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It was a sunny Saturday morning and I’d just walked into the gym. The vibe was buzzing, and I was pumped for the intense, fun workout I counted on every weekend. I had no idea that one of my happy places was about to turn into a danger zone. I didn’t know I was about to witness, once again, why racism persists in the USA.

For a year, Ken’s* weightlifting class was a highlight of my week — and not just for me. Ken’s teaching skill, hot music, and positive energy are contagious, and the people that attended his Saturday class brought high spirits and a commitment to fitness. Many regulars got to know each other by name and socialized outside the gym.

One of my “gym friends” is Keisha, a fellow regular. When I entered the room that morning, she greeted me warmly as she set up her equipment. “Hey Susana, how’s it been?!”

Ken was out of town that day, and Tiffany was our sub. I was stoked. I’d taken Tiffany’s classes for over six years, and not only was she an excellent instructor, she knew me. She always said hello when I took her class if I didn’t beat her to it, and the last two times she subbed we’d chatted.

The previous week, Tiffany brought up an incident that happened between her and a stubborn gym member in another class that I’d also attended. The member had insisted on having the fan blow directly on her instead of on the entire class, even when Tiffany tried to intervene. Even though this happened months ago, she questioned her firm approach, seeming to want reassurance. I told her I thought she handled it appropriately in the interest of safety (heatstroke!) and serving the group.

The Spark to Racism

That morning I said hello to Tiffany as I grabbed my equipment, and her face brightened: “Hi!” She was walking purposefully towards the side of the room where I normally set up, so I asked if she needed help with something. I thought perhaps the fan on that wall needed adjustment.

Instead, she asked If I knew who belonged to an unoccupied station. I didn’t nor did anyone else nearby. She said there wasn’t enough room between the four stations along the wall, and asked the members to readjust and move towards the back.

In front was Tran, a muscular Asian man in his early 30s who’s a semi-regular, but usually sets up in a different part of the room. Behind him was my friend Keisha, a black woman in her early 40s, who was set up in the same spot she always occupies. A young white man was behind her, and behind him sat the empty station that was later claimed by a young black woman.

Tiffany was adamant in instructing everyone to move back, which puzzled me. The normally full class was more sparsely populated that week, and there were no safety issues with how the four stations were spaced. Keisha moved her station slightly, then pointed out that Tiffany wasn’t asking Tran to move, when there was also space in front of him.

Tiffany, a blond white women in her 40s, said she didn’t want Tran to move — she wanted everyone else to move back. Tran said he couldn’t move up because he was too close to the front and wouldn’t be able to see the instructor.

I felt tension building. The danger level was high, given these yellow alerts: Read the rest on Medium!

* Names have been changed to protect people’s identities and honor confidentiality.

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