Lately I have been thinking a lot about privilege in the outdoor industry. This weekend it was enough that I felt compelled to write and share.
Today is Black Friday, the unofficial holiday of American capitalism. The day after we gorge ourselves silly in celebration of the fake history most of us were fed about our ancestors peacefully sitting with Native peoples. For me, Thanksgiving has transformed to something different, I love Thanksgiving because it is simple now: food and family. But I also recognize that I am privileged to enjoy this simple interpretation of a holiday seemingly designed to white wash and erase Native enslavement and genocide. Native Americans are still being systemically oppressed, ignored, and killed by the government and ignorant mainstream society (the most recent and publicized example would be the fight to protect land belonging to The Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock). I made sure to take a moment with my loved ones to remember and acknowledge that we enjoyed our meal yesterday on Paiute land. If you haven’t already, I suggest taking some time to educate yourself about the true history of the land you live on. American land is colonized and stolen, and a simple way to check your privilege is to learn the accurate history of where you live.
I am trying to make a more concerted effort to educate myself on the history of not only where I live but also where I recreate. Living in Southwest Utah, Native history is ripe but not often immediately available. As a white person benefiting from the colonial system, I should do the extra work to discern the truth. If you’re looking to broaden your knowledge, I highly recommend the most recent podcast episode of The Hidden Brain: An American Secret: The Untold Story of Native Enslavement.
Today, on Black Friday, I continued to benefit from privilege. REI started the #OptOutside campaign three years ago, in efforts to create a new tradition focused on experiences rather than material items. The commercialism of Black Friday has mushroomed since the days of my childhood. Sales and stores starting on Thanksgiving day proper, people standing in line for hours, crowds trampling each other ravenous for the best deal on the latest device. I got to opt outside today for the first time in many years. The past four years I’ve worked this ‘holiday’ in retail, and I was overjoyed to get the chance to relax and play outside today (we went climbing close to home, it was totally mobbed which is strange for this area, so we didn’t stay long, but it was a beautiful day). To opt outside is not only a choice, but it is a choice of great privilege.
Many people do not even have the choice to go outside to recreate today. They are forced to work because of financial strain, because they do not have the luxury to take a day off, perhaps they work in industries that never take days off (nursing, health care, emergency services) and are hard at work caring for and saving people in need. I am awash with privilege this year. Firstly, I don’t work Fridays because I work 4 days weekly of 10-11 hours. Second, I have Paid Time Off available to me, and I am salaried and can afford to take that time off because I’m not depending on meeting my hours. I am privileged to have an able body that provides me the strength and capability to climb and hike and run. And finally, I have the financial freedom and privilege to not only own gear necessary to participate in activities such as outdoor sport climbing, I also have been granted the privilege throughout my life to enjoy the outdoors for pleasure. Does this mean I can’t enjoy the day off with my partner and his family, going somewhere beautiful and getting active? Absolutely not, checking privilege does not mean I have to feel guilty or upset about the things I am able to enjoy and participate in. But most outdoor pursuits are full of privilege, and as an individual invested in diversifying the outdoors, I must start with evaluating my own privileges and the opportunities it affords me. Today, it meant I had the chance to opt outside.
To Opt Outside, as REI suggests, is a wonderful concept. I wish that everyone had the freedom to make this choice! As outdoor organizations large and small attempt to make their workplaces, activities, and outdoor spaces more inclusive, these conversations about privilege will hopefully become more common. I hope I can both acknowledge my privilege, and ultimately use it as a force for positive change.
To bring it full circle, I enjoyed my day of recreation on Paiute land today. If you had the privilege and chose to opt outside today, whose land did you do it on?
If you want more information on the movement to diversity outdoors, and to read perspectives from Native people and other people of color, here are some resources (THESE VOICES ARE SO IMPORTANT PLEASE SEEK THEM OUT!):
Terra Incognita Media
Traversing Native Landscapes (Indigenous Women Hike)
Brown People Camping