When I sat down on Monday morning to map out blog and social content for the week, everything seemed unimportant. I know that hundreds of thousands of Americans were protesting the unnecessary death of another black man and systemic racism more broadly this weekend, but let me tell you about how much I love the new Salomon Sense Pro 4. How tone-deaf.
So instead I opted to lay low, but not check out — the week has been an opportunity to watch, listen, and learn; to reflect on my own white upper middle-class privilege; and to consider if and how I could be part of a solution that would be more material than simply condemning racism or blacking out my Instagram feed but that would also be achievable for a company with one full-time employee that’s been upended by a global pandemic.
From very early on, my parents, teachers, and coaches led me to believe that I could do anything that I wanted. And I generally proved them right: I attended and ran at one of nation’s premier universities, Duke; I walked across North America and around the American West; I started a guiding business that hinges on the trust of complete strangers; and I bought a house in Boulder, Colo., that’s an 18-minute run from the famed Flatirons.
In a truly perfect Union, similar focus and hard work by a person of any race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic background would generate the same results. But obviously that’s not where we’re at, in neither outcomes nor opportunities.
On my Sea-to-Sea Route hike in rural North Dakota in spring 2005, a local policeman pulled up behind me because, “We received a report of a man with a backpack walking down the road.” When he told me that and asked for my ID, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t; but he was respectful and unassuming, and I was quickly on my way since I had a good story and no warrants for my arrest. Never did I think that I might end up like George Floyd or even Boulder’s own Zayd Atkinson, and never did it remind me of stern warnings from my parents about how to behave around the police.
To date, I’ve embraced few causes for the greater good, even those that are very close to home like the protection of public lands. They’re either not my fight or it’s not my time, my thinking has (selfishly) been.
So probably like many people and many small businesses, I’m at the beginning of the process, don’t necessarily know my eventual destination, and am intimidated by not knowing what I don’t know. To start I plan to borrow Amanda’s copy of Me and White Supremacy; longer-term I’m compelled to further diversity the guide roster (which has greatly benefited from female representation but which is still all-white) and to create a scholarship fund (which I’ve wanted to do but so far failed to implement).
I’m open to other suggestions. What do you think are appropriate and sustainable measures for an organization like mine to be part of the solution? And who and what would you recommend reading, watching, listening to, following, and donating to?
I have admired your determination and accomplishments since before I was an amateur long distance hiker.
Your words and thoughts on current events are on point, in my opinion. Well said from the perspective of a privileged, middle aged, white male. I’m in the same privileged position.
Here is my advice;
1. Educate yourself.
Learn more about America’s civil injustices post 1960’s like redlining and stop and frisk policies. Broken window policing is another good subject to study. Also, learn more about the amount of power police have over communities of color and poor people in America. For instance; learn about how they investigate themselves for misconduct and learn about qualified immunity.
Keep the momentum because you’re an inspiration to many of the people who need to understand this.
See you up the trail,
Will (Akuna) Robinson
Akunahikes on IG
Thanks for being transparent as to where you are in your process and your goal, as you currently understand it. You seem to be off on the right foot, in my opinion. White Fragility is a book recommendation that’s been going around. I’ve just started it myself, but it seems helpful so far.
An article about resources about inclusivity in the hiking communiity from an outfit pretty close to home:
You might reach out to Outdoor Afro (.com). They’re national. They did a Kilimanjaro expedition a couple of summers ago that was the “first all-black group from the U.S.”
America’s outdoors and long-distance trails especially are often seen as places that celebrate diversity (you often hear how you can meet people of all walks of life on the PCT, for example), with one major exception: one doesn’t meet many people of color, if at all. Unfortunately, whenever this issue comes up in facebook discussions or even in person, the common narrative is to assert that the outdoors are open to everyone and that non-white people simply choose not to hike, even though there are many contributing factors, from geographical (lots of wilderness is in the West, which is historically more white) to economic (having free time and disposable income) to sociological (what is common in your community) to historical (the woods have never been seen as safe for black folks; think lynching). It’d be great if people like you, which have bandwidth and authority in the hiking community, would recognize, and talk more about, those issues.
Some content recommendations below, and a much larger list can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/johannjacob.vanniekerk/posts/4047521888655072.
Reading: Angie Thomas “The hate U give”, Isabelle Wilkerson “The warmth of other suns”, Carol Anderson “White rage”.
Listening: Michelle Obama “Becoming” on Audible.
Watching: Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” (or read the whole book if you have time”.
Just a quick illustration. One of the female hiking groups compiled a post affirming the BLM movement with links to specific resources as to how to be an ally in the outdoors. Many members, who clearly see a value in a women-only page, are against it and don’t want to see ‘yet another post on politics’. More discussion specific to the outdoor community is needed as to how being able to remain apolitical, to want to only talk trees, gear and mountains, and to generally tune out is white privilege, when lives of POC are very literally on the line. Silence is political, which is why it is so heartening to see your post.
Maybe this gentleman could offer you some insights or direction?
PS – you spoke to our Boy Scout hikers about 15 years ago at a NJ outdoor store.
We need white people like ourselves to work together with Black people to make an organised & sustained effort to bring in the changes that are required.
White Privilege is such a powerful force, largely because it is so insidious (which means that it proceeds in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects), and most white people don’t even realise that it’s a thing.
Their very claim that “I’m not racist” only goes to show that they haven’t yet understood what the problem of White Privilege is.
Here in Australia, we had a Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody back in 1991 (almost 30 years ago). Since that time, there have been a further 432 black deaths in custody, and many of the findings & recommendations of the Royal Commission have been ignored & not implemented. However, when I talk to my white friends & family about this, they can’t understand why I’m outraged that Black & Indigenous Australians are still dying in our prisons at the hands of our police, because they don’t want to believe that there’s a problem; or that being White they might be a part of the problem, which is institutionalised in society.
This was National Reconciliation Week (for reconciliation between Black Aboriginal & White Australia), during which an ancient Aboriginal site was destroyed by a mining company under authorisation of the Government, and a 17 year old Indigenous Black youth was assaulted on camera by a white Police Officer. After viewing what happened, the white Police Commissioner said that the police officer accused of assault had “Had a bad day”, as if this was some kind of excuse, when no one stands up for a black man accused of anything & gives them a let-off defence by saying that they’d had a bad day.
The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) goes to show that when normal people are given unfettered authority over another powerless group, a large number of those in authority will abuse that authority, and abuse those in a weaker position who are unable to fight back.
This is how racism & abuse get institutionalised in a society, with those in authority being none the wiser that anything is wrong.
We’re now sick to the teeth of this kind of thing, and we’re going to go to the very central institutions of our society that are causing these problems to redress that which is wrong.
The broadstroke lessons people take from the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) may have validity, but it increasingly appears that any validity it may have does not come from the SPE itself, which is reported to have been poorly controlled and largely scripted. Interview and many links, including one to the debunking APA paper here:
Money quote from Vox article: ““I took it as a kind of an improv exercise,” one of the guards told reporter Ben Blum. “I believed that I was doing what the researchers wanted me to do.” ”
I realize this is tangential to the primary issues here, but IMO citing the study weakens one’s argument rather than strengthens it. Best stick to more solid ground.
Thank you for you openness and lack of defensiveness concerning this central issue. Your company leads the way when it comes to rigorous, situation focused planning and the utilization of modern skill and gear choices to improve the outdoor experience. Perhaps you could offer skills training to groups that want to bring POC of color on backpacking trips. There are many institutional and cultural barriers that are keeping POC from participating in backpacking at the same level as Whites. When they do get out there, blistered feet from heavy leather boots, a sore back from carrying unnecessary gear, and a poor experience resulting from an unrealistic itinerary on less than stellar trails is not going to make them want to come back. A goal of your trips seems to be to train clients in the skills that empower them to reach new levels in their outdoor experience. People from any background can benefit from this.
Perhaps start local, check in with local community agencies. You are known in the outdoor community for you ability to research and plan, finding potential groups can’t be any harder than finding a suitable vapor barrier system was.
I acknowledge that it is uncomfortable and daunting to learn how to be a good ally. Many of us are learning together. Thank you, Andrew, for using your platform with open-mindedness and a pledge to commit.
I like Crocamole’s idea of training the trainer. I do think, however, it would be important for everyone to make sure that you are far enough along in your journey before taking something like that on.
Here are three good starting points with resources that I’m continuing to learn from and have found useful:
Thanks for doing this. There is a long and complicated history of why people of color are not participating in outdoor activities. Here’s a primer:
I am a bit cynical that this can easily be overcome in adults who have lived most of their lives dealing with this. When you grew up afraid that you may be attacked in the outdoors–and your fear was justified–it would be very challenging to overcome that even though things are better now.
The key to engagement is the children. When children learn to enjoy these things, the parents often go along in support. I know it’s not your thing, but engaging in the youth is really important.
Hey Andrew, Scene On Radio is a podcast produced by the Center for Documentary Studies at your alma mater. I’m listening to Season 4: Our Democracy – The Land That Never Has Been Yet. It reviews the true nature of our democracy starting from the Declaration of Independence through Reconstruction, the civil rights movements in the 60s through present day. Many of us assume our democracy is eroding, but a look through our history shows that suppression of actual democracy and structural racism are features of our system, not bugs. I haven’t listened to Season 2: Seeing White yet, but I understand it’s also excellent.
You could consider making your trip scholarships available only to people of color. It would be similar to race entry discounts or special lottery considerations for women, in that you wouldn’t be disadvantaging anyone by doing so but at the same time giving a leg up to an underrepresented demographic. People might complain of “unfairness” if you do so, but those who do would probably be white and even more probably be men, and they as a demographic don’t need a leg up and can likely access the outdoors in some other manner as well. If you’re able to offer scholarships, this seems like an easy way to diversify your trips.
An organization called SURJ exists, Showing Up for Racial Justice. It’s for white people to learn how to be allies and learn about racism.
Cheers for broaching the subject. That first step is always a hard one, and I too have felt a bit paralyzed by the unknown. I routinely come to your site for concise, thoughtful advice, so it’s good to read your thoughts on this topic. I am starting with my local police chief and mayor, to inquire about what sort of training, and oversight they employ to assure fair treatment. Keep us updated on your path, its one that many of us are on.
Thank you for this. Over the last week it has been disheartening to read so very many racist comments on a number of hiking and backpacking Facebook groups as discussions raged. Often truly raged.
You have a voice, a platform, and are well-known and highly regarded in the community. Please use your visibility and influence to talk about this, not only now, but in the future. Talk about your thoughts on the book. Share your progress in diversifying your guide ranks and establishing a scholarship program, ask questions about diversity and inclusion when you talk with others, etc.
In short, make communications about this commonplace so it isn’t considered odd when they occur. Normalize it.
I don’t mean to imply this is solely your responsibility; it belongs to all of us. You just happen to have a larger microphone.
Thank you for posting this, for entering this discussion with curiosity and humility, and using your platform to amplify these issues. I am an avid lifelong backpacker who has followed your adventures, as well as a white person living in a rural area in Vermont trying to do antiracism work.
I think what others have said above is excellent. I also want to share some things I’ve learned to always ask of myself and other white folks in this work:
– How are we making sure that our work is accountable to people of color? White people have a tendency to show up and believe we know the solutions to racism, and end up doing and saying things that are not actually helpful and not what people of color (POC) asked for.
– Do our efforts result in less harm towards, and transfer of power and resources to, POC communities? White people have a tendency to do a lot of intellectualizing, navel-gazing, emotional deflection, or “acknowledging our privilege” none of which actually change the disparities of money, power, and violence in our society.
– How are we continuing to learn about the history and present incarnations of racism, and unlearn our own internalized white supremacy? As white people, so much about the functioning of structural racism has been deliberately obscured from us. It is our responsibility to change that. Also white supremacy is a culture that we all grew up in and is all around us and inside us; we need to be constantly learning to notice it and challenge it in ourselves and the communities, organizations, and systems we’re part of.
Here are a few additional books that I think are good resources:
– How To Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
– White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
– My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem
I also want to add to the discussion the perspective of indigenous rights and decolonization. The legacy of land theft and genocide of indigenous people is, I think, just as important to understand and challenge as the legacy of enslavement of Africans. Wherever we are on this continent we are on lands that have been occupied by European settler colonialists without being ceded by their original Native inhabitants (see https://native-land.ca for details). Those tribal communities still live here in sovereign nations and practice cultural traditions that embody very different relationships with land than what we who are white European settlers practice. I believe the outdoor community really needs to grapple with this. There are a lot of ways that I see white outdoors-people bringing a colonizer mentality to our activities, from our “conquering nature” mentality, to our gear optimizing consumerism, to even our basic view of some land as “wilderness.” I believe the Vermont Wilderness School (https://vermontwildernessschool.org/) is doing some profound work to challenge settler colonialism and indigenous erasure in the outdoor community. I would encourage all of us to learn about this history and about indigenous / native / decolonization movements, and to incorporate these perspectives into our experience of the outdoors.
Dismantling white-supremacy is lifelong work; we are also in a critical moment when antiracist white people need to really show up. Thank you for making space for this conversation, and I look forward to hearing where you take it next!
Andrew – Thank you for your thoughts. You are an outdoors “celebrity” and role model for many and I believe that your voice matters a great deal in the mostly white hiking community. I have a few other suggestions…
1) I wonder if you could amplify your message by posting on Outside Online or other widely-read outdoor platforms. Your blog has also led me to a number of other online writers over the years – https://bedrockandparadox.com/, https://pmags.com/, https://sectionhiker.com/ are some of my favorites. Maybe you could expand and amplify your efforts by teaming up with one or more of them?
2) Action! Just found out about this…I am sure that there are many other examples. https://www.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2020/02/house-subcommittee-hears-witnesses-outdoors-for-all-act
3) I would donate to your scholarship fund! I also used to work at the YMCA Earth Service Corps in Seattle…my boss taught me to budget the cost of scholarships into the registration fees so that participants were helping to pay for scholarships to diversify the program.
4) I live in Boston and volunteer with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s YOP (Youth Opportunities Program). https://www.outdoors.org/youth-programs/youth-opportunities-program The Sierra Club has a similar program. https://www.sierraclub.org/ico. I wonder if there is something in Colorado that could benefit from your support.
5) Finally, the “train the trainer” idea mentioned above is great. What if you hired a young POC at a college outing club to work as an intern or “guide-in-training” on one of your trips? I think that getting a “behind the scenes” experience while also being paid well for the summer would help even more than just receiving a participant scholarship.
Thanks again for sharing! I recall AT thruhiker complaints about “hoods in the woods” programs that they would run into on the trail in 2000. I wish that I spoke up 20 years ago but late is better than never! We all have a lot of work to do…
Tommy “Mozes” Hayes
AT 2000/PCT 2003/CDT 2005
Re Outside Online, it syndicates some but not all of my columns from here. This probably isn’t one they will run with, as they tend to stick strictly to my backpacking gear and skills posts (so nothing related to trips, Covid, dad’s retirement, running, etc.) They have covered this topic a little bit; I wonder if we’ll see more this week.
Re the other websites, I’d suggest you contact them directly as I can’t speak for them. Personally, it seemed difficult to have published normal content last week as if nothing was going on.
Thank you for your other thoughts, many good suggestions.
Thank you for using your voice. As other’s have mentioned diversifying your client base would be a great way to ensure increasing access to under-represented demographics in the outdoors. Perhaps this could be done through a scholarship/discount and/or need based.
In qualitative terms this will only enrich your guided trips as it will add nuance, perspective, experience that seems to have been absent (judging by your recent trip pictures), please don’t take that as a value judgement, just an observation.
Thank you again Andrew.
a great book that inspired me into being inclusive: Michael A Singer: Untethered Soul
This 60s-era civil rights veteran would kindly but firmly question your use of “systemic racism” and “white privilege.” There are those with the megaphones who drown out other voices from within the black community – who don’t fit the popular narrative. I’ll limit my post to one link, but this important interview actually represents many, many in the black community that get drowned out by social media and cable news. Don’t let “education” of these issues be one-sided.
Bob Woodson Talks George Floyd Protests, Riots & Racism, 49 min.
Those of you who are recommending White Fragility:
A quote from the author, Robin DiAngelo, as follows, referring to us, “white people”:
“You’re a racist, pure and simple, and without a lifetime of conscious effort you always will be.
You just can’t help it, you see, because you’ve been swaddled in the cocoon of white privilege since you came sputtering out of your mother’s womb, protesting the indignity of it all.“
I find this utterly offensive. I reject being labeled as such. You don’t know me, my history, my family, or my beliefs.
Simply put, IMHO, this is an outright racist statement.
Now let’s pause, take a deep breath, put aside any anger and hostility, and recall the words of an American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King
I don’t know anything about the book you are talking about or what the phrase white fragility is supposed to mean in that context, but as a white person hearing the phrase for the first time I would guess it is talking about reactions just like this.
I do know that systematic, culturally ingrained racism means that we’re all part of it whether we want to be or not. And beyond that system, research has shown that anyone growing up in that context has many unconscious biases against non-white males (including among non-white males themselves!).
When someone points out that I’m benefiting from a terrible system I can choose to get upset because I never asked for the system, or I can choose to do what I can to change the system.
If that person makes their point less politely than I’d like, or perhaps just using words in a different way than I understand them, I can again choose to get upset and ignore their whole point, or I can choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, particularly if they’ve been subject to oppression and pain that I’ve lived my life free from, and I can choose to learn more about the context from which they speak and and how they intend their words to be understood.
I treat everyone equally, regardless of the color of their skin. If that’s makers me a racist, so be it.
Everyone has implicit biases, so on that point the author isn’t wrong. You’re free to be offended all you like, but you still have implicit bias.
That sounds an awful lot like original sin. “Do what I say or you’re a racist” isn’t a very good way to start a dialogue either. It should be enough to treat everyone as equals, regardless of the color of their skin. Activism is good, but should not be compulsory or even expected.
Check out this website by Harvard called Project Implicit. It allows you to test for your own personal biases. It’s interesting to see how implicit bias exists within yourself even when you work hard to treat everyone the same.
A thought on activism… men were the only people with the privilege and power to grant women the right to vote back in the day. The men who didn’t want to be activists and felt that treating women with respect was enough perpetuated inequality. I’m very grateful for my right to vote and the men who refused the status quo. Activism should be expected because the privileged are the only ones with the power to create equality. Otherwise the status quo persists.
The IAT is deeeply, deeply flawed and ignores known science on mental heuristics and familiarity. Living in a majority white environment doesn’t mean I have an implicit bias against African Americans.
Furthermore, African Americans have the right to vote and peacefully protest, so your comparison is moot.
Resources? I am going to recommend the audio books Just Mercy and How to be an Anti-Racist. Also the Pulitzer-winning Essay/Podcast series (just 6 episodes) 1619. I like these because they talk about events in our lifetimes.
I recommend you BUY the books from black writers and not borrow them.
Invite BIPOC guest writers to contribute to your blog, which both amplifies their voice through your platform as well as normalizes BIPOC in outdoor spaces. You have female-specific content (finally, thank you!). Now have BIPOC-specific content. White readers may grumble, but who cares? Men can handle learning about periods. White people can handle learning about BIPOC in the outdoors.
Ethno-masochistic social justice warriorism seems to be a quasi-religion for people who don’t have one — virtue-signalling by weird elite white people. It doesn’t fly among anyone else (of any color), who just think you’re weird. I lost respect for you after this absurd display of signalling, which has zero to do with your core work.
Love it, dude.