Healthy Talks with Ben Chan
“I belong everywhere that I show up”
The very opinionated fixture of the NYC running community opens up about racism in the running community, his tough childhood (and adulthood), and being a “Bad Asian American”. And, oh yeah, those leopard print speedos!
Ben Chan. The name might not ring a bell unless you know him as a teammate, family member, or close friend. BUT if you’ve ever run a race in the NYC area, I can guarantee that you’ve seen him on multiple occasions. I like to call it a subtle appearance especially during cold weather races as he’s that runner that you usually see with just a hat…and usually leopard print running shorts. If it is frigid he may be sporting a pair of gloves. Having seen Ben on many occasions I’d say he is a very brave man, especially when it’s cold outside, but every time Ben runs there’s usually a message he runs with. One day I’ve said I’m going to catch a photo with him but I guess it’s even better that we get to talk about his adventures in this month’s issue of Mid Strike Magazine.
MSM: To be a bit repetitive, you’re a brave soul racing in the cold with bare skin. Every time I’ve seen you it’s always the same, and honestly, I’m sure this isn’t just myself but if you aren’t seen at a NYC road race then it really isn’t a NYC road race!
Let’s jump right into the why and what made you want to run races with the most minimal clothing as possible?
Ben: Other than running around the schoolyard when I was in grade school, running wasn’t a part of my life until May 2012 when at the age of 30, I donated one of my kidneys to a friend who has diabetes. When I started running I was very self-conscious about my form, my pace, and my running attire. I had a lot to learn and didn’t want to look stupid. Also, I had internalized stereotypes about how runner bodies are “supposed” to be shaped. (Thanks a lot, Runner’s World and running apparel companies.) As I ran more, I realized that nobody cared about my form or my pace or my outfits. Other runners were focused on doing their own thing.
My first running-related event was an obstacle course mud run, and after 12 miles of running, jumping, crawling, and swimming, I noticed that the pirate outfit I had worn collected a lot of mud and water, which was weighing me down. So I decided to wear less, a lot less, like booty shorts, at my next obstacle course mud run.
I got into road races after obstacle course races, and even though road racing is less muddy, I decided to keep on running in booty shorts and speedos because I’m a proud American-born Chinese man. Asian-American men have been traditionally portrayed in American movies, television, and print as quiet, subservient, math nerds. There is nothing wrong with any of those things individually, but I’m not here to fit into anybody’s box. Running with my chest out (and a large portion of my body out) is my way of rejecting all the stereotypes people have about Asian men. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained some weight. I briefly considered covering up, but decided that I’m not ashamed of my body, no matter what strangers on the internet say. I dress for myself, not anybody else.
MSM: Seeing you at races my initial thoughts were you’re a guy that loves life and lives it to the fullest. Running is essentially a joy for you. What is it about running that brings you so much happiness and joy?
Ben: Running is one of the ways I express myself. I do have other tools like words, both written and spoken, but running is different because I don’t have to say anything while I’m running. I can just be. I’m an introvert. I enjoy interacting with people one on one or in small groups, and I also enjoy solitude, which I need in order to recharge. Running is both a way for me to connect with friends and strangers and an activity that allows me a measure of solitude. Sometimes there is friction – like I’ll be running a race and runners will try to chat with me, or even ask me to stop so they can take a selfie with me. Other times I’ll get heckled with homophobic or racist jeers. I appreciate the positive attention, but if I’m running a race, I’m there to run. I guess some people think my attire signals that I’m not a serious runner. My metric for how good a race was is if I enjoyed myself. Was I able to soak up the things around me and focus on the present? Did I have the urge to look at my watch too many times? How many smiles and laughs did I see? That’s not reflected in my Strava stats, but I am serious about enjoying myself.
MSM: You’ve been around the run community for a while as far as i can remember back I started running consistently in 2016 how long have you been on your run journey?
Ben: In May 2012, I donated one of my kidneys to my friend Chris Chan (no relation), who has diabetes. I wasn’t a runner before the transplant, and I decided to take it up to lead a more active lifestyle to preserve my remaining kidney. My friends Lance and Saba Hazel got me to a track and taught me what a proper workout session is. My friend Danilo Torres suggested that I run a marathon, so I did the Los Angeles Marathon in March 2014. I enjoyed it so much that I ran three more marathons that year. In November 2014 my friend Matt Emmi invited me out to the desert in Las Vegas to run a 24-hour obstacle course race: World’s Toughest Mudder. I hadn’t trained at all for obstacles or to run an ultra distance, but I figured, “how many opportunities are you going to get to do this?” I’m fortunate that all along the way I’ve had people willing to teach me and share with me.
MSM: The leopard print speedos. How did those come about and what made you decide to make that…..can we call it signature?
Ben: According to Google photo memories, on January 11, 2015, I ran the NYC Runs Hot Chocolate 5-miler in Central Park. I was looking for running tights to wear at the race, and all the men’s options were boring solid dark colors, so I purchased a pair of women’s leopard print tights. A few months later I purchased a pair of leopard print shorts, and the rest is history.
In 2016, after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, I ran the Bronx 10-Miler and the NYC Marathon with the words “Black Lives Matter” written in Sharpie on my back. I did that because I was tired of being in white spaces where discussions of white supremacy, police brutality, and Black Lives was not allowed.
Three months ago I packed up my leopard print shorts and tights and moved to Keene, New Hampshire with my wife, Chevon Stewart, to be closer to her job. She’s a Dance Movement Therapy assistant professor at Antioch University. Keene is 95% white. I haven’t run topless or unpacked the leopard print speedos. Instead, I’ve been walking and running around Keene in my Black Lives Matter singlet. I’ve heard directly from a white resident that is bothered by seeing the words “Black Lives Matter”, so I know that I’ve done the right thing by adopting a new signature outfit.
MSM: As I’m sure you’ve noticed here at Mid Strike Magazine we’re very big on proper presentation in the run community. Running isn’t just a white sport yet most publications make it seem as if there’s a mold that always needs to be followed. Running comes in all forms, shapes, sizes and colors and nationalities. A friend of mine Mike Lewis had the best quote “We’re all here to get the same medal”. You’re also our first Asian feature in this magazine which is also exciting. When you first started running what were your feelings as a runner? Did you ever feel as if you didn’t belong or felt as if you had to prove yourself?
Ben: Thank you. I’m flattered to be featured. I’m a slow runner, so hearing my name and the word “first” in a running-related context is weird. I don’t know [if] I’ve ever felt that I belonged anywhere. I was born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which is a Polish neighborhood. We spoke English at home because my mother was learning English at the same time I started going to school. I barely speak Cantonese despite several attempts to learn it as a kid, so whenever I’m around Chinese people I feel a bit of a disconnect because I speak enough Cantonese to know what they’re saying about me because they don’t think I understand. On the first day of the first grade, a coalition of white and Latinx boys informed me that I was a chink. In college, the white boys resorted to urinating and defecating on my door, and eventually sending me a death threat because they didn’t know how to deal with an uppity Chinaman that refused to be bullied. The subtext was the same in grade school and college: “you don’t belong here, chink.” There are places where I’ve felt some measure of comfort, but I’ve always got my guard up.
When I first started running I definitely felt out of place. I don’t have the “classic” lean, runner’s body. I’m naturally a stout guy. I have a belly. I choose not to hide that. That means accepting that I’m going to get people jeering at me and taking photos to do god knows what with later on. It also means that some of the jeerings will involve having homophobic slurs yelled at me. Sometimes the slurs yelled in my direction are racist. When I ran in NYC with the words “Black Lives Matter” written on my back, there were several instances where white runners yelled, “ALL LIVES MATTER” at me.
My wife and honeymooned in Uruguay and Argentina in December 2017. I went for a morning run in Mendoza, Argentina on Christmas Day 2017. I was wearing a t-shirt and “proper” running shorts. As I was running, a car full of local Argentineans pulled up beside me. One person was recording me with their phone, while the car’s occupants shouted, “cabecita negra” at me. That means “little black head”. Another car slowed down and the same thing happened. Later on, another car passed me and the occupants yelled, “VIVA MEXICO” at me. That’s when I realized that the locals had misidentified me as Mexican and were yelling anti-Mexican slurs at me.
I guess I’ve grown used to people telling me I don’t belong. It doesn’t phase me. I believe that I belong everywhere that I show up. I don’t seek validation. I’m here and present. That’s the proof. I feel that I ought to be treated the same whether I’ve run one 5k or 10 ultras.
MSM: When you’re not running in the NYC area you’ve ventured out into other races, some pretty amazing ones and accomplishments for yourself including a few ultra’s and tough mudders and a recent 635 mile great virtual race across the State of Tennessee. What have been some of your favorites along with the ones that have the most meaning?
Ben: When I think about favorites, it’s not about individual stats like most miles or fastest time that comes to mind. It’s about the experiences and the people. Matt and I and all the participants at World’s Toughest Mudder 2014 got caught in a sandstorm in the desert in the middle of the night. All of a sudden 40 mile-per-hour winds were blowing aways pieces of obstacles- large, heavy pieces of wood like they were paper. We could barely see more than ten feet in front of us. The desert was swirling winds, sand, and the blinking strobe lights each runner was wearing. It was straight out of one of the Mad Max films. It was absolutely exhilarating.
The longest race distance that I’ve successfully completed in one run is The Great New York 100k. That was my second ultra, and the experience stands out because even though it’s an unsanctioned race, it brings out an amazing array of volunteers who give out just as much support and love as the tens of thousands of volunteers and spectators that line the NYC Marathon course. The food spread that Rita Jones puts out at the World’s Fair Marina mile 41 aid station is something every ultra runner dreams of but few get to experience.
Last August I participated in my first multi-stage race, the TransRockies Run. I spent six days running around in the Colorado Rockies, which I had never been to. I’d never had such spectacular, gorgeous views right in front of me as I was pooping in the woods. What really makes TransRockies Run memorable are the relationships I formed with the runners and volunteers. Three months after TRR, I was crewing and cheering at an ultra for Tim McNamara, one of the volunteers I met at TRR.
Also in 2019, I volunteered for the first time as an Achilles Guide. I ran the 5th Avenue Mile with Colby, a young runner who was excited to tell me every single thing he knows about his favorite cartoon Ben 10 when we met. It’s those experiences, where I was a small part of another runner’s journey, like meeting cancer warrior Alan Kaufman on the 2019 NYC Marathon course and spending the rest of the race with him and his Achilles Guides- those are the running experiences that mean the most to me.
MSM: After the 635-mile virtual completion you did something that most runners would do, you celebrated with a post but a few hours later you noticed that your post was removed. It was mentioned that it wasn’t a place for politics as you had a belt and a Black Lives Matter shirt. What were your feelings after completing that event just to now have the feeling of never fully having the support of the race itself?
Ben: Frustration. I had just finished running 635 miles over 92 days while cheering on other runners in a shared community space. I read posts where runners opened up about all the highs and lows they experienced in their journeys that were tied to new relationships, pushing past limits, breaking up with partners, losing loved ones, etc. Runners talked about the snakes and other wildlife they encountered during their runs.
In my finisher post, I spoke about the homophobia and racism I encountered while running in NYC at 3 am in the morning. I wrote that it was important that I acknowledge that there are runners, specifically Black runners like my wife, who encounter worse. The bulk of my post was about audiobooks. I started listening to them during my runs, and they really helped keep me going. I listed my favorite audiobooks in my post. The words “Black Lives Matter” didn’t appear in my recap. Nor did I advocate for a political candidate, policy, or piece of legislation. White runners flooded my post with rude, racist comments because they were triggered by a PHOTO of words, “Black Lives Matter”.
Instead of enforcing his own community rule regarding civility and politeness, the race director, Lazarus Lake, acted in service of the fragile white runners. He deleted my post. Laz argued that he couldn’t control the angry white runners, and it was easier to remove the thing that triggered them. He explained away his moral cowardice by concocting a fable where my photo amounted to me picking a fight with 14,000 runners.
I wasn’t surprised by what happened. I was introduced to racism, white privilege and white supremacy in grade school. White people pissed and defecated on my dorm room door and left a death threat on my voicemail in college. Nothing that white people do to me surprises me. I’m an optimist, so I keep giving white people collectively the opportunity to do better. Also, I refuse to live a life where I let white people deter me from doing the things I want to do.
So when Laz announced his next virtual race, a 30,000 mile team race around the world, I formed a team of ten and we registered for the event. We decided to run under the team name Black Lives Matter. We were among the first to sign up, so we joined the race’s Facebook community 30 days before the beginning of the race. Two days before the race Laz noticed our team name and gave us an ultimatum, we either had to change our team name or he’d remove us from his event. This time, there were no angry internet commenters. Laz was pushing his beliefs about Black Lives Matter on my team and his thousands of customers. He was drawing a line between the refuge he’d created for white runners and Black Lives Matter. My team and I authored a public response to Laz where we refused to change our team name, and warned him of the worrisome precedent he was setting for race directors and white runners.
At the end of the day, Laz doesn’t care. He did what he did, and now he’s moved on. The virtual race around the world is underway, and Laz even hosted an in-person race in October. He’s got the support of the majority of white ultra runners, running journalists, running podcasters, and running shoe and apparel companies.
I’ve had white runners swear up and down that Lazarus Lake is a nice, generous person. I believe them. I know that he’s raised money for charities and that he’s got a tender spot for his wife, his dog, and fellow white runners. I don’t dispute that. Nice people do harmful, hurtful things too. Intelligent, generous people act in service and furtherance of racism and white supremacy too. White runners, journalists, and apparel companies are concerned about Laz’s reputation. BIPOC runners have to deal with the consequences of Laz’s statements and actions.
My own relationship with running is strained. After running a personal best 323 miles in the month of July, I stopped running in October and am going on a month and a half of not running. It’s been very hard for me to go from NYC to Keene, which is 95% white. I’m hundreds of miles away from my friends, my teammates, and anything that resembles a BIPOC community.
When I look to trail and ultra-running, I see individuals, communities, and an entire industry that collectively refuses to confront white supremacy. I’m strongly considering divesting from the trail and ultra-running communities. I know that there are BIPOC and allies who run trails and ultras, but it remains a world dominated by white men, and the culture reflects that. I can only pour so much of myself into communities that don’t support me. People do not change unless they want to.
MSM: Thank you for sharing that. It’s all very personal, and as you’ve said, not much of a surprise if you’re not a white runner. Yet, it still stings.
MSM: You’ve been a very consistent voice when it has come to diversity inclusion, social injustices and equality. In essence sadly if we aren’t white we aren’t seen as equals. What is your strength and inspiration to keep the conversation going, to spread these messages of inspiration to others especially runners.
Ben: I know what it feels like to be targeted, threatened, and bullied because I’m different. I’ve been denied opportunities and had things taken from me because of the shape of my eyes. The weight of those experiences drags you down. It isolates you from everybody else. I try to make myself available so that people won’t feel that support is out of reach. I want to do what I can to help other people who have gone through or are experiencing what I already have.
Among those people are my niece and nephews from my wife’s side of the family. The oldest one, Bryce, is a first-year college student. He runs track and cross country and wants to someday run a marathon with Uncle Ben. We will, and then perhaps he’ll want to run an ultra. I want things to be better for Bryce and his brother and sister. I want the running communities that they and future generations of runners inherit to be diverse and inclusive. I don’t want them to have to choose between white running communities and BIPOC running communities because old white men built borders based around their own discomfort and biases.
MSM: Mentally how have you managed to stay strong? There was a comment I read on your profile by a guy named Stuart Smith (seems like a jerk). Do you find that people are quick to judge you?
Ben: Yeah, Stuart is some guy from the internet that had opinions about my body. He’s not the only internet-brave troll who spouts off as long as they’re protected by the space and anonymity that the internet provides. I’ve had people yell homophobic and anti-Asian slurs at me from the safety of their cars and then speed away when I stepped towards their vehicle.
A couple of weeks ago, here in Keene, I was standing outside of my apartment building waiting for a delivery person when a white guy walked past me. He eyed me up and down, and then when he got three or four feet past me, while facing away from me he said, “All lives matter”. He looked over his shoulder, saw me turn towards him, and he picked up his pace and scurried away like a cockroach. I wasn’t wearing my Black Lives Matter singlet, but he must have seen me around town wearing it because I wear it often when I’m out and about. Other than their prejudices, the other common trait with the internet trolls, the driver trolls, and the cockroach trolls share is cowardice. They’d never say it to my face because they don’t want this smoke.
I grew up in a very stressful environment where violence was very much present. My dad was a waiter before learning English and earning a bookkeeping degree, my mother was a seamstress in a sweatshop. We lived from paycheck to paycheck struggling to scrape by. When I outgrew my crib, my parents had to go dumpster diving to get me a bed frame and mattress. There were times that if we wanted to take a warm bath during the winter, we had to boil a big pot of water on the stove. My parents used corporal punishment because that’s what they inherited from their parents. The couple that lived in the apartment building next to ours constantly argued until the man would lose his temper and then beat the woman. The woman would yell and cry, sometimes for help, but help never came.
One time when I was about six, I got tired of listening to her crying, so I went to the window, stuck my face against the screen and yelled, “STOP HITTING YOUR WIFE!” My mother grabbed me and beat me for doing that, which is interesting because I probably learned to intervene from watching her. So that was home. Then I’d go to school where for the first three years I was bullied – made fun of and beaten up on a near-daily basis. I hated going to school. I hated being at home. I took beatings in both places, and I was constantly worried that my family would end up homeless. It seemed like everybody around me was angry, violent, and stressed out. I’d go to sleep at night praying that I wouldn’t wake up.
I have and continue to do a lot of work with the support of a lot of people to break the cycles of turmoil that I was born into, and to grow. It’s going to take a lot more than racist comments, piss, feces, and death threats to faze and deter me. I understand that being vocal and visible means being a target. I accept that, because I have a thicker skin than most, but it’s armor that developed over time, so I remember what it was to be vulnerable to bullying and violence.
I know who I am and where I come from. I don’t need white people to validate me. I don’t need to place myself above other people to feel good about myself. I don’t think that Stuart, the various trolls, and those who support and benefit from white privilege and white supremacy can say the same thing about themselves, which is why they cower in my presence. I’m not threatened by them or angered by them. I think they’re pathetic, and I think it’s sad what they’ve allowed themselves to become.
MSM: Random-off topic question. What’s the coldest race you’ve ever ran with just the speedos? Did you almost say no this is too much?
Ben: I think my air temperature limit is 25F/-4C. There are some caveats though. Wind, sun, and precipitation change the equation. If it’s windy with no sun, the threshold temp is higher, maybe up around 32F/0C. Snow and rain are tricky because what I wear will soak up the precipitation which will make me colder, whereas the water will hit my skin and evaporate. The other important factor is distance. With ultra distances, I think about how long I’ll be moving and how the weather will change. The longer you run, the less energy you want to waste staying warm. So when I started the 2019 Central Park 60k, it was sunny and around 30F/-1C, and I was wearing a speedo, a knit beanie, and fleece gloves. During the afternoon the wind picked up so I put on a romper that was enough to keep me comfortable for the rest of the race. I’ve made mistakes.
The biggest was the second year that I did World’s Toughest Mudder in 2015. It started at 1 or 2pm in the afternoon and we were in the desert, so I was wearing a speedo. The first lap is a sprint lap, and then they open the obstacles, several of which require walking, swimming, or crawling across water. I finished two laps and I thought I could get another in before sunset. Then I would layer up. I was wrong. I was about halfway through the course when it got dark. I was still wearing my speedo, and I had several water obstacles in front of me. At one point, the medic saw me shivering and told me he’d give me a few minutes to compose myself, but if I couldn’t stop shivering, he’d DQ me and send me to the medical tent. I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths and found my warmth. I made it through all the water obstacles and when I got back to my tent, I put on my wetsuit and my wife laid on top of me to keep me from immediately going out again and to warm me up. That’s the coldest I’ve ever been.
MSM: Let’s go back a bit and talk about your kidney donation to your friend. What was that process like when you found out you were both a match? Physically do you feel any different? Also, how is your friend holding up?
Ben: So I lost a bet. No. I’m kidding. I met Chris in 2005. He was a member and past president of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) and I was a college student and community activist. I crashed AABANY’s annual gala dinner because I wanted to hear the keynote speaker, Dale Minami. At the dinner, I noticed that there was this guy who was wearing a cowboy hat. I saw him again at the afterparty and introduced myself. Chris was the guy wearing the cowboy hat.
Chris was a criminal defense attorney (he’s retired now), and mentor to law students and young lawyers. When Chris attended UConn Law School he was the only Asian-American in his entire class. We bonded over our experiences with racist white bullies. He became my mentor and is one of the people that convinced me to attend law school.
Fast forward to 2011. I had graduated law school and was the co-chair of AABANY’s Student Outreach Committee. Chris told me that he was experiencing kidney failure because of diabetes. He said he was considering approaching AABANY’s membership to ask if anybody would consider donating a kidney to him. I told him that I’d support him when he made the ask. After some reflection, I decided that this was one of those things that I should do if I’m asking other people to consider doing it. I went and got tested in September 2011. The testing involved going through a physical, speaking to a social worker to ensure that I was in the right state of mind, and taking of blood samples to do the matching test. I didn’t hear from the hospital after the tests. I assumed that meant Chris and I weren’t a match. I mentioned that to Chris right before I left to go backpacking around Guatemala in December.
While I was backpacking in Guatemala and getting my chest and upper arms tattooed, Chris had a doctor’s appointment. At the end of it, Chris mentioned that I had gotten tested, but hadn’t heard anything. The doctor told Chris that it probably meant he and I weren’t a match, but took a look at the results anyway. The test results showed that Chris and I were a match.
I was out of pocket until after New Year’s Day when I returned from Guatemala. Chris was one of the first people to call me. He told me about the test results and asked if I wanted to go through with it. I thought that if I have two of something that I only need one of, and there’s somebody that needs one of them, then I should share.
The night before the operation in May 2012, I organized a bon voyage karaoke party for my kidney. One of my friends used a Sharpie to write, “Take One (1) Kidney. NOTHING ELSE!” on my torso. It was meant as a joke, but I’m glad I did it because the hospital almost mixed Chris and me up at check-in the next morning. The operation went well, and Chris was able to continue practicing law for several more years before retiring a couple of years ago. I can’t compare being a runner with one kidney versus being a runner with two kidneys because I only became a runner after donating. One thing that I notice is that while I avoid painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen because taking a lot of either isn’t good for my kidney, there are some ultrarunners that take those painkillers before racing as a preventative measure.
MSM: At what point on your run journey did you say to yourself, I have to be a voice, a person that will bring issues to light and have a willingness to have the necessary dialogue to create change?
Ben: I’ve been an agitator, community activist, community organizer, and uppity Chinaman far longer than I’ve been a runner. On my first day of the first grade, the same day that the boys ganged up on me for the first time, the school administrators put me in the English as a second language (ESL) class without testing me. Had they bothered to test me or even speak to me, they would have realized that English was the language my mother, brother and I spoke at home. I was reading and writing at or above the level of the other first graders. It didn’t dawn on me that I was in the ESL class until recess. The ESL kids went to the library for extra class time while the other kids played in the schoolyard. Outraged, I cursed out the teacher. That’s when I realized that if I didn’t speak up for myself, well-meaning adults doing their jobs would define me and impose limits on my potential.
Once I became involved in running, I noticed the rule about keeping “politics” out of running, and that white people define what is and isn’t political. I attempted to challenge that rule by wearing the words Black Lives Matter to running events. It was jarring when all of a sudden white attitudes about the words “Black Lives Matter” shifted after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The leadership of Brooklyn Track Club posted a statement in support of Black Lives Matter on Instagram and Facebook. That was followed by a period of silence.
I think the reason for that silence was because the people in leadership weren’t used to thinking and speaking about racism, diversity, and inclusion and there was apprehension about saying the wrong thing. I, along with other BIPOC team members felt burdened by the weight of the silence, so we created a subtopic in the club chat dedicated to discussing Black Lives Matter. Then I decided to create a virtual weekly meeting space in Zoom where all team members are invited to vent, unpack, and process. This isn’t a “come listen to us teach you” or a “here’s today’s topic” space. No preordained topics, no structure, no fear of saying the wrong thing. I feel that it’s important to have this space because talking about race, diversity, and inclusion is the best way to get better at talking about race, diversity, and inclusion. I’ve been offering this space for Brooklyn Track Club every Monday since June.
MSM: Politically it seems we’re getting back to some sort of normalcy, what are some of your thoughts/feelings on the past election?
Ben: Trump is normal. It has been the norm since the Republican party and Republican voters submitted to him in 2016. In 2020, more Republican voters supported Trump than in 2016. 71 million Americans voted for Trump. His ideology that’s based on being cruel to enemies of white people will outlive him because it has for all intents and purposes become the institution of the Republican Party. I wish that the Democratic Party hadn’t spent so much money and time trying to win over Republican-leaning voters. It’s the way that the Democratic Party continues to center whiteness and white voters.
The Republicans know who they are: Trump. Democrats fight over whether the party ought to be trying to win back white Republican voters, or whether they ought to be moving in the BIPOC progressive direction in order to grow their base. In 2020, the centrists who want to focus the party on white voters won the primary and then eked out a close victory in an election they would have lost if 230,000 Americans hadn’t died of COVID-19. I hope it’s a wake-up call to the leadership and the voters. They need to invest more of themselves and more institutional resources into educating Americans about what progress actually is rather than letting Republicans define and direct the conversation.
MSM: What’s next for Ben Chan?
Ben: I I have two podcasts that will launch in the next couple of months. The first podcast is titled Tête-à-têtes. Basically, Sean Callaway and I interview interesting people. I’ve known Sean since I was 15 years old. He was my college counselor, and a father figure, and at 78 years old he’s still teaching and guiding BIPOC high school students in the Upward Bound Program at Pace University. We don’t talk about any of that on our podcast. We don’t really talk about ourselves. Our podcast is all about the guests.
The other podcast that I’m developing is titled Bad Asian American. Here’s the snippet I wrote about it: “There are over 21 million “Asian Americans” living across the United States of America. Despite being the fastest-growing demographic in the US, there are very few public dialogues about what it means to be Asian American. One of the main reasons for this is because the term “Asian American” sucks. Instead of presenting the various colors of the rainbow that encompass a wide spectrum of ethnic, regional, spiritual, gender, sex, and generational experiences, the label “Asian American” flattens those identities. This is a podcast for people who reject that label but are determined to redefine it because they cannot escape it. This is a podcast for people who live between Asian and American (and other) communities and don’t fit perfectly into either. This is a podcast for Bad Asian Americans.”
Also, I’m going to turn the Zoom space I had been offering for Brooklyn Track Club into an affinity space for runners who are doing the work of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion who need a space to vent, unpack, process, and decompress. I find that we’re taking on so much work, and going to so many meetings that we need a space where there’s no work to do, nobody talking at us, and no agenda. I’ll make the announcement on my social media soon.
Finally, I’m creating the same kind of affinity group space for Asians and Asian Americans. A lot of DEI conversations rightfully focus on the scourge and breadth of anti-Black racism. There’s usually less space, patience, and time for public dialogue about what I described above, and about anti-Asian racism, such as the kinds of harassment and violence Asian Americans have been confronted with due to COVID-19. The Bad Asian American podcast is the public response to that. The affinity group will be for Asians and Asian Americans to come together. I don’t see Asian folk around here other than at the Chinese and Japanese restaurants, so I need something like this.
MSM: Any last words for our readers?
Ben: Running culture needs to change. Conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion need to become normal. These conversations ought to be happening at the club, regional, and national level regularly. If your running club is all white or almost all-white, then you especially need to be having the conversations and peeling back the layers of why BIPOC runners aren’t present, and what you’re doing at the organizational level and as individuals to create inclusive spaces, and to confront white supremacy.
I haven’t engaged with the local running club in Keene because it’s all white, and they’ve said nothing about DEI or BLM. They might feel like they don’t have to because they’re all white, but not saying anything is one of the ways they preserve the whiteness of the club. They seem like perfectly nice people who are not interested in engaging in tough conversations much less doing the work. They won’t listen to me, but they will listen to fellow white runners. I don’t need white allies to stand behind me. I need them to be out there confronting white supremacy in places that BIPOC runners are not welcome.
MSM: From team Mid Strike we salute you friend and we thank you for your voice and your continued fight to show that we must have proper presentation and support in the run community. We are here for you and we will support you.
Ben: I appreciate all you’re doing to highlight Black runners and voices. Again, I’m flattered to share a space with so many beautiful, excellent people.