Diversity in the Outdoors for Straight, White People
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” – Terry Tempest Williams
Hi everyone. I’m Meg, I use she/her pronouns. I’m a straight, cis, white female. Also, I’m also a mountaineer, climber, adventurer, small business owner and writer. Today I’m here to help you understand a little bit about diversity in the outdoors.
Why would anyone value my opinion about diversity? I always assumed I never had a place in this conversation because I literally embody the poster child for the women in the outdoors movement. I’m athletic. I’m white. And I’m straight. However, I’m exactly the person who should be talking about diversity. Why? Because we all should.
The Conversation Matters
If you know me at all, you know that I’ve lived in seven different states and three countries outside of the US. As a result, I keep an eclectic bunch for company, from die-hard, duck hunting, small-town Nebraska boys to an Iraqi-born refugee.
The more I turned towards my incredible friends, the more I realized that everyone needs to be a part of the diversity in the outdoors conversation. I couldn’t have been alone in my thinking that this is a separate issue, not for someone like me to say anything. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to be uncomfortable, and you SHOULD be talking about it!
Here’s a look at diversity in the outdoors for dummies and how you can change your mindset today and join the movement.
We All Have a Story to Tell
And that story is our identity. Any average straight, white person isn’t going to introduce themselves as straight and white – that’s weird (and sociologically, unusual). They will pick some other identity to use, like their occupation, favorite hobby, or if they are a parent. In that same way, a person of color may identify themselves with their biological origin or a member of the LGBTQ community might introduce themselves with the pronouns they prefer. It’s their identity, what makes them unique in this world.
The point is, our experiences have shaped our identity. And no matter if you’ve had the most boring, white-bread life ever, or you’re a minority in your community, we all have the right to express our identity. It isn’t a personal attack on you if you don’t understand that identity. There is not a political agenda derived to make us uncomfortable. Identifying ourselves allows us to relate to one another on a basic human level.
Mother Nature Does. Not. Give. A. Damn.
Now that we’ve come to realize that we all have different ways of defining ourselves, let’s remember that Mother Nature does not give a crap about that identity. A straight, athletic, white male has the exact same chance of dying in an avalanche as an overweight, Asian queer with a prosthetic limb. The mountain gives zero fucks. The snow will take your life without warning.
Regardless of our identity, we all choose to spend time in the outdoors in order to disconnect from that world that does judge. Even the bro-iest of bro-dude-climber-bros are on the crag, sending gnar because they like the challenge.
So instead of bringing that judgment to the outdoors, where it doesn’t belong, let’s come together under the umbrella that we all would give anything to be out there in judgeless nature, indulging in what we love.
Recognize Where You Are
It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum, the United States of America was built on stolen lands. Period. Perhaps you feel some guilt about this, perhaps you don’t care. You may even believe the world is flat, but that doesn’t change history.
Even if you aren’t into history and you’re simply in it for the fun, at least recognize that the lands you play in were once someone else’s homeland. Play a new game the next time you head to the trailhead with your pals. Google the native history of the wilderness are you are going to. Learn an indigenous name of a famous landmark nearby. It beats the mind-numbing, social media scrolling you’ll be doing en-route to the trail anyway.
You Can’t Always See Diversity in the Outdoors
Our stories aren’t always written across our faces. For example, you could not tell from looking at me that I’ve been a victim of both emotional and sexual abuse. You cannot tell by the color of my skin that I lived in another country where I was treated differently because of my race, sex and religion every day. I never felt like I “fit in” throughout most of my life and I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt unsafe, even in my own home.
I don’t expect you see those things, but I do expect you to have the foresight to recognize that diversity is a real, tangible thing. We are all diverse in one way or another. We have all been in situations where we have felt uncomfortable because of our differences.
Take a moment, think about a time where you were nervous in the outdoors. Perhaps you were traversing a sketchy ridge, or about to pull a move over the crux of a climb. After you went for it, you felt pretty good, didn’t you?
Well, the same goes for uncomfortable social situations. Don’t assume, ask in a respectful manner. You might be met with some hostility (not everyone is nice), just like you might take a huge whip on that crux, but you’ll thank yourself for trying.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T You Don’t Have to Agree with Me…
The scary thing about diversity is that not everyone gets along. I am not preaching a world of unicorns pooping Skittles and rainbow kisses where everyone gets a hug from a Care Bear. Lisa Frank’s fantasy world is unrealistic. In the end, different viewpoints are what drive progress in the world. But different views should not equate to disrespect.
How to Encourage Respect in the Outdoors
Simply respect people’s diversity and differences. Here are a few quick ways you can promote respect while in the outdoors.
- If you strike up a conversation with someone, keep it simple. Often times, people insert hurtful comments without even realizing it.
- Don’t be passive aggressive in complimenting someone. For example, a friend and I were climbing at the gym when a stranger (male) asked to join us. We said sure. I then proceeded to send a 5.11d. When I got down he shouted, “Wow, I can’t believe that you were able to do that.” I am sure he meant well but coming from a complete stranger that sounded like “Wow, I can’t believe that a woman can climb a grade that difficult.” He should have said, “Wow, great send!” See the difference?
- Ask people which pronouns they use. Understand that gender is a spectrum. This is not political propaganda, it’s proven science.
- Smile and say hello! Don’t beta-splain to strangers on a trail. No one wants an unsolicited lecture on how prepared they may or may not look to do something. Just say hello.
- Welcome diversity into the outdoors. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable because you’ve never had exposure to different people, that’s ok. Pro tip: recognize the diversity in others by taking a moment to recognize the diversity in yourself.
- If you see or hear inappropriate behavior stand up. Be that person who says hey, that’s not okay.
- If someone chooses to open up to you, listen, even if it scares you.
- Follow groups promoting diversity in the outdoors on social channels. Get down on their stoke! (Don’t worry, I’ll post on this soon!)
- Learn interesting facts about local indigenous culture and history. Inspire others with your knowledge. Take time to thank the land that you are moving through.
- Promote diversity. Share diverse outdoor happenings with friends and family. Educate others on how to accept diversity into their outdoor lives.
Accepting diversity in the outdoors does not require earth-shattering rocket science. Understand our unique stories are what we identify with. Keep the wilderness a welcoming space where we can ALL enjoy the fresh air, fab views and fun.