Are we the allies we should be?

In this blog, I once questioned the idea of an all-black team summiting Denali under the premise that mountain climbing was already an international sport, where teams of multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-national people pull together to accomplish a too-often deadly goal of seeing the world from the heavens.

The problem is, while I meant to spur conversation about a topic, what I actually did was hijacked a narrative to make other white people like me feel better about their preconceived notions that nature doesn’t discriminate. The truth is, people bring their biases, bigotries and privilege to nature. It’s not nature that is the greatest foe for people of color, and other marginalized groups. It’s not nature that they have to worry about discriminating. It’s other people.

The real foe is a person of privilege that sees their comfort in a preconceived bias as more important than the struggle of marginalized people to simply share the natural world without getting sideways stares, having the police called on them for ordinary activities, or other such transgressions. And the fact that I once participated in marginalizing that experience is enough for people of color to question my alliance. It’s enough for me to question my perceived alliance.

And you need to know, none of these ideas are mine. These are the paraphrased words of Danielle Williams, founder of Melanin Base Camp, a nonprofit dedicated to “increase the visibility of outdoorsy black, indigenous, people of color, to increase our representation in the media, advertising and in the stories we tell ourselves about the Outdoors.”

Their 2019 article “The Melanin Base Camp Guide to Outdoor Allyship,” is an eye-opener for anyone that considers themselves to be an ally. Chances are, you’ve done something that would question whether you’re being the best ally you can. If that makes you uncomfortable, it’s supposed to. But just like an uncomfortable uphill hike, you don’t stop mid-way and retreat. You keep climbing to affect a change in yourself. And hopefully the world, too.

Seek out the diverse stories of people in the wild. Listen, learn and change. I know a lot of white people who think of themselves as allies. Even though they’ve listened, lack of change begs the question: Did we really learn anything? Are we the allies we should be?

I’m still learning. I wake up every day wanting to learn more. I hope you continue to learn about how to be a better ally in nature. We all love being in wild spaces for the same reasons, but we don’t have the same experience or see that world through the same eyes. And the world doesn’t see us through the same lens, either.

While the natural obstacles are the same, the man-made obstacles of racism, bigotry, bias and privilege fall heavy on marginalized people. There’s always someone who believes it’s not enough for them to conquer the mountain and be seen. There are too many people who would prefer neither happens.

And then there are those of us who — past or present — turn the blind eye to that bias, pretending it doesn’t really exist. It does. Listen. Be uncomfortable. Admit your wrongs. Learn. Change. Elevate the voices of marginalized people. In time, that will bring happier trails for all of us. It will not be an easy hike, but that’s always what makes it worthwhile.

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