The Long and Winding Road

So I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, particularly about the meanings ascribed to brownness and ladyness and intersectionality and hiking, and what I see as the tension among those things and between those things and the space I’ve carved out for myself on this blog. It’s complicated – like most things worth understanding are – so bear with me.

Ultimately, I understand that I’m writing to (for?) the hiking community, and as such, to what is probably primarily a not-brown audience1. Said audience, given their ostensible interest in my perspective not only as a fledgling long-distance backpacker, but as a brown girl fledgling long-distance backpacker, is like as not an audience full of (minority folk and) allies, would-be allies, or could-be allies, and as such, it’s not like folks reading this aren’t open to different perspectives. But I find it way easier to talk about these things on the trail – where everyone’s moving towards the same goal, everyone’s looking for companionship, everyone’s just the most open and understanding version of themselves – than I do on a blog that, while personal2, is also public.

This personal-but-public aspect of this whole social media shebang has been thrown in to sharp relief for me as of late. To say that this American primary season has been an emotionally trying/taxing time for me would be an understatement3. People have been coming out of the woodwork, particularly on the book of many faces, with terribly ignorant statements about race and gender – and not just strangers, but people I love, which makes those statements hurt all the more. It’d be terribly easy to lash out, because I usually have a visceral reaction to ignorance – but these people are my friends, these people love me, these people don’t want to hurt me. So I try to be as invested in them as I hope they are in me, and, clearly and without judgement as little judgement as I can manage, attempt to articulate my position as a brown girl and provide well-reasoned arguments as a rebuttal to the dehumanizing views they’re espousing.

Unfortunately, the nature of a rebuttal generally involves the fact that folks are, logically speaking, wrong. And however gently I put that, it sparks another visceral reaction, particularly if such a statement might imply that I think less of them as friends, as people.

My speaking up means quite the opposite: if I’m trying to persuade a friend to look at something a little differently, it means I think the world of them. I don’t have the time or the emotional energy to fight with strangers about their media-fed understanding of race and gender4. Friends, though, I know they can do better. I want them to do better. And I hope they’d want me to do better; I rely on my friends to tell me when I’m wrong on issues I know little about, even if it hurts my  ego  self-image  feelings, particularly when the humanity/”worthiness” of others is ultimately what’s at stake. I can’t know what I don’t know. And I’m not saying I’m not usually butthurt when I admit they’re right, because let’s be real, I’m human. But if they’re right, they’re right, and I want them to tell me. This shit is hard5, but ultimately, I understand that my feelings, especially compared to another person’s humanity, are utterly unimportant.

But everyone’s in a different place in their development when faced with being wrong, particularly with issues of race and gender6 and particularly when said people are generally supportive of issues of race and gender. I often find that people who want so badly to be proper allies (i.e. who think that racism is bad, sexism is bad, -isms are bad, and that everyone deserves equal treatment) are often the most reactionary when their words are the catalysts for these discussions. They tend to see any kind of criticism of the way they’re speaking as super personal, as though I’m attacking them, when at the heart of the issue, I’m not even really criticizing them.

My criticism has nothing to do with them as a person. I’m criticizing the society and the system that inoculated them with this ignorance before they could even understand it, in ways both glaringly obvious and sinisterly subtle. I’m criticizing the society and the system which condones and, often, rewards such “-ist” modes of thought and speech.

But even though society is the root of this particular evil, everyone, of all colors, has to make an effort towards deprogramming what we’ve been taught in order to truly support (themselves or) others, particularly minorities, rather than knowingly or unknowingly tearing them down. You have to earn your ally card every day. Blame doesn’t shift to the individual until they attempt to save their own skin, their own comfort, by belittling or undermining those simply trying to expose that social system for what it is.

Still, that visceral reaction to being told you’re wrong is very much a visceral reaction, and it’s usually at this point in the conversation – despite my own best attempts at rationality-rather-than-reactionism – that things start to go horribly awry.

The “conversation”, if it can from this point forward be called that, turns for the worse: mandates that I “simmer down” or “stop taking this so seriously” emerge alongside accusations of “rudeness”, or the perennial “you don’t know me” gets batted around – because clearly, this is all about the comfort level of the person I’m talking to and not about the people – one of which I usually am – we’re talking about. When that happens, I know the conversation’s usually over. They’re no longer listening to me, and even if I can argue against that (“No, I know you’re a good person, that’s why you’ll at least listen”), it’s usually to no avail.

The result of all this is that I usually get silenced, or at least denied any “legitimate” say in evaluating what’s happening. It’s way more comfortable for the other person – my friend, my loved one – to talk about how mean I am and how good of an ally they are than it is to actually confront the fact that they might not be so good an ally after all.

It makes me sad, being silenced/delegitimized for no good reason – if you’re going to dismantle my argument, do it with logic, not with feelings – but more often than not these days, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

It’s kind of amusing, though, that I’m so touchy about others silencing me for their comfort, particularly since there’s been a lot of silence about this kind of thing coming from my blog. I’ve been silencing me, for my comfort. But it’s not and never has been about just me – it’s about all of us making it through this, all of us pulling each other up, all of us trying to help the others understand, have rights, be people.

So I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m finally going to get my shit together and talk about this stuff, update the Useful Links with articles that speak to me, because it’s important that I talk about this stuff, even – especially? – if it makes me, as a writer, uncomfortable7. I do want to make clear, as I have in other places, that I’m just one hiker’s voice in the ether – not the monolithic voice of all brown people or all women or all hikers (clearly!) or all whatevers – but I also want to try to promote understanding, make the world outside of long trails even a little more welcoming towards folks it ain’t usually so welcoming to. Using this blog to do so adds another depth of perspective to the long-distance hiking world, to boot.That’s absolutely something worth being uncomfortable for.

So if you come here solely for the perspective on hiking, by all means, continue to come here. My posts will continue to be split with the “Continue Reading…” link, so if you’re not into “all this race stuff”, or if you can’t take the stress of it, you won’t be forced to wade the other posts to get to what you want to see.

But I hope you stick around for these types of posts. I hope you choose, here and in your broader life, to listen to and consider the deconstruction of ignorance rather than simply reacting. To analyze whatever feelings that deconstruction evokes, avoiding the instinct to silence the people who would bare their experiences – and, in so doing, their hearts – to you, all in the name of helping you understand. To figure out what you can do every day to be a better ally to people who are different.

Every step, every mile on this long and arduous life-trail – whether on a proper trail or not – we all still want to be that best version of ourselves that we are when we’re hiking: listening, caring, trying to understand, accepting. Doing better. I’m trying to be that person every step of the way, and I hope you will, too. This hike, we’re all hiking together.

 


[1] But heyo to all the brown/black/native/of asian descent/latinx/mixed folk out there! I’m glad you’re there, and I’m glad you’re doing things outside.

[2] Y’all know about my on-trail pooping habits, and I’m not sure it gets much more personal than that. In some ways, anyway.

[3] Why hello, lack of any sort of update here in a looooong time.

[4] I make exceptions for friends of friends, when it is clear my friends need backup – we gotta support our allies.

[5] Particularly because my primary sin is clearly pride/vanity/ego, although I fight it tooth and nail. But if we’re being real, I mean, I write a blog, for chrisesakes.

[6] And sexuality and ableism and ageism and gender fluidity and and and…

[7] Hint: it dooooooo.

5 thoughts on “The Long and Winding Road

  1. Jim Ruebush says:

    “…promote understanding, make the world outside of long trails even a little more welcoming towards folks it ain’t usually so welcoming to.” Absolutely worth doing.

    We are headed to an old state park in IA (Ledges) tomorrow to enjoy the one very warm nice day of the week. It ain’t quite full-time spring here yet.

    Like

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