Race & Gender: Intersection at Oppression & Microaggression

Back when the Women’s Outdoor Summit for Empowerment was morphing from idea to reality, event mastermind Teresa Baker told me that she was being asked whether race would enter into the equation. It was an understandable question because Baker is known for her organizing around issues involving diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. She said it would not be her intention to introduce race, but we agreed that it inevitably would surface.

And it did, of course, during an inspiring, mind-expanding couple of days at the Presidio of San Francisco last week.

The women’s and civil rights movements meet naturally at the intersection of oppression and microaggression. The civil rights movement, in fact, borrowed liberally from tactics and strategy employed during the fight for women’s suffrage and then for the Equal Rights Amendment (whose title I’ve always found ironic because “equal rights” ought to extend past just gender and, even, race).

I write about and advocate for racial inclusion in the outdoors and environmental movement, but I also am what I call a father feminist. I have two daughters, who are at the root of everything I do. But I’m also the son and son-in-law of immigrant mothers, a husband and friend and longtime employer of women. Because I know I am not alone in any of those categories, I have a difficult time understanding how misogyny persists so strongly throughout the world and, particularly, in this country.

The business I founded and operated before The Trail Posse, was a girls’ and women’s basketball website called HoopGurlz. Its underlying mission was to help empower females. I spent a lot of time studying attempts at women’s sports businesses and concluded none were successful because they always were businesses conceived by men in their own image. I could not genuinely operate HoopGurlz as a woman might, but I could strive to by learning from, listening to and, mostly, employing women. I think I did OK because the site became so big, it was purchased by ESPN and, mostly, not once during the 6-7 years I operated HoopGurlz was I told I didn’t belong in that world because I was a guy.

I did not attend the Women’s Summit to prove that I could fit in. Ostensibly, it was to help and support Baker, who is my friend. Dr. Carolyn Finney, another friend, was the keynote speaker. Both are colleagues in the Next 100 Coalition, an alliance of civil rights, environmental, and community groups that advocates for more inclusive management of this country’s public lands. I had a personal stake.

But my greatest takeaway from the summit was a better understanding of being an ally to a cause and subset of people. I consequently gained a better understanding of what I want from allies in my work on inclusion and access in the outdoors. In my corner of the world, we talk about allies all the time, but seldom about the qualities that make them effective.

A good starting point for me is showing up. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Showing up means listening to hard truths – about yourself and your kind – and not interjecting, defending, or mansplaining (or whitewashing). It also means supporting but in a manner defined by the supported – and that usually means in a way not as aggressively as you might expect or desire.

Not everyone agrees about the importance of coming together. Later this month, there will be a gathering of people of color working in nature. White people are not allowed to attend. A federal agency, the National Park Service, even is among its sponsors. Even though the subject matter is in my wheelhouse, I am among a group of people who advocate for inclusion and therefore cannot in good conscience attend an event that excludes anyone. “Do as I say, not as I do” never has been effective modeling for anything. I’m not certain how to create change without change agents on either side who figure out how to work together.

At the Presidio, I posted to social media, as I was asked, and tried to speak mostly when spoken to. I cheered the speakers. I went last in line for lunch. I decided not to camp with the attendees, as prescribed, and paid for a hotel room to help ensure the women a safe space. When the closing session of the summit turned out to be a plain-spoken discussion, I left early. No one asked for any of that; it just felt right. On the other hand, I never was made to feel unwelcomed.

It’s not always easy to put other people first, but being paralyzed into inaction is failing as an ally. Baker came up with the idea of the women’s outdoor summit during the wave of harassment issues that crashed the Park Service’s centennial celebration last year. The capper was the Congressional testimony about a hostile work environment at Yosemite National Park by Kelly Martin, another keynote speak at the summit.

More accustomed to dealing with matters of race and inclusion, Baker was not certain what to do about sexual harassment. But she told herself something that will stick with me: “Just because you don’t know what to do doesn’t mean you should not act.” So she did, and what she did provoked development on which she never counted.

Which seems like one of the more painless ways to make a difference.