Opening another door

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

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3 thoughts on “Opening another door

  1. Avl Tao

    Ms. Van Gunst, I bet u’d have a lot more than “zero” comments posted here by now if your topic had been within the comfort zone of Xpress’s online readership (which I also bet is overwhelmingly white and, of course, outdoors-oriented). Well the day is young in online-terms. Perhaps the comments will come.
    Kudos for you…you could not have made ur piece any more non-threatening without side-stepping your main points. I don’t think a dearth of comments will be due exclusively to readers’ desire to be PC; rather, I think it will be because they don’t know how they want to respond…and how to express it. Why? Well it seems that most people get better at discussing issues of race-in-America over time only through their own efforts at discussing/examining it. However, most people, Ashevillians included, avoid exercising their ‘racial-discourse ‘muscles, which in return, continue to atrophy.
    Gosh, it’s quiet in here.

  2. Eli Cohen

    I’m beginning to believe it’s more of a class thing than a race thing. Maybe it’s just a question of allowing time to pass. It seems that with each generation things get a little better. But in the meantime, when discussing issues concerning race, the truth cannot be spoken by whites without engendering charges of racism.

  3. david


    my thoughts were pretty much the same while reading this article (well, my thoughts aren’t as well-crafted as your letter, but the gist was the same)

    Thanks for the comments!

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