Bandanas and Blackness at the Gym….A Very Bad Mix

When you write a blog called Black Girl in Maine, I guess it’s no surprise that at a certain point, people remember you when shady racial incidents go down in the state of Maine.  A local reader of both my columns and this space contacted me today to ask if I had heard about what had happened to a local Black woman. I had not but curiosity got the best of me and I did some sleuthing (shout out to the Man Unit aka the real J-school grad and journalist who has taught me a few tricks of his trade).

What I found left me speechless and pissed off and with a story that needs to be shared. This local woman lives in Maine’s largest city, Portland and she is a member of certain nationwide chain of gyms who claims as one of their many selling points to be a “Judgment Free Zone where members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.”

One would imagine that with a philosophy like that one could go to the gym and get their sweat on in peace but apparently when you are a Black woman at the gym wearing a bandana on your head, you are suspect. See, this local woman was approached by the gym staff and told that her choice of headgear violated the club’s policy on headgear specifically “no headgear other than ball caps”  this gal was wearing a bandana to keep the sweat out of her eyes. Now while I don’t belong to any gym, once upon a time in my former life, I did and I specifically remembering using a scarf on my head. I don’t do baseball caps…ever.  But I digress, the story gets better, this woman (who has asked that at the moment I not share her name publicly though if you are in Maine, chances are you already know who this is)  the staff informed her when she questioned that policy that in some areas bandanas insight gang affiliations.

Yep, this black woman who at the time was the only fly in the buttermilk at the gym was told that she could not wear a bandana (which was white) to keep sweat off of her face because she might be trying to throw up gang signs on the treadmill. First off, this is Maine, like the whitest damn state in America or is it the second whitest this year? We tussle every year with Vermont for the top spot. Getting back to the point though, this woman visually surveyed the space and saw others wearing headgear other than hats but no one was telling them, that they might be inciting the next war between the “lobsters” and the “shrimps”.

To approach a Black woman and tell her that her choice of headgear might incite gang activity is to play into some of the basest stereotypes that exist about Black people in general. I am pretty certain I have never heard of a gang war breaking out at any gym. Furthermore, without even seeing this woman in her gym attire, I am pretty certain that she didn’t look like a gang member but when we only see the color of one’s skin and not the character of one’s content, it is easy to give in to stereotypes.

In the end this woman will be leaving this judgment free zone gym but clearly the staff of the Portland, Maine location might want to consider some sensitivity and diversity training since apparently the manager wouldn’t even make eye contact with this woman when she complained.

Just another day in America of living while Black…but hey, Happy Black History Month.

8 thoughts on “Bandanas and Blackness at the Gym….A Very Bad Mix”

  1. As an uncle of three half black nephews, this disturbs me. As a resident in northern California my nephews could very well be targeted becuase of their mixed race. Here in cali, we have some of the most notorious gangs in the nation , and racist companies could use that fact against them. No person, black, white, Latino, Asian or native american should be judged due to their appearance let alone because of a bandana.

  2. The same thing happened to my husband last month at the same gym!!!! He is black, but Dominican. He grew up in the middle of nowhere in the Caribbean and has only lived in the US for 3 years and is literally clueless about bandanas and its ‘gang affiliation’, but they told him the same thing, because he too uses bandanas to keep his hair out of his face while exercising. When I went to the counter to complain, they told me that because they are a national chain, they need to enforce all corporate rules in order to keep their license. I can understand that, but it still felt like he had a target on his back because of the color of his skin. Main is so damn white! We have only lived here 3 months but you can just feel it everywhere! Thanks for sharing…

  3. Simply, I can’t. Let me just stick with my one-room workout studio/lightweight gym. Judgment free my ***. kmt. I’m sorry, I don’t have light follicled hair. Women of color (not just “black”) aren’t ideal as headgear during workouts. (H*ll, I don’t even own and darned cap!)

  4. Well damn. The hell?! Sooooo… nobody’s ever seen a black woman work out? We STAY with head gear on our heads and caps are a no-go if you don’t want to sweat out your hair to within an inch of its life. Damn. Get a clue. And I’d be down for posting a “get it together” message on their corporate facebook page.

  5. I’m a member but will absolutely quit if they don’t apologize for this fucked up, shameful racism. Shamed them on their corporate FB wall– that’s the kind of thing that works with them maybe?

  6. Ummm…I go to this gym. And I have had the same experience. There is a branch in my hometown of Ohio that has the same policy. It is a nationwide policy of the gym. They clearly don’t understand what we need to do to keep out hair in place and get our workout on. I have tried to explain it to them. My cousin left the “judgement free zone” for this same policy.

    As a medical student one of things that I hope to address is the epidemic of obesity among black women. A lot of women don’t work out because of the issue with our hair. “The judgement free zone” is not helping with this. But it is not going to change if we don’t address it. I think we should write letters to the national office on this issue.

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