (human and nonhuman), disregard or outright violence towards people deemed lesser than, etc...
Are my encounters with the white runner zombies a direct physical assault? No, in the sense that it is not an obvious, severe form of violence where I am at risk of immediate death. It absolutely does not compare to larger scale assaults like murdering babaylan and institutionalizing the Catholic Church in the Philippines. These encounters, however, are a risk of COVID-19 for me and anyone who I am podded with. There are real, tangible effects on my body. Here is what I notice when I have these encounters:
Why is reflecting on incidences like this important to me? Identifying colonization and white supremacy in our lives is crucial to promoting collective wellness.