On the morning of May 26, 2020, I woke up to Darnella Frazier’s video of George Floyd’s murder the day before by four Minneapolis police officers.
As I watched the 8 minute-46 second ordeal unfold, I felt anger, grief, and sadness – for Mr. Floyd, for his family, for the community of Minneapolis, and for our country. By the time the medics loaded his limp body onto a stretcher, I just felt numb.
In the aftermath, each day brings new pain in our reeling, confused, and deeply hurting society. Often, pain comes with emotion – anger, sadness, grief – symptoms of injustice and unfairness.
Justice and fairness are core human values: cornerstones of community function and collective intimacy. A police officer abusing his power to take the life of an unarmed citizen is a pretty easy thing to use as an example of unfairness. So it’s no surprise that we are questioning what systemic defects are present in the ground that supports those cornerstone values. Many are asking: is justice being served fairly among all peoples in our communities?
The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many others before suggest that the answer to this question may be a resounding “no”. I have no idea what it feels like to be a Black person in this country. But I know that Mr. Floyd and Ms. Taylor should not have been killed by police that exercised their power to remove their human rights to life and fair treatment. I’ve also learned that their deaths, while difficult to process for all of us, is difficult for Black people in a way that transcends my understanding. All I can do is offer deep empathy. I’m not going to pretend to understand. But it’s not hard to keep my eyes and ears open to see, hear, and feel some of this pain with them.
The civil unrest we are witnessing today in America and across the world cuts deeper than a hashtag or a black square or even a political ideology. What is taking place is foundational to human existence and equality: fighting for the basic human and civil rights that many of us already have. That many of us take for granted. And that many of us would want for our children.
But why is protecting diversity and taking an antiracism stance so critical in the outdoor industry?
The outdoor industry has grown from a tiny niche to a powerhouse capable of facilitating meaningful change on a national, and even a global scale. Many of us participate in movement leadership, business leadership, and platform-building. We bear some responsibility for providing leadership in all aspects of our industry, whether they impact our profitability or followers or likeability or social credit score. If we don’t accept this responsibility, or accept responsibility only within the smallest circles of our influence, then we simply bow to the altar of free-market capitalism and let the chips fall where they may.
Every person exercising their platform in our industry will choose the extent to which they invest in social, environmental, and economic justice. And every one of us will distribute our energy differently. Public lands accessibility, climate activism, fair economic policy for businesses, access to healthcare programs for our employees, the pursuit of fair wage laws, ethical media disclosure, consumer protection, tariff and tax negotiations – and not the least of these – fighting for ethnic diversity and inclusion so marginalized people have a meaningful say in how our industry evolves and serves their communities.
Some people say that they don’t witness or practice racism, or perform other actions that violate and diminish human rights. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t collectively fight against the practice of racism overtly, or investigate and address how it’s practiced covertly and passed down through generations and across the systems we have built.
We know about the intimate connection between humans and nature – we experience it every moment we spend in the outdoors. And there are so many different ways to enjoy it. Hiking is my personal favorite. Others may enjoy it on a horse or in a kayak, pedaling a bicycle or riding a snowmobile, behind binoculars or a rifle scope, carving a snowboard or climbing on crampons. Further, we can enjoy this intimacy alone, or with a group. In each experience, the outdoor participant realizes value and recognizes their own humanity as a direct result of what spending time in nature brings to the human spirit.
We’re quick to point out that if some of nature is threatened, then our ability to access intimate experiences in nature may also be threatened. That threat keeps us fighting for nature and engaging in movements that include climate activism and public lands policy and endangered species protection and more.
And so we must move forward and also recognize that if some of humanity is threatened, then our humanity’s collective intimacy with nature is also broken. And this threat must keep us fighting for human justice that focuses on equality, representation, and antiracism.
We can’t just fight for environmental justice. We can’t just march in protest for the climate. We can’t just protect public lands. Of course, these are fights that serve the outdoor industry’s interests, because they have a profound impact on our long term sustainability, profits, and growth as an industry. That makes these fights “acceptable” – most people expect us to participate in them. They fit our stereotypes. They fall into our lane.
Maybe one day, a fight for racial justice will become as ingrained into every fabric of our personal and work ethos as our fight for environmental justice because these fights will reflect our desire to protect the whole of humanity. For without humanity and the racial justice that protects its whole being, nature and environmental justice are reduced to something less, unable to fully inspire and soothe the spirit of all humans. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later for each American citizen.
Reconciling our need for individualism with the collectivism required to ensure the existence of intimately connected communities that care for each other seems particularly difficult in today’s polarized political climate. Americans are fiercely individual creatures. Our identity is rooted in our rugged individualism, expression, and freedom. But we are also members of a collective whole – as human beings in the communities of our families, our neighborhoods, our industry collectives, and of humanity overall.
The glue of collective connection is spiritual and difficult to measure, graph, poll, or summarize in a statistical report. But when spiritual connections in our communities are disrupted, we feel pain in the depths of our soul. Part of our humanity is experiencing intense, deep pain right now as a result of unjust treatment. Our empathy and spiritual connectedness allow us to feel that pain too. And that’s why we stand by their sides – so we can grieve together, and help each other do the hard work required to ensure a better future.
- Contribute to the Backpacking Light Diversity Fund, where we issue grants to help others enjoy wilderness experiences and share their stories.
- Are you an outdoor industry business owner or CEO? Join us at the In Solidarity Project.
- Diversify Outdoors is increasing awareness of diversity in outdoor recreation through social media.
- Big City Mountaineers instills critical life skills in under-resourced youth through transformative wilderness mentoring experiences.
Home › Forums › On Racial Justice and Protecting Intimacy Between Humanity and Nature