Missing the Point

It’s been suggested of late that my blog is about hiking, not about race.

Um. What.

I’ve had to take a step back from the computer, talk with some of the people I care the most for and who care the most about me, and honestly try to talk myself into not making a post about this, specifically because I know, I know that being in my feelings about this is going to cause some folks to label me some kind of way. You were gone, poof, no writing for four months, and this is what brings you back? Anger1, over something so small, and so well-meaning2? But missing the whole-ass point of my blog isn’t something small – or ultimately well-meaning – and I feel like I need to set the record straight.

Just like being a black face in a traditionally white space is making a statement about race without making overt statements about race, if this blog, by a black woman, is talking about long-distance hiking or frontcountry camping or the outdoors more generally, it is doing so from a racialized (and gendered! and sexual-orientation-ed! and and and!) perspective, and as such, is making statements about race (and!) in the outdoors and in the outdoors community.

I talk about why I started this blog pretty prosily here, but basically it began back in 2014 when I was a wee fledgling hiker and practically nobody knew of anybody black to point me towards when I had questions about what hiking the long trails was like for a black woman. If you wanted to see what it was like to hike the trail “generally” or “normally” – e.g., from a white perspective – there were and are plenty of blogs that have you covered, but if you wanted anything that might address concerns you had as a hiker of color, those resources were few and far between. Case in point, I got connected to one black woman who’d hiked the PCT, and for whatever (valid!) reason, she never answered my questions about race and trail towns and the trail community and belonging. So I decided to set up a blog to talk about my experiences as a black woman, so that other black women and men and other would-be thruhikers of color could see what it was like from a not-white perspective. And, given that I’ve heard few complaints3 from them, I think they get it. I think. But apparently, not everyone’s picked up on that.

I don’t know why things need to be hyper-obvious for some people. Yes, there are virtually no minorities on trail, or in the outdoors at large. Yes, everybody notices, whether they mention it or not – whether sooner or later, whether tactful or rude, I had conversations on trail with nearly everyone I cared about and many more I didn’t about the lack of minorities on trail. Yes, there are reasons for the lack of minorities on trail, and while many (white) people like to boil that down to matters of funding – which, don’t get me wrong, is a huge barrier for minorities (and white people, really) trying to get into the outdoors and long-distance hiking – it’s also about legal battles and historical legacies and living memory and racialized trauma and the erasure of contributions and cultures in the outdoors, and, in the case of natives, outright genocide. And while those things manifest themselves in practicalities when discussing long-distance hiking – being worried about getting a hitch or getting racist comments from townies/other hikers or not getting service in some places or, just generally, being constantly made aware of your race and/or having to deal with the extra that comes with being black or brown in the US – these things are deep and abiding and constant and fucking painful to talk about.

So could I talk about race more explicitly? Sure. Absolutely. I talk about race (and gender!) on my personal Facebook page nearly every single livelong day4. But I talk about race (and gender!) in places like Facebook or Whatsapp or Hangouts or wherever in person, because these are places where I control my audience. With a controlled audience, I can just post things, and people either (a) understand, (b) do their own research(!!1!), or (c) genuinely want to know what I know/how I see things when they ask me about these topics. Because I’ll be honest: I don’t want to be constantly explaining shit that, to me, seems incredibly fucking obvious – but I understand that sometimes, it’s only “incredibly fucking obvious” because of my race and gender and my constant drive to learn more about the world and how we got here. Knowing that people don’t know what they don’t know is literally one of the only reasons why I talk about race and gender with most (white) people at all5.

Because having to constantly explain shit that is incredibly fucking obvious, shit that digs up the historical and continued oppression of minorities in this country that becomes rapidly apparent to anyone who tries to be a student of the past or the present, shit that digs down and questions the very root of my and others’ humanity – explaining that shit is draining. Tidying fresh emotional wounds into some semblance of structure so you appeal to logic, since your feelings aren’t enough, while attempting to manage the feelings of the people who can/will take it personally6 is emotional labor. A lot of (white) people don’t frequently give away their emotional labor, though some have gender/sexual/ability identities that intersect in ways which make free emotional labor a familiar concept.

That said, many (though certainly not all) of these intersectional identities are invisible or hierarchical, to the point where, particularly in in-person situations, people have the ability to pass if they so choose. Being able to decide that you’re just not going to deal with the consequences of being [insert identity here] in a certain context is a powerful tool. Black and brown folk very rarely have that option. Our difference is written on our skin for all to see. Only in hyper-anonymized situations do we get that choice, and even then, given the anti-blackness and anti-browness that have always been a part of this country, there are consequences. So there are consequences to staying silent and consequences to speaking out, and while I struggle to find the balance in my day to day, I love blackness and brownness and us enough not to use this blog to always and in every post talk explicitly about all the bullshit for the benefit of people who may or may not care. For people who will decide or have already decided, long before I type, that “that’s just one case” or “never on trail” or “you’re making too much of a small thing” in an effort to stay comfortable with society, with the outdoor community, with what all of it means for them. Why would I do that to myself, to us, for those people? For what? Go to someone with distance if distance is what you want. So if I feel hurt and like I have the words to talk about that hurt and like it’s overwhelmingly important to talk about that hurt and still have the spoons to talk about it, I’ll talk about it. If one of those conditions isn’t met, well. I have to take care of me, too.

So while I don’t bare my soul every chance I get – and while I’d argue that a not-insignificant proportion of people of color who do so on various outlets you’ve seen are being financially compensated for their soul-baring – I do, in fact, talk about both hiking and race on this blog all the time. I might not talk about it in the way you want me to talk about it – and feel free to reach out if that’s the case – but the whole-ass point of this blog is to talk about hiking and about race. Sometimes, that’s explicit, but all of the time, that’s implicit. For black and brown folks, that’s mostly enough – that the Hikers of Color Facebook group that everyone lost their shit over is 99.9% a simple celebration of the cool trips hikers of color take is, I think, indicative – so I hope it’s enough for white people, too.

 

Implicit and explicit posts about birthdays and the outside, going home, cool press shit, and the tolls of life on the road queued for the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.


[1] That “angry black woman” trope rearing its head.

[2] And, for the record, I do believe that the suggestion was at least somewhat innocently made, even if I believe it misses the point entirely.

[3] “Post more” and “be less tiptoe-y around race” are valid criticisms that’ve been leveled at me. Though I think the rest of the post begins to addresses the second.

[4] These are some of the more obvious ways I’ve talked about race on Facebook in the last four days; there are several other articles and posts that, like the blog, are more implicitly racialized. I’m honestly considering starting a twitter account that’s just important articles.

[5] It’s why I also try to talk when I hear casual racism in person, though I admit there has been many a time in off-trail life where I’ve been simply too shocked to do much more than end the conversation.

[6] Which I have already done in a footnote – though in this case, I think calling in (rather than calling out) is important.

9 thoughts on “Missing the Point

  1. skinnyvinnysmom says:

    Interesting and thought provoking. I’ve always enjoyed your blog. Knowing from your blog name that it was from the experience and viewpoint of a “brown girl” I’ve never needed you to constantly repeat the perspective 😊 or remind me (the reader) of the obvious.
    As a Latina brown girl myself I don’t feel it’s necessary, at least for me, to infuse everything with a race perspective. People see me, they get it. My experiences will always be from a non-white perspective. That’s what your blog has always conveyed. You don’t need to defend or explain that. If people need you to constantly remind them of the obvious or shift the focus from your hiking adventures then they should be checking out your yet unwritten blog browngirlperspectiveoftheworld.com and stay off the browngirlonthepct blog where we love seeing the latest on your adventures.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. ismay says:

    Thank you for posting. I’ve missed your voice, hiking and otherwise 🙂 . And it still surprises me that anybody would tell anybody what and how to write about on their blog 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave Sailer says:

    Hey. Nice to see you back.

    Blogging is about communicating. It’s your blog. You communicate, and you do it well. Whatever you say, I can learn from. The only barrier is if I’m too lazy or too stupid to try, and if so, that’s my fault.

    “Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.” — Tom Robbins

    Please carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim Benthuysen says:

    I love reading your blog because as a long distance hiker myself , I have found the the interaction with other hikers is way more genuine and authentic then then the front country equivalent. So when I read your words – and you do write well which I value- I trust you r originality and words in a way which stands out from otherwise noise on the net. So you stand out as a real person noire then just a opinion which sadly seems to be the internet reality. So for me , your writing is enjoyable and your perspective valuable in my worldview . I feel fortunate to have cross paths for a instant real world on trail . . Thank you for writing and doing it your way!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Melissa says:

    Okay, so this is me risking sounding inappropriate, but in the spirit of connecting, I’m going to share myself. First and foremost, I am a lover of reading hiking blogs, mostly blogs of women who are hiking the big 3 USA (triple crown). It is a dream of mine to one day do it myself. So, since I am a woman, I feel like I can usually relate better to the women bloggers. I don’t avoid the men, just connect better with the women, and their perspectives. Knowing that you are a woman of color (and I am not) I was hoping to find (and did) that once again, we have more in common than different. And it is helpful to me to see the differences, and hopefully, I can be better able to interact with people who are different than me, as I see the world through those eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

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