The conversation we have to start having

I’ve never felt qualified to speak publicly for a whole group of people before. Now, though, I have something to say. I fell into the outdoor community because I felt like an outsider, pun not intended. (Okay, maybe intended.) I didn’t feel like I fit in until I found the world I’m part of now. That’s lucky for me, but it’s also possible because of a really ugly thing that’s part everything I do every day: White Privilege.

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Each week, I sit down to write a blog post. Sometimes they detail the intensely personal struggles and failures of my life; sometimes it’s just a lighthearted anecdote about kids or dogs or things I like to do. I mostly know how to write about one thing: playing outside.

I started My Alaskan Odyssey when I moved to Anchorage for graduate school in 2012. It was easier to write an occasional post about moose or giant vegetables or the frostbite on my toes than it was to call or email individual family and friends, who were invariably curious about my new life in a place they weren’t convinced had grocery stores.

As my life and my writing evolved, this became a space for musings on my life as a lady who likes to do stuff outside, on my career (and, occasionally, lack thereof) as an outdoor educator, and, more broadly, on the outdoor community itself. It has not, historically, been a space for current events, except as they pertain directly to my life, and certainly not for politics. I’ve never felt qualified to speak publicly for a whole group of people before.

Now, though, I have something to say. I—and, in fact, most of my outdoor adventurer-type friends—came to this life because I felt like an outsider, pun not intended. (Okay, maybe intended.) I didn’t feel like I fit in until I found the world I’m part of now.

That’s lucky for me, but it’s also possible because of a really ugly thing that’s part everything I do every day: White Privilege. It is possible for me to spend my leisure time skiing around wearing thousands of dollars’ worth of gear because I, in everything I do, am a beneficiary of institutional racism.

While I’m shopping for expensive puffy jackets and bemoaning the cost of repairs on my mostly-functional Subaru, people of color have to live in fear that they will be murdered by police as they go about their daily business. Literally.

This is unconscionable. It is deeply upsetting on every level, and although it’s uncomfortable to discuss, I realize it’s crucial for me to recognize that I am part of the problem. I don’t want to be part of a system that marginalizes people on the basis of their innate characteristics, but here we are. With my white privilege comes responsibility.

In the last few weeks, I’ve struggled to come up with things to write about—not because I’ve run out of things to say; I’ve rarely in my life been rendered speechless—but because in light of what’s going on in the world right now, another one of my tongue-in-cheek lists just doesn’t seem appropriate.

The outdoor community has accepted into the fold so many outsiders—so many people who, like me, didn’t fit in before we found rocks and snow and mountains and rivers. That’s great, but we’re also a terribly homogenous community, and that has to change. Engaging with the natural world should not be an exclusively white experience; it is—it should be—a human experience. There are so many ways to interact with the places we love best, and denying those experiences to anyone, even passively, by way of saying or doing nothing, is yet another way of othering them.

I wish I had a big idea, a solution, a way to magically open doors and tear down walls and invite into this community everyone who needs it. I don’t. I’m just one well-intentioned but largely sheltered and clueless person of great privilege with a very expensive degree in outdoor education and a blog.

Here’s what I do know: it’s hard to stay silent when you’ve watched community building in action. I have compiled a list, here, of information and resources that I think are intelligent and well-reasoned and inspiring.

Things aren’t going to change overnight, but nothing ever does. We don’t expect to learn to ski or climb or mountain bike or kayak in a day. I’m not comparing the scourge of institutional racism to learning to ride a bike. I am saying this: We can make ourselves do all these things that scare the crap out of us. This is scary. But we have to do it anyway. We have to examine ourselves and our behaviors and our privilege, and we have to make our community into a safe space. For everyone.

Nothing will change, though, until we start talking about it. It begins with a conversation—about race, about privilege, about the fact that black lives matter.


Further reading and doing:

“Why an outdoor group’s work is ‘more important than ever,’” High Country News

“How do we make the national parks more diverse?” Backpacker Magazine

The Trail Posse, a “media initiative which, in partnership with High Country News, regularly covers race, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors”

“Connecting the dots: Why black lives must matter to the environmental movement,” The Avarna Group

The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors by James Edward Mills

Get involved with organizations like Big City Mountaineers

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