KPE's Shalom Brown challenges contemporary understandings of mixed-race & physical movement

A poster by one of the participants in Shalom Brown's thesis study, which challenges contemporary understandings of mixed-race and physical movement (image provided by Shalom Brown)
A poster by one of the participants in Shalom Brown's thesis study, which challenges contemporary understandings of mixed-race and physical movement (image provided by Shalom Brown)

After completing her undergraduate degree in kinesiology at the University of British Columbia, Shalom Brown knew she wanted to pursue race-based research for her master’s degree. 

“I’ve always been interested in research on racialized communities, specifically the Black and mixed-race communities, because they reflect my own lived experiences,” says Brown, who recently defended her master’s thesis and will be graduating this November from the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE). “But, until I entered graduate studies, I had to do my own research on the topic. 

“For example, if we learned about feminist theories in class, I would then go home and research Black feminist theories and apply those areas of thought into my assignments and final papers.”

She interviewed for a few different programs and any time she expressed her research interests, the name of Janelle Joseph, assistant professor at KPE, kept coming up.

“I reached out to her about the possibility of working under her supervision and once I was accepted into the program, my mind was made up,” says Brown. “Professor Joseph’s Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity and Anti-Racism in Sport (IDEAS) research lab is doing groundbreaking work in kinesiology and her commitment to fostering a research community that allows us to explore our unique interests and positionalities made the decision incredibly easy.”

For her thesis project, Brown wanted to explore how mixed-race people understood their racial identity, and how this could potentially lead us to reimagine our understandings of what counts as physical movement. 

“On the one side, I explored who gets to call themselves mixed, Black, white, or brown and why, and on the other side, who gets to call themselves active or inactive and why,” says Brown.

Participants shared that calling themselves mixed or associating with other labels like Black or brown was dependent on external perceptions of their race, for example from strangers, but also how they internally understood what each label meant. For example, some participants struggled to identify as just Black or brown, Brown explains, because these labels are broad and often dictated by external appearance. 

“This made it difficult for participants to understand who they were and how they identified,” she says. 

Similar themes were found when participants identified themselves as active or inactive. This was largely dictated by what was considered to be acceptable physical movement by society. 

“The difference was that with their racial identity they were able to come to an understanding that regardless of their struggles to understand themselves or how other people may see them, they were able to resist being put into a box of one thing vs. another and claim their whole identity as mixed,” says Brown. “This was a lot more difficult when they were considering physical movement, as there was no in-between category between active and inactive that participants could relate to.

“For example, one participant categorized themselves as inactive, but then shared how they walked their children to school every day, or took the stairs rather than the elevator, or danced during study breaks. They considered themselves inactive but in doing so ignored the daily movements they participated in.”

These findings, Brown says, are important because a lot of people, whether they are mixed-race or not, struggle with having to fit into boxes set by society. 

“Race and physical movement aren’t one size fits all identities and seeing them that way can make it challenging for people to live fully as themselves,” says Brown. “By identifying these challenges and demonstrating ways to think and live outside the box, we can work towards creating a social world where everyone can be themselves.”
Next up for Brown will be pursuing a PhD degree at the Women and Gender Studies Institute at U of T.  

“It’s a bittersweet departure from kinesiology,” says Brown. “The faculty and discipline have a special place in my heart and I am deeply grateful for all of the opportunities and learnings that have come from my time in KPE and with Professor Joseph.

“But, I am excited to venture off on my own and see what this new chapter will bring. I am also continuing my work with Professor Joseph in the IDEAS research lab and will remain a proud KPE alum.”