Outdoor Diversity Article 3: Take a Look Within: Recognize & Utilize YOUR Privilege

Outdoor Diversity Article 3: Take a Look Within

Written by Members of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force 

In previous articles, the issues of financial barriers and lack of representation were discussed; these issues are tied directly to white privilege. However, white privilege itself is not the sole subject of accountability. Rather, it is the lack of recognition of one’s privilege that contributes to the lack of diversity in the outdoors. In other words, regardless of one’s race, we each have our own set of privileges and opportunities that can aid us in finding a resolution, or being allies, in diversifying the outdoors - but prior to that, we first have to look within.

For Larry Guenther, an OA raft guide since 1995, George Floyd's murder prompted him to consider his own white privilege. In his interview, he described questioning his own perceptions about race, and looking through his Facebook friends in order to “get an idea of the diversity in [his] circle.” He has noticed a few outdoor groups making efforts to diversify their community, specifically the hunting and fishing group that he is a part of, but he has not observed a large-scale diversity campaign across the outdoor industry. Larry’s doubts of his own perception of race seem to come from his newly growing awareness that “the system looks out for [him]” and that his privileged space has enabled him to not have to think about race in depth until the last few months. Often, people stay in their racial comfort zones and here they do not need to think about diversity; or in other words, their privilege blinds them from acknowledging the underprivileged and the lack of racial representation in their respective communities.

To better understand the outdoors as an exclusive space, we talked to more of our guides and staff, including Lindsay Maurer, a current guide at Outdoor Adventure as well as one of the interviewers, editors and writers for this article series. She shared,  “As a white person who has gone backpacking every summer since I was born, I have always felt completely at ease in outdoor spaces. It didn’t stand out to me that the outdoor industry is dominated by white folks, from the REI ads to the folks out on the trail. It wasn’t until I worked at my first job as a backpacking guide eight years ago that I consciously noticed that the vast majority of the backpacking participants were white, and even less guides were people of color.” She goes on to discuss the article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by P. McIntosh. Focusing on the 26 privileges listed, Lindsay further emphasizes how white privilege has allowed her, and others of the same race, to see themselves in the outdoors, to feel safe in the outdoors, and to not question whether or not they belong in the outdoors.

The process from recognizing to utilizing one’s privilege is often hard to discern, and to further explore said process, we reached out to Xander Guldman, another one of our guides and a student coordinator at OA. In his interview, he shared, “Being a white male skier, all of my role models in the sport are also white and male… it all just combines together to make it an easy thing for me to envision for myself. I think a lot of it comes from your ability to see success in a certain area and to see success, it helps to have role models that look like you.” This goes to further emphasize the significance of representation and diversity in the outdoors world, where privilege and race are the dominating factors responsible for success. By recognizing said significance, Xander utilizes his privilege and connections in aiding and giving folks a space to voice their story and experience in the outdoors in relation to their privilege as well as limitations through OA’s new speaker series: Outdoor Perspectives.

Long story short, these individuals were able to look within themselves and acknowledge their racial privilege and the need to diversify the outdoor spaces. They were able to either recognize or even implement ways to use their privilege as a form of advocacy. Now it is your turn to look within, to recognize your privilege and to act upon the privilege that you possess - Will you be an ally? Or will you grab what you have and thrive forward? Or will you simply move on with your everyday life?

The lack of diversity is the result of self-unawareness of one’s own opportunities and privileges, be it racial, financial or physical. Although there may not be too many opportunities out there to uplift minority groups in the outdoors, it doesn’t mean that opportunity doesn’t exist. Yet there are not enough folks jumping at those small chances available to them. I, for one, was one of said individuals who, for a long time, didn’t recognize the agency and privileges I possess. Rather, I kept on dwelling in the idea that, as a Vietnamese immigrant, the outdoors wasn’t made for people like myself. It was not until I first recognized the available opportunities that I realized I, too, can be a part of the outdoors. Not only that, as I continue to take up on the offers and opportunities available to me, I come to find more people like myself and even more allies, who came from different backgrounds, but all have the same goal to create a space where we can help diversify the outdoors, where we can create more opportunities for others from different minority groups, and where we can amplify our voice as well as others.

Although this article will be the last one in this first series on outdoor diversity, our mission to diversify the outdoors is an ongoing project. We end this article with hopes to continue to produce more intriguing conversations relating to issues and accomplishments in the outdoors. Along these hopes, we sincerely thank all those who have helped contribute their stories and personal experiences. It was a pleasure to simply talk and have a conversion on the issue of diversity, and they are an example of the first steps in our long path for change and are an essential part to this revolution.

All members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force are volunteers who are dedicated to bringing positive change to outdoor recreation by ensuring that all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status feel safe in outdoor spaces and on Outdoor Adventures' programs. The members who helped write this article are Thao Nguyen, Lizzie Campbell, Michelle Garcia, and Xander Guldman.

This is article three of a three part series.