As a fellow well-intentioned white person, reading Jack Igleman’s column [“Opening the Door: Promoting Racial Diversity in Outdoor Sports,” Outdoors, Feb. 27] had me once again laughing at the daftness of white folk. When it comes to race and privilege, some concepts are so hard for us to get—or is it that they are so hard for us to see and then even harder for us to swallow?
We are deeply confused by what we see as paradoxes: a “nonprejudiced” outdoors community that can’t seem to be anything other than vastly white. We are troubled that more people of color do not populate our rivers in high-dollar kayaks, do not flock to our climbing walls and jump on board our backpacking trips. We’re equally confused as to why, even after we get “underprivileged” (read: people of color) outside, they oftentimes don’t stay in our outdoors community. If only we could get, as the CEO of the Outdoors Industry Association put it: “a mechanism by which you can get over their concerns.” And here is where we white environmentalists always pull out our favorite card: The environment affects everyone, regardless of race.
For fun, let’s flip the story. Let’s go, as the CEO recommends, to “where they live.” Some quick research on the state of race equity in Asheville shows that some things don’t affect everyone equally regardless of race. Asheville’s white men can, on average, expect to make about $36,000 a year. Asheville’s black men can expect to make about $18,700. About 4.4 per cent of Asheville’s white men can expect to be unemployed. About 16.2 per cent of Asheville’s black men and 14.5 per cent of Asheville’s Latino men can expect to be unemployed. How about prison? In the United States, one in 17 white men have a shot at prison, as compared to one in three black men and one in six Latino men. And the environment? In fact, global warming does not impact us all equally: Hurricane Katrina has made this painfully clear to even the most sheltered of us white folk.
I wonder if people of color sit about … scheming on how to “open the door” of their communities to white folk so that we may come in and learn about these crucial economic, political and social issues that do not impact us all equally—that, in fact, break down along race lines and along class lines. Do they also sit about worrying about our obesity? Our lack of community? Our lack of good mentors? Our inability to fully grasp what “valuing diversity” might mean?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as excited as anyone to live in a society (and a city) where deep and largely unspoken race and class inequalities don’t trump good intentions. But we’re not there yet. Without a shared and strong understanding of the difference between prejudice (which, like bigotry and bias, is an individual trait among people of all ethnicities) and institutionalized racism (racism rooted in power and in a system created by white people, for white people), and without a commitment to solidarity and equality, concerns that “minorities” don’t know what a kayak is will always end up sounding a bit hollow.
I look forward to future articles on how we can also open the door on the “whiteness” of Asheville’s local organic-food movement, planned and gated communities, private schools, downtown bars and restaurants and the local shopping scene. Could it be that the problem goes beyond the outdoor community?
— Andrea Van Gunst