Every Spring Break, the Holton-Arms crew team travels down to South Carolina for a five-day training trip at Camp Bob. The water is pristine; the birds chirp happily; the soft breeze ruffles the confederate flags dotting the shoreline of the lake. I was aware that crew was a primarily white-dominated sport when I joined the team four years ago, and I understood not to expect a lot of racial diversity at events. My love for the sport pushed me to suppress these concerns. Even though I try not to let the lack of diversity affect me, it always feels eery to be lining up at the start line and looking across the other boats to realize that no one looks like you.
On the last night of every trip, we all walk to a restaurant named Red’s. It is always on this night that I feel my blackness the most. I notice the sideway glances from the other customers and the hesitation of the waiters (though that may be because everyone at our table is an extremely lively girl). I try not to assume that these people are staring because there are a few black girls amongst the crew. In the back of my mind, however, I am always aware of who I am, where I am and what others might be thinking. Since I am hyper-aware of this tension, I am also hyper-aware of my behavior. I am quieter and try not to draw attention to myself. I sit up straighter and repeat my pleases and thank yous a lot more often than usual. As I wrote that last sentence, I realized how unfortunate it is that I feel I need to alter my behavior to appear less “threatening. It is even more upsetting, however, that I do this unconsciously.
Being a woman further exacerbates the issue because on top of it being a predominantly white sport, crew is also a historically male-focused sport. As I walk through the crowded dining hall in my workout shorts, I once again feel the gaze — whether it be imaginary or real — of all the boys in the cafeteria. I am immediately aware of the length of my shorts, the fit of my shirt and how my face and hair look after a draining workout. Some of these perceptions may all just be in my head, but I do know that as a woman in this world, I’m judged by my looks before anything else. Yet again, I alter my behavior and unconsciously start to pay more attention to my appearance.
Leaving my teammates and exceptionally supportive coaches behind after four years, I know that I will continue to give back to my team and sport by being a resource for others like me. I am extremely grateful for everything that I have experienced on this team and on these trips because I have become an even more aware person.