I was recently called out as a racist on Facebook.
The truth hurts.
The post came from a writer whose work I declined to publish. At first, her words flung me into a cyclone of overlapping emotions ranging from shock and anger to remorse and depression. I wallowed in self-pity, centering myself as the victim rather than focusing on the impacts I had on her. But then, with the guidance of two friends, I dug into a lot of reading and soul-searching. And I learned that my reaction was textbook for white people forced to confront an insidious form of racism, the kind that exists unnoticed within us.
My blinders aren’t gone—far from it—but this experience tugged them down a bit. And one of the first things I saw was the reality about the demographics of the outdoor industry and this magazine’s audience: Like me, most of you are privileged white people who consider yourselves progressive. Which means you harbor unconscious biases and you’ve probably behaved in ways that perpetuate systemic racial inequities. Like I said, the truth hurts.
Up until very recently, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of terms like “unconscious bias” and “aversive racism.” And so I couldn’t recognize these things in myself. I recognize them now. By not challenging racist systems that exist in our industry—which was the very topic of the story I decided not to publish—I was protecting those systems.
I can’t change the way I responded to this writer’s story proposal or the fact that I ultimately passed on it. I can’t change the ways I’ve benefited from systemic racism. But I can change the way I behave going forward.
There I go, centering myself again. Yes, it is a journey.
Much of this issue of The Voice focuses on the pandemic impacts on our industry, yet I decided to use this page to highlight racism. That’s because someday the virus will pass, while systemic racism, if we continue to enable it, will go on and on.
Many of us are waking up to this fact, and perhaps, like me, you have a lot of catching up to do. I will keep listening, learning. I recognize that as the gatekeeper to the platforms I lead, I have the power to elevate the voices of marginalized people or silence them. You have power, too. Whether you lead a company or just got your foot in the door at one, you can foster much-needed change. I am working with others to change the culture at my parent company. And with my staff at The Voice and at SNEWS, I’m trying to take small steps at repair in these pages.
When we started working on this magazine five months ago, the world was a vastly different place. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded seven years ago, but for many white people in our industry, BLM still meant Bureau of Land Management—until the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others ignited the country. And the coronavirus? Five months ago, it was just a 60-second blurb at the end of the nightly news. How long ago that all seems now.
The magazine you hold in your hands has been revised dozens of times throughout this spring of discontent, as we’ve striven to keep it relevant in the face of a dizzying news cycle. We’ve tackled the coronavirus from multiple perspectives in a package starting on page 57 and throughout the entire issue as it relates to topics like OIA (p. 16), sales reps (p. 28), human resources (p. 30), and more.
There’s also a consistent thread of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in these pages from activist profiles (pages 25 and 89), reports on transparency (p. 50) and gear affordability (p. 52). Finally, Juan Michael Porter II shares his story and calls on the outdoor industry to elevate JEDI work to the level of our conservation and climate efforts (p. 80).
Is it enough? Clearly not. Is it genuine? You’ll know through our actions—and our words. The stories and people you see in our pages will change, and we will look to this community to help us report deeply and truthfully. After all, the truth can hurt, but it will also move us forward.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Voice.