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Calling All Climbers of Color
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By James Mills
Jan 6, 2013
Personal Photo

If you're an African-American mountaineer with vertical ice climbing experience I have an opportunity to share. A casting agent is looking for black climbers (18 to 45) to appear in a national television commercial. Please reply to this post if you're interested or know someone who might be for details.

At the risk of starting another heated discussion in this forum on the issue of race and mountaineering I'll ask that you please first read my recent story in Alpinist Magazine: www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP40/40-wired
Thanks!


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Jan 6, 2013
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

Passing this along to a friend of a friend in CO Springs.


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By Brian in SLC
Jan 6, 2013
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch

James, nicely penned article!


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Jan 6, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

I agree...good article. Very interesting subject and a premise I never considered before


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By Olaf Mitchell
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Jan 6, 2013
rockerwaves

That's a very good article Mate!
I get it!
Olaf


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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Jan 7, 2013
Me and Spearhead

Thanks for posting the link to the Alpinist article. A couple of really good points to think about in there.


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By Wannabe
Jan 7, 2013

James,
I read your article even though I wasn't a climber of color curious about your opportunity. I found the article thought provoking. Definitely a topic I think climbers deserve to have the chance to think about.

It was eye opening for me to think about the looks I get when I stop to fill my car up with gas on the road trips I take to climb in rural communities and I wonder how much more uncomfortable I would be if I was a different race than many of the people who "notice" me.

Let's say I agree with you that there is a problem as you've outlined it in your article. Do you have any thoughts about possible solutions?

--Wannabe


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By Tony T.
From Denver, CO
Jan 7, 2013
Getting up the Great Dihedral on Hallet Peak, RMNP.

Seriously. Great article. You have a fantastic way with words that is both honest and uninviting of criticism or nitpicking. The issues around racial privilege are not ignored by everyone in the climbing community, as some of us have a foot in the social activism community as well.

Cheers and thanks for this!


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By Walt Barker
From AZ
Jan 8, 2013
Self portrait on the summit of Gray's Peak, CO

Great article. Thanks.


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By "H"
From Manitou Springs
Jan 8, 2013
Axes glistening in the sun

Good read, thought provoking. Who in their right mind wants to be out in the freezing cold, screaming barfies, less oxygen, risk of death/dismemberment/etc, sleeping in the cold etc? I find it fun, doesn't mean anyone else does.


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By yeego
Jan 8, 2013

"... sailed with Christopher Columbus in 1492 to discover the New World."

Wow, after all these years people still believe this lie? The ragged crew were saved from death when they landed and they paid with disease to live. Too bad the original inhabitants were not immune. Besides that line, the article was interesting. Gained new knowledge.


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By patto
Jan 8, 2013

The more people make a big deal of their race the more it is a big deal. Who cares what colour your skin is.


Outdoor recreation as a sport is typically found in mature wealthy communities. Part of the reason it because in some aspects it forces us into discomfort of not having life's luxuries. Those that have lived in REAL poverty rarely choose to go back to living with bare necessities.

On our planet egalitarian wealth has until very recently been only found in nations of Caucasian or Mediterranean origin (ie mostly 'white' skin). The only significant exception to this is Japan. While many rich African-Americans or are around they are still shaped by a culture from a non affluent background. Since the African-American culture and race is so strong and dominant, this will take a while to change.

That said, I am increasingly seeing many more people of non 'white' backgrounds in outdoor sports. But these same people are generally far more similar to me in cultural behaviour they are to their respective racial community stereotype. I recently had a discussion with an New Zealand girl of Asian parents lamenting the fact that her parents were so boring and shared nothing in common with her. She is culturally a New Zealander. Her parents are Chinese-Taiwan. It is a culture clash between parents and children.

Anyway, enough blabber. This is all about culture. Not about race. It is only about race if you continue to choose to associate culture and race.


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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Jan 8, 2013
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

I get the gist of what you're saying James. It is a valid point and certainly worth contemplation and consideration. I am of the same opinion of patto, however. I think it would be more accurate if you were to say that urban culture does not lend its inhabitants to introduction of the outdoors, and many urban dwellers, and perhaps the majority, are black.

There are droves of Italian Americans and Irish Americans, Asians and Hispanics (disregarding Spain as the sport climbing mecca these days) that come from urban backgrounds as well that will never climb, or know what climbing is, or care- just as their black counterparts. Likewise, there are many below the poverty line in predominantly poor white states, many deemed to be top climbing destination states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia, that will never be introduced to the outdoors in a recreational way, other than to shoot squirrels off their back porches.

I agree that stewardship of our sport, and the general conservation of lands and outdoor recreation rests on the shoulders of future generational interest, and that interest is dwindling.

I do not however agree with categorizing it by race or delegating the responsibility of one group to include another chiefly because of "race". Urban culture, which is largely impoverished culture, and also impoverished rural culture is where the focus should be. Surely there you will find all races and creeds, no matter who is the majority and minority.

Surely there is no gene in the melanin of skin pigment that makes one prone to climb or not. The answer lies in the culture, as patto said. When you can barely afford to have new clothes for a school year as a child, and you're subsisting on assistance, the last thing on your mind is a rope, rack, or climbing gym membership- especially in places where gyms are few and far between and outdoor recreation is not prevalent. This malady, if you choose to label it that, affects all races. Not just African Americans.

It is not my wish, as you have mentioned it is not yours, to start a heated discussion. I am merely expounding on a point that I see as valid. I appreciate your perspective, and I enjoyed your article James.


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By Mike Belu
From Indianapolis, IN
Jan 8, 2013
Summit of Rainier.

50.8% of the population is women. We need more women climbers at the gym, crags and mountains.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Jan 8, 2013
At the BRC

So is the main argument of the article that we should encourage folks to climb, even if they don't want to, so that they will help preserve the climbing areas that we enjoy?

I realize I'm out of the mainstream, because I don't encourage folks to take up climbing anymore. I don't discourage anyone, but I don't encourage anyone either. Climbing is a useless endeavor with a small, but non-zero risk of death.

And this line really bothers me.

"There's something wrong in a free nation where people of color feel limited by where they can and can't go. "

In the first place, it doesn't seem wrong that people don't go where they don't want to go.

In the second place, there are plenty of places where a person of no color such as myself feels like he can't go. Perilous Journey on Mickey Mouse for one. Parts of many American cities for another.


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By James Mills
Jan 8, 2013
Personal Photo

I want to thank everyone for their kind and thoughtful consideration of this post. It's remarkable how different the responses and discussion are here compared to the identical post that went up on rockclimbing.com. The anger and hostility I experienced there was disappointing and a bit heart breaking. So I sincerely appreciate the rational discussion we are having here.

To speak to the point of culture I agree that there are issues that go far beyond race when exploring the adventure gap. But specifically in own case the color of one's skin has everything to do with why African-Americans may or may not spend time outdoors and it's not for the reasons you might think. From the time I was a young man in certain circles I was ostracized by my own peers for not being "black enough".

After a successful high school football career I opted for rowing in college to expand my athletic experience. I was part of the aquatics community at Berkeley splitting my time between the Cal Crew boathouse and the pools on campus where I was a lifeguard and swim instructor. From there through graduation I worked at the campus sports facility teaching CPR and First Aid and ultimately became a backpacking trip leader and rock climbing instructor. I was on the staff of one of the first commercial indoor climbing gyms in the country. After working at REI managing the rental department I took a job working customer service at the North Face until I was promoted to a position as a sales rep managing a six state territory in the Midwest.

Despite steady progress through a career that now spans 20 years I still have to explain to my friends and family back home why I do what do, those crazy things that white people do. During Christmas years ago I once did a slide show of a two week kayak adventure in Bolivia. Pictures of me paddling on alpine lake at 10,000 feet were met not with gasps of awe but incredulous head shakes. "You've heard of the Bahama's, right?" said one cousin.

This speaks to the point in my article regarding those things we're "supposed" to do as black people in America. When you grow up being told that black people don't camp, don't ski, don't swim there's an amazing amount of social pressure to overcome. That's especially true when the broad media spectrum on television, in magazines and in films reenforces that idea by failing show images of people who look like you doing the same things you enjoy or might like to try one day.

As Sophia Danenburg points out in the article her story and mine shouldn't necessarily matter to climbers or outdoor professionals to whom our accomplishments are unexceptional. Our stories though will hopefully impact those people of color who conform to social pressure and self-select themselves out of activities they have every right to participate in but simply don't because they tell themselves it's not something they're supposed to do.

I believe that the only real solution to this issue is to continue to create positive role models that demonstrate the options that are available to anyone willing to put in the effort and try. I hope that this upcoming beer commercial featuring African-American climbers will help with that and later this year a group working with the National Outdoor Leadership School aims to put the first majority black team on the summit of Denali (expeditiondenali.nols.edu/) I hope that though this and other initiatives we can achieve a cultural change that will ultimately make a person's race or ethnicity completely irrelevant in the near future.

Again, thanks to everyone for participating in this discussion


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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Jan 8, 2013
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

I agree with your sentiments about African American culture in general with regard to outdoor pursuits in the wilderness. I have both black and white friends that have adopted the misconception that what I do (climbing) is foolhardy and dangerous. Nothing is ever risk free in climbing, but I firmly believe that if you have solid fundamentals, you can make it as safe or as spicy as you want to. But I digress.

It goes a bit further for black people- generally speaking of course. While I feel like I could probably cajole (which I won't do) most of my white friends into at least trying a rock gym once, I feel like I would be met with much more resistance to the idea from my black friends. This is most likely attributed your aforementioned conformity of social pressure in African American communities. "These are not black activities." That is a shame on many levels. First, that someone would deny themselves an opportunity to even consider diversifying what they do for recreation. Second, that in large part, it is no longer chiefly discrimination by outsiders or people that are not black that are denying these opportunities, but that the dissention and dissuasion is coming from within.

Good on you James for taking an active role in trying to introduce what to many is a very fulfilling and empowering pasttime to people that would ordinarily be stuck in their respective cultural boxes.

I maintain however that attaching race specifically to a group, or achievement of a group, however noteworthy it may be to one group or another, is a slippery slope in our still racially charged country. This is just my opinion though.


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By camhead
From Vandalia, Appalachia
Jan 8, 2013
You stay away from mah pig!

James Mills wrote:
I want to thank everyone for their kind and thoughtful consideration of this post. It's remarkable how different the responses and discussion are here compared to the identical post that went up on rockclimbing.com. The anger and hostility I experienced there was disappointing and a bit heart breaking. So I sincerely appreciate the rational discussion we are having here.


Yeah James, the rc.com thread was miserable from the get-go. Though, perhaps I contributed to it; sorry. As much as I like to make fun of the "don't be a jerk" attitude around here, a simple comparison of this thread on each site speaks for itself.

Going further into the conversation on the intersection of race and outdoor rec, I think that one of the most valid points you made in your article was the fact that non-white cultures in America have very different views on the value of outdoor recreation, and going beyond that, wilderness preservation of public lands as a whole. As the last presidential election showed, more pluralistic populations (I hate to use the term "majority minority") are now the norm in US democracy, and it is quite possible that wilderness preservation could take a backseat in future elections.

(ok, here's where I'm going to go off the analytical deep end) The problem is that, historically, most outdoor recreation in our nation has been inextricably tied to white privilege and dominance.

Our definition of "wilderness" is twofold: "unsettled," and "land as it must have been before settlement and modern development." But both of those definitions only worked historically after white American culture had displaced Indian inhabitants from future "wilderness." (read this essay for more context: tinyurl.com/d699p5)

Same with early national parks and federal hunting preserves; Park and forest services went out of their way to remove peripheralized populations (Indians, Hispanos, and poor rural whites) from parks, and to label their means of sustenance as "poaching," while simultaneously securing the legal right of elite whites to hunt on these same lands. (See Karl Jacoby's "Crimes Against Nature" for more info)

Going even further, the entire context of outdoor recreation as it came together around the turn of the century under Roosevelt was based upon the larger fear that dominant white culture was becoming too weak and civilized in its modernized state, and that some sort of patronizing reclamation of primitive "barbarian virtues" was essential, whether by way of living like Indians in the wilderness, or by having "splendid little wars" against Mexicans and Filipinos, or even going "slumming" and listening to jazz a few decades later. (see Jacobson, "Barbarian Virtues")

Tying it into the modern day, I think that the environmental movement has really dropped the ball lately by not really tying concerns of outdoor recreation and wilderness preservation (largely seen as bastions of upper middle class white culture), and environmental concerns that more directly affect lower class and largely non-white populations (skyrocketing cancer rates among poor blacks living along lower Mississippi River oil refineries, for example). I dunno, fascinating topic.


All this historical baggage may be a bit overly abstract, but I think it might shed a bit of light on the issues that your essay lays out.

Oh, and one minor addition to your article: when laying out the history of African Americans in early American exploration, you neglected to mention Esteban, who in the 1520s was one of 4 men to walk from Florida to Mexico, the first non-Indians to do so.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estevanico

(apologies for the lengthy post)


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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Jan 8, 2013
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.

That's quite an informed perspective. Most of the time, I tend to look at things in current or recent context, without giving due consideration to how things got to be the way they currently exist.

Your analysis, although, as you mentioned is somewhat off the deep end, I think is accurate, even if somewhat vague. But wtf, it's not a dissertation. There is definitely merit there and it's poignant, although unless one is inherently analytical, it might be difficult to draw the correlations that you implied with your sources. I enjoyed reading them, however. It definitely adds facets to the issue and how I view it.

I don't see anything wrong with what James is doing- actually the opposite. It is an altruistic and worthy venture in my opinion. I just get a little skeptical whenever I see anything tied chiefly or solely to race. Some would say that makes me inherently racist. Others would say the opposite. I did take a little stroll to the RC thread of the same title and sheesh. That is one of the reasons among a few that I prefer this site over that one.


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By Buff Johnson
Jan 8, 2013
smiley face

Mike Belu wrote:
50.8% of the population is women. We need more women climbers at the gym, crags and mountains.


Especially any hotties from Bama


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By Woodchuck ATC
Jan 8, 2013
Rock Wars, RRG, 2008

Mike Belu wrote:
50.8% of the population is women. We need more women climbers at the gym, crags and mountains.


Yes, agree this is my concern, much more than reaching some kind of imaginary racial equality' on the cliffs. Let's get the gender balance going!
I personally don't live for playing basketball every day of the week, or ruling over the streets of my neighborhood with some kind of authority. I just see no purpose or interest in it. Thus there may be people who see nothing interesting about climbing a mountain, even if given the opportunity to do so. To each his own....as so many other articles point out, don't over advertise the cliffs to the point of overuse. Access is tough enough, so don't try to increase the numbers by 19% just to reach some ethnic balance in the outdoors.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Jan 8, 2013
At the BRC

camhead wrote:
The problem is that, historically, most outdoor recreation in our nation has been inextricably tied to white privilege and dominance.


Didn't the whole idea of wilderness as beautiful and uplifting start with Ruskin and other white, mostly British, Europeans?


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Jan 8, 2013
At the BRC

James Mills wrote:
I still have to explain to my friends and family back home why I do what do, those crazy things that white people do.


Back in the day, all of us had to explain why we do those crazy climbing things we do.


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By camhead
From Vandalia, Appalachia
Jan 8, 2013
You stay away from mah pig!

Mark E Dixon wrote:
Didn't the whole idea of wilderness as beautiful and uplifting start with Ruskin and other white, mostly British, Europeans?


Yeah, a lot of that was Anglo-American in origin (Ruskin, all the transcendentalists, George Catlin, the Hudson River School of art). There was a significant cadre of Teutonic/German nature enthusiasm as well, both from the more scientific perspective (Humboldt), and the more romantic, beautiful perspective (what would a Wagnerian opera be with the Alps?). You could probably trace a lot of this back to forestation projects in the late Middle Ages by folks such as Henry VIII who (once again from a perspective of privilege), wanted wilderness to hunt in. And of course, there is the more scrappy, subversive view of wilderness as a place for more egalitarian camaraderie (Robin Hood) in British culture, too.

But, I also think that the southern European perspective of nature reverence has long been under-emphasized, and it arguably had deeper roots in some ways. Rousseau and other later enlightenment views of wilderness as a place for "noble savages," of course. But, if you dig even deeper, you'll find that the southern European Catholic worldview was a bit friendlier to wilderness as a place for spiritual rejuvenation that was not all that different from Muir or Thoreau. Think St. Francis; his view of talking to animals and living in the wilds was very different from later Lutheran and Puritan views of the wilderness as a dark and evil place.

Damn, way more I could write on this, but I should probably actually get some real work done today.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Jan 8, 2013
At the BRC

camhead wrote:
Damn, way more I could write on this, but I should probably actually get some real work done today.


Screw work, inquiring minds want to know!

Does it make sense to assume that there is some innate human desire for wilderness or is it all cultural construct?


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By camhead
From Vandalia, Appalachia
Jan 8, 2013
You stay away from mah pig!

Mark E Dixon wrote:
Screw work, inquiring minds want to know! Does it make sense to assume that there is some innate human desire for wilderness or is it all cultural construct?

i
hahaha; I've given up on trying to figure out if sexuality, racial views, or wilderness love are innate or cultural. I'm not a psychologist, but different people like different things.

Rather than say that wilderness is something that we all desire, I might say that rather most of us do not like being cooped up and restricted spatially or mentally, that conditions of modernity have cooped us up more than many of our bodies or minds can deal with, and that wilderness recreation is one of many ways that we can cope with this. Hehe.


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