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Excerpt From Albert’s Trip to the Ocean
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The Culture of Barefoot Running
By Lara Robinson
The idea of barefoot running has gained mainstream attention over the past several years, mainly due to the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.
Recently a public panel discussion considered aspects of barefoot running and the cultural phenomenon of body alignment, connection to the earth and community, and holistic running.
During the Barefoot Running discussion the point was made that one of the reasons Kenyans are natural runners is because children learn proper biomechanics from the minute their feet touch the earth. In local villages children do not wear shoes; they run barefoot in the red dirt that turns into sticky mud when the rain falls. Children run miles and miles to and from school every day; their bodies are naturally aligned because their feet and spine receive constant proprioceptor feedback. Dirt roads are softer than asphalt or cement sidewalk and more forgiving on developing bones. There are few instances of villagers experiencing the multitude of foot, sacrum and back issues that plague Americans because proper body alignment is naturally gained when people stand, walk and run on the ground instead of in shoes that block natural sensation from reaching their body.
Extrapolating the concept of this argument, it would seem that there would be fewer instances of mis-aligned spines and foot injuries in cultures that have more natural surfaces on which to walk and run. In the early years of civilization people wore shoes for warmth and protection. Native Americans wore moccasins that offered warmth in the winter but still allowed the foot to strike the ground in a natural way. Early American immigrants wore shoes and boots that were utilitarian and hard, holding the foot and ankle in a vice-like grip that didn’t allow any contact with the natural world. And it is from these roots that modern footwear takes its cue.
One of the panelists displayed a cross-section of a running shoe and talked about the changes in shoe technology over the last 40 years. He pointed out the slightly elevated heel of the shoe and said that a slight heel in a running shoe actually makes the foot strike that area when running, which is exactly opposite of where the foot should strike naturally. Landing on the heel of the foot and rolling forward puts three times your body weight on a very fragile area, a place on the foot that is not designed to withstand that pressure. Imagine standing in your bare feet and jumping high into the air and purposefully landing on your heel. You’ll never do that again because you’ll have just fractured your heel. You’ll naturally try to land on the ball of your foot, which is where you should be striking each time you land. A shoe can change that landing point to such a degree that you aren’t even aware of where you’re landing, which influences the impact of body alignment on the rest of the body structures.
If we’re to understand the cultural significance of footwear and body alignment on our own bodies, we need to look at how babies and children learn about the world around them. Infants learn through touch, and this sense of touch is not limited to what the hands can grasp. Babies put things in their mouths, toddle barefoot in the grass, and dip their naked toes in the water while marveling at the sensation. They learn how to jump because they can feel the earth under their feet and experience the proprioceptor sensation of skin, bones, muscles and tendons all working together to achieve balance.
Americans used to put sweet little booties on their babies to keep their tootsie warm in inclement weather. Now, over-zealous parents buy expensive replicas of their own shoes to put on babies that are barely even walking, thus taking away important sensory information. Our environment has changed from natural to manufactured so quickly that children no longer experience sensations through their feet. Even in the house, children often wear soled shoes. Protection (and fashion) has overridden body development, and that is what barefoot running is trying to address. In a much broader sense, however, this is a cultural phenomenon that is applicable not only to running, but how we allow children to develop and experience the natural world while their malleable bodies are still growing and changing.
Barefoot running is recommended for some people, though it most emphatically is not for everyone. The panelists made the point time and time again that before a person takes off their shoes and starts running barefoot (or minimally, running with minimal foot protection), they should work with a person trained in biomechanics to see if barefoot running is appropriate for their body type. Not everyone should run without shoes; serious injury will likely occur, which would prohibit them from running again for a good long time. As well, running barefoot is akin to learning how to walk; it must be done slowly, and done over time. Running barefoot is totally different than running shod, and must be re-learned. People have evolved and adapted to the modern world, which means that they wear shoes to protect their feet against the hard surfaces on which we live. This did not happen overnight, and a return to a more “natural” way of running will not happen quickly either. The body must become accustomed to it and barefoot running should be an aspect of training, though not done exclusively.
Barefoot running is more than just running without shoes; it challenges a cultural perception that shoes are safe and should always be worn. As well, barefoot running forces people to pay close attention to their body, attend to pain, run slowly and carefully, and embrace moderation and self-discipline. We are a culture of excess, and barefoot running is an antithesis to a culture of over-consumption and lack of personal restraint. The fact that there are still cultures on this planet that run barefoot and have an almost non-existent percentage of foot, ankle and spinal maladies because of the proprioceptor response to aligned running, is telling. Barefoot running (or minimal running) can be a way of slowing down and allowing the feet and body to learn how to align in a natural way. If you’re still interested in trying barefoot running, take the time to talk to someone about your particular stride, body imbalances, and the rest of the stuff that goes along with body issues, and get feedback on if barefoot running is right for YOU!
A Discussion of the Term “Mulatto”
By Lara Robinson
The term “Mulatto” has been used for hundreds of years to define a specific combination of racial combination. The term dates from 1593 and has two general meanings according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary: 1 : the first-generation offspring of a black person and a white person 2 : a person of mixed white and black ancestry.
Mulatto was originally used to describe a person of mixed race with white and black parentage. The term first appeared on the U.S. Census in 1850 as an alternative to the “white”, “slave” and “other” categories. “Other” was a catch-all for “Free Coloreds”, mixed race, Chinese, Turkish or other Middle Eastern people. Census records noted Mulatto status with the letters “MU” next to a person’s name.
The second definition of the word opens the door for more terminology to delineate ancestry. For instance, Quadroon describes a person with one quarter African heritage and three quarters Caucasian, and Octoroon describes a person with one eighth African ancestry and seven-eighths Caucasian. All of these terms refer to blood and do not refer to race, because race is determined by the four genes received from either parent, regardless of the mix of the parents.
Jefferson Fish, PhD., discusses the conflicting notions of “blood” and “race” in historical U.S. Census. He attempts to shed light on how the concept of blood over-rode the notion of race in the United States, and how that notion is still coloring Americans’ take on the race issue (pun intended).
“Suppose that there are eight genes for race, so that a mulatto has four black genes and four white genes, a quadroon has two black genes and six white genes, and an octoroon has one black gene and seven white genes. Now suppose that a mulatto man and a mulatto woman have a lot of children. Each child would get half its genes from the father and half from the mother. One child might get all four white genes from each parent and be 100% white, another might get all four black genes from each parent and be 100% black, and other children might wind up with all the other possible combinations of white and black genes. However, American culture views mulattos as black (e.g., President Obama); and believes that two blacks cannot have a 100% white baby. This is why the folk concept of blood does not act like genes…Blood is actually another word for ancestry. Mulatto is an American cultural term for someone with one parent who is culturally classified as black; quadroon is an American cultural term for someone with one grandparent who is culturally classified as black; and octoroon is an American cultural term for someone with one great-grandparent who is culturally classified as black (or two great-great-grandparents, etc.).” (The Census and Race—Part III— Reconstruction to the Great Depression (1870-1940), Evolutionary Psychology, July 20, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/looking-in-the-cultural-mirror/201007/the-census-and-race-part-iii-reconstruction-the-great-dep )
Therefore, the notion that Mulatto describes blood relations and not genes is important in the discussion of terminology. Mulatto was originally used to describe people who had black and white parentage, but then became a term that generalized everyone who had black and white ancestry, regardless of their genetic make-up. This was seen broadly in the South in the 19th century, when Census workers used their own discretion at determining a person’s race, based on appearance.
Census workers during this time noted that Mulattos were seen most often in urban settings. This occurred for several reasons. “…Mulattoes were not evenly distributed through the South; they were concentrated in the cities, and especially among freemen. According to the 1860 census, 39 percent of freedmen in Southern cities were mulattoes. Among urban slaves, the proportion of mulattoes was 20 percent. One out of every four black people in a Southern city was a mulatto. The travelers who noted a high proportion of mulattoes in the South evidently had much more contact with city populations, and freedmen… But 95 percent of the slaves did not live in the cities.” (http://www.etymonline.com/cw/mulatto.htm)
Racial terminology on the Census has changed over decades and centuries, making the tracing of family lineage a convoluted process due to the discretion of Census workers. Census workers were expected to use their best judgment when interviewing families and sometimes checked different categories for family members based on the appearance of skin or hair. A lighter-skinned child would be considered mulatto within a family of dark-skinned slaves, and a child with black wiry hair might be considered black within a family of lighter-skinned siblings and parents who were classified as Mulatto. The subjective use of the term has made the tracing of ancestry difficult for people whose roots go back hundreds of years in the Southern states. In these cases, it becomes necessary for researchers to consider the circumstances of the person in question: was the person a slave or slave owner? Could there have been a child of a union outside of marriage? Was the location rural or urban? By answering some of these questions, the ancestry of a Mulatto person can more easily be traced.
By the late 19th century the term Mulatto came to be considered offensive and derogatory because of the association of slavery, colonial and racial oppression. People of black and white parentage stopped using the term because of its offensive connotations. More politically correct terms gained popularity, and people chose to self-identify as multi-ethnic, bi-racial, multi-cultural or mixed race. This was done for many possible reasons, some of which are:
- It became too complicated to explain the diverse nature of one’s bloodline as mixing became more and more common;
- People didn’t want to self-identify as Black because of the negative connotations associated with African-American descent;
- There were so many different mixes of Americans by the late 19th and early 20th centuries that it was unwieldy to name each and every variation of possible mixed bloodlines. It was easier for government workers and society at large to lump all people of mixed heritage into one vast pool.
In modern times, the word Mulatto is seeing resurgence in common vocabulary because people searching for a word that accurately describes them shun the ambiguous terms multi-ethnic, bi-racial, multi-cultural or mixed race. More and more bi-racial people of African and Caucasian parentage that are searching for an accurate way to define themselves are calling themselves Mulatto as a matter of pride and precision, because the term defines their specific parentage and differentiates them from the multitude of other multi-ethnic people of the world. The word is no longer considered derogatory when used in context, though it is respectful to ask how another person self-identifies before making any assumptions.