Care about Black people? Do push-ups. Here’s why.
Last week, I promised that I would return the focus of my health & fitness coaching blog to push-ups this week. I am happy to do so because I love push-ups. I also love Black people, which is why this one is still going to connect to the ongoing protests around the world. This is a health & fitness blog, so I could see how you might think that the whole topic should be off-limits or out-of-bounds to me. Maybe you might say it’s a tangent, a distraction, or irrelevant, but you’d be wrong. Health begins deep inside. Hiding from–or running away from–the larger social, cultural, and political issues that surround you is not healthy.
Push-ups are a fantastic exercise that basically anyone can do basically anywhere. You stretch yourself out in a plank, lower your chest to the ground, and push yourself up again. Awesome. This develops the upper body’s ability to push as well as the entire body’s ability to stabilize in a straight line through the core. If you do enough of them, they go from a strength thing to a stamina thing, benefitting your muscular endurance. Do even more and they become more metabolic, even turning into cardio for some people.
It’s Never Just Push-Ups
But, it’s never just push-ups. Anyone who has ever done a fair amount of push-ups quickly learns this. You get bored of push-ups, or you get too good at push-ups. You want to do something more. So, the push-ups are the seed of your exercise habit, but soon you are doing sit-ups, squats, pull-ups, and lunges as well. Then you’re going for a run, drinking water, eating better meals, and getting better sleep. Get the idea? Push-ups are an entree to an entire lifestyle of health and fitness.
How Does This Connect to Black People?
Talk about Black people and what are you really talking about anyway? I mean, it’s just a color of skin (or dozens of shades of skin color and feature sets that have been lumped together arbitrarily into something we call “black”). For most people, Black is short-hand for “African,” or, “of African descent.” But, that is problematic as well for two main reasons:
- During the periods of European colonial empires, racial caste systems, and segregation, many people of non-African origin were called “black”, including certain people from the Middle East, Southern Europe, Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, and the Americas.
- Every human being is ultimately of African descent, though some have been outside the African continent for longer periods of time than others.
So, what are we even talking about when we say, “Black”? In the United States of America, we’re talking about people with darker skin tones and obvious African features who are identified with the African diaspora: African-Americans.
Now that we’re clear on who the Black people are that we’re talking about, we have to confront all the stereotypes and “issues” that are associated with that terminology and those people. One of the strongest associations is that of slavery, stemming from the fact that the overwhelming percentage of our African-American population was enslaved in 1965 when the institution was abolished in the US. Another strong association is African immigration. African migrants have been coming to this country voluntarily for economic or political reasons for hundreds of years. However, they have been met with a culture that often stigmatized them as primitives or savages.
So, those are the two main sets of stereotypical images associated with Black people in this country: former slaves who have been oppressed for generations, or primitive savages fresh off the boat. They’re not my words, they’re yours.
On the other hand, I have traveled around the world and lived in Africa. I am knowledgeable about the history of Africa and African-Americans. I know about their civilizations and kings and queens. I know the world’s first universities and oldest churches were in Africa. I listen to music and know all the best American music has come from Black people. I watch sports and know that all the best athletes are Black. I know about Black comedians and intellectuals and politicians.
So, I could create a whole other set of stereotypical images around Black people: the greatest figures of the ancient world, the most attractive and charismatic celebrities, fastest runners, best physiques, finest lyricists, talented musicians, and admirable presidents. You know what I’m talking about.
Now I have to connect this all back to push-ups. Those negative stereotypes come from a combination of historical circumstances with malicious propaganda. Those positive stereotypes come from people who’ve done the reps. When I talk about reps, I’m talking about push-ups, but also about reading books and taking piano lessons. People who do the reps believe in themselves. That’s what gets them to do the hard work, and doing the hard work reinforces their belief in themselves.
Why Do Push-Ups?
If you’re a Black person, I say do push-ups. Why? Because you will be a better version of yourself, and that will be good for you as well as for everyone else who looks like you. Maybe it’s unjust that people who kinda look similar are being lumped together and judged as a collective, but it is the reality we face. So, do your best for yourself and for others. The best version of yourself is the version who will accomplish the most and set the best example.
If you’re not a Black person, but you support Black people, I also say do push-ups. You being a better version of yourself means you can accomplish more work and send a louder message–not just louder, but clearer and better-formulated. Change starts within and those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Being the best version of yourself means you can do your best work and be less vulnerable to criticism.
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