If you’ve been paying attention to the news, there has been a lot of heavy discussion around the exorbitant amount of atrocities committed against people of color. This is what we know: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are victims of three separate crimes against black people and that they’re not the only ones. These cases have raised a lot of questions about racial profiling. Millions of people are affected by racial bias every day—but especially people from the black community. And it’s causing black people to ask allies to do better.
Where do we begin to unpack this? It’s really complicated and heavy and so deep-seated within our society, and even ourselves. Brandon Belcher and I sat down last November and this conversation that you’re about to lean into needs and deserves to be heard. Not just by the climbing community, but by the world at large. We still have a lot of work to do, and that work begins by listening to one another—especially to those who have the least power in society. Healing begins by listening to those voices and their stories. Also, Mikey Schaefer makes a quick cameo—how random is that!
This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, Têra Kaia, and Appalachian Gear Company. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Downtown”, “Short Story”, “In My Head”, “Dark Water”, “Bright White”, “Old Skin”, and “Got Spark” by Podington Bear. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help. Cover photo by Re Wikstrom.
This episode is in dedication to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and every single black life that deserves to be celebrated, today and all days. #blacklivesmatter
(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.
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(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:
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(BRANDON BELCHER): I’ve never really liked the terminology “dreads” . I like to refer to them as “locks”. Like—my hair’s not really dreadful or anything like that; it’s just how it grows out of my head. But, um—
It’s more than two black people climbing now—it’s more like five! But for probably the first two to three years, I was pretty much the only black person that was climbing in the gym. Especially in the southeast, I was, for the longest time, the only black person that you would see getting outside consistently. Um, it…it can feel a bit alienating at times.
(KK): Hey, a quick note to everybody: This beginning segment might be triggering for some people listening, especially those who are members of the black community. We do not include any audio of the video footage that has been circulating the internet, however many of the recent deaths that have occurred within the last few months are referenced and included. In light of their relevance, we wanted to include as much information while also being as sensitive as possible, but if you think that this might cause you any trauma, please feel free to skip past the introduction to Brandon’s interview segment at minute twelve. We also briefly mention the topic of lynching during a few relevant portions of his interview around minute seventeen and thirty-five. Everything within our conversation was topical and therefore, important to include.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, there has been a lot of heavy discussion around the exorbitant amount of atrocities committed against people of color—most recently spurred by the death of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud, a twenty-five-year-old unarmed black man, was killed by two armed white men as he jogged through a neighborhood in southern Georgia. This fatal shooting took place on February 23rd, but the public only became aware of it after a graphic video of the incident was spread widely on social media. This is what we do know: Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s stories are now alongside Ahmaud’s. We know that they are victims of three separate crimes against black people and that they’re not the only ones. But these cases have raised a lot of questions about racial profiling. Millions of people are affected by racial bias every day—but especially people from the black community. And it’s causing black people to ask allies to do better. For a lot of white people, there is an invisible “only” in front of the words “Black Lives Matter”, which couldn’t be more wrong. There’s a huge difference between focus and exclusion, and #BlackLivesMatter is about focusing on the work that we need to do in order to prevent more violent crimes committed against black men and women. But where do we even begin to unpack this? It’s really complicated and heavy and so deep-seated within our society, and even ourselves.
Brandon Belcher and I sat down last November and this conversation that you’re about to lean into needs and deserves to be heard. Not just by the climbing community, but by the world at large. We still have a lot of work to do, and that work begins by listening to one another—especially to those who have the least power in society. Healing begins by listening to those voices and their stories.
(BB): A moment within my climbing career that sticks out to me was my first time going outdoor bouldering in a small town called LaFayette, Georgia. Just the number of flagpoles that I saw hung up on people’s porches definitely caused a bit of anxiety when I was first out there. Historically speaking, a lot of rural areas in the south have been dangerous places for a lot of black people—particularly black men. A lot of those areas were life-threatening for a lot of people who looked like me. So, to be up there amongst all that symbolism was a bit surreal to me. I just thought, what the hell am I doing up here?
(MALE VOICE): Let’s begin today in Minnesota where tensions between protestors and police reached a boiling following the death…
(voice trails off)
(FEMALE VOICE): The Kentucky family is demanding answers today. The death of a frontline healthcare worker who was killed during a police raid two months ago.
(MALE VOICE): Major developments tonight in that case igniting national outrage of a young unarmed black man shot and killed.
(FEMALE VOICE): Demands for an arrest have grown louder.
(MALE VOICE): America’s going to have to address its long, violent, brutal history of racism and how it plays out in our current criminal justice system. Very often, when black people are killed in this way, the very first thing that law enforcement does is say, “Oh, they’re criminals. Oh, have you seen their background?”
(MALE VOICE): He’d have been living today if he was a white kid. He would have never got racial profiled.
(MALE VOICE): But the video showed the world what we already knew—that black life still needs to be valued and protected.
(FEMALE VOICE): An injustice against one is an injustice against all!
Today I mourn the death of justice! Won’t you mourn with me?
(MALE VOICE): Come on!
(MALE VOICE): The problem I have is this: it is so hard to be black in America. And I think a lot of people do not understand why.
(MALE VOICE): Then I realized as a black young man: What can we do? My youngest son Byron used to ask me, “Daddy, can I go to my friend’s house?” And I would say, “No!” He used to ask me, “Daddy, can I go outside and play?” And I would say, “No!” He used to ask me, “Daddy, can we go somewhere?” And I would say, “No!” And then one day, he stood back and just looked at me. He said, “Daddy, if we can’t do that, what can we do?” And I’m saying today, as black men: They told us to stand up—then they pushed us down. They told us to sit up—then they mowed us down. They told us to sit in the car and don’t move your hands—then they gunned us down. We stood on corners and tried to make a living. They came up and they choked us down. What can we do? What can we do? What do you want us to do? You know, it’s some times right now and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again: We can run up and down football fields. Dribble up and down courts. Hit baseballs out the park. Run around the track. But at the end of the day when they take that uniform off, you still a black man. You still a black man. I was promised by leaders: Stand with us and you will get justice.” I got justice. I got pain. I got humiliation. I got frustration. I got ridiculed. But at the end of the day, I said, “I’m not gonna let the situation dictate my attitude—but I’m gonna let my attitude dictate the situation.” And I made up in my mind that anybody that I see go through what I went through, I’m going to do all I can to help them. And that’s why I’m here today—to help and be with this family. So, I say to you right now: Stick together. Stick together. Make your vote count.
(crowd cheers and applauds)
(FEMALE VOICE): No justice!
(CROWD): No peace!
(FEMALE VOICE): No justice!
(CROWD): No peace!
(CROWD): No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace!
(applause continues and fades)
(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.
(BB): Ooh…I guess…I guess I would like to think of myself as someone who tries to be understanding. I guess I try to really hear people’s perspectives, kind of regardless of where they’re coming from. I’m relatively outgoing, a bit of a wildcard sometimes. It really depends. I feel like I’m pretty dynamic and I’m kind of moody, in a sense. It just really depends on the day that you catch me I guess.
(KK): If someone asked you to describe yourself, maybe a stranger on the street—what would you tell them? That you’re funny, optimistic? Maybe you’re a dog lover—I mean, who doesn’t love dogs? Or you’re the kind of person who loves learning new things. Maybe you like science or sports or you grew up in a big city. And you wouldn’t necessarily tell them if you were black…because if you’re standing face-to-face with someone, that would be obvious, right? But it would still be a part of who you are—as a whole. And for those who insist that they “don’t see color”, it’s kind of hard to overlook something like the color of someone else’s skin when they’re staring you in the eye having a conversation about what kind of salad dressing they like or whether they’re an introvert or extrovert. When you say that you “don’t see color”, what you’re really saying is that you don’t see everyone in the community.
What you can’t see (because this is a podcast) is that Brandon is black. On more than one occasion, he’s been described as “one of two regular black climbers in Stone Summit Atlanta—the black guy with the dreads”. But what you also can’t see is that he grew up in Atlanta. He’ll be your best friend in under ten minutes. He’ll call out the elephant in the room and will talk about everything from racism to Rick and Morty without missing a beat. And most of all, he goes above and beyond for his friends. And if you ever meet him in person, he’ll be the nicest motherfucker at the crag. But also—don’t call his locks “dreads”.
(BB): It can feel, yeah, mostly just alienating. I never really got sad about it or really upset about anything. I feel like if it was something that really bothered me all the time that I would have just stopped the sport in general. And also, truthfully, it’s not the first time that I’ve just been the only black person within certain communities and things like that. Like the middle school I went to in Texas: I was one of three black kids in the entire school. They were in eight grade so by the time I was in seventh grade, they were in high school—so I was the only black kid in the entire school. So, it’s not the first time that I’ve really felt really isolated in that sense. You could say I’m a bit desensitized to it in some ways, but I still think about it from time to time for sure.
(KK): Brandon moved back to Atlanta in 2004, and he started climbing in 2013. But he’s not a quote-unquote, serious rock climber.
(BB): I was really wanting to use the climbing gym as a way to train for my calisthenics. I didn’t really take climbing all that seriously. I guess once I started improving, I really kinda started noticing a lot of the benefits. How it really benefited my mental health and stuff like that, especially with how it really dealt with some difficulties with unemployment and some of kind of the depression that comes with that. It really helped me kind of keep my head straight and helped me kind of stay in a healthier mental state. I stuck with it and started climbing outside a lot and now, it’s pretty much taken over my life, for the most part.
(KK): In the US, overt racism is pretty obvious to most people. So, it’s pretty easy to stand up for and defend others—right? But covert racism is just that—it’s covert, concealed, stealthy. Hidden within the fabric of our society and even hidden within the fabric of ourselves. And then, we rationalize it.
The word “micro-aggression” is considered to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but for many of those who don’t truly understand the term, there’s this assumption that it’s about having your feelings hurt when it’s actually about repeatedly dismissing a person’s feelings and alienating them to reinforce the difference in power and privilege. That’s how racism and discrimination today are perpetuated. So, if these things are so deep-seated within us, often to the point that we don’t always know that it’s there—well, how do we combat something like that? We start with defining everyday racism. There are three forms of micro-aggressions identified as micro-assault, micro-insult, and micro-invalidation. You can check out the end of the transcript if you wanna learn more; we link it in the show notes. Almost all interracial encounters are prone to one of these forms of micro-aggressions—and likewise, almost all of us have expressed these—on some level. We always don’t mean it, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.
(BB): Sometimes you get little awkward comments in the gym and stuff like that and, I mean, they’ve even come from friends and I don’t even think they’ve realized that what they’ve said could be potentially problematic. I mean, I’ll always remember I took a fall inside the gym and you kind of heard the rope cinch as I took a fall—I was on lead. And one guy was like, “Oh it sounded like the knot—” (like a lynch rope) “—tightening when someone gets hung,” or something like that. And you know, I know this person. I know he didn’t mean anything by it. You know, but it’s one of those things that I was just like, “Ehh.”
You know, I don’t think he even thought about it for two seconds. You know, especially—we were talking about doing eliminates and stuff like that. You know, I’m skipping holds and doing all this dynamic movement and stuff and some people who may not be as experienced in climbing’s like, “Oh, he looks like a little monkey up there!” And they probably didn’t mean anything by it. And I even chuckled about it while I’m up on the wall climbing and you kind of hear their friend kind of whisper, “That’s not ok! You can’t say those things.”
(KK): As a woman, people often ask me about being on the road and do I think that it’s dangerous to be alone most of the time. And, of course, as a woman, there are a lot of things that I need to be aware of. And while I’m not invalidating these concerns as a five-foot tall, hundred-pound woman who travels primarily with her snuggly-not-scary Pitt bull, I could never compare my experience to the experience of a black person’s. It isn’t my lived experience. I don’t have to navigate these kinds of thoughts or certain preparations for my climbing trips the way that a black person might. I don’t know the specific challenges of other minority groups outside of my own—but I can listen. And I can believe that they do exist. Most people don’t acknowledge these challenges because they don’t have to worry about it. Having to not think about unwelcome stares or vet certain stores and restaurants is a privilege—and that’s what some people go through—just to go climbing. Just to engage in outdoor recreation. Just to step out of their front door. We’re not saying that this happens every single day to every single person—but the fact that it does happen needs to be acknowledged. And if you’re a person of color, then you’ve probably had to navigate some of these uncomfortable conversations, too.
(BB): Admittedly, I enjoy a very heightened level of privilege because I’m a man. Especially because of my general size and stature, especially compared to other climbers. I’m a bit bigger than most climbers, I’m a man. So, my interactions, I would say, are drastically different than what a lot of women of color deal with within our community. Based on the experiences that I’ve heard, and not just within climbing, within just outdoor recreation activities in general—it sounds like women of color get a lot more pushback, a lot more hell, they experience more covert and overt racism within these communities—within their own communities. So, admittedly, I have not really had too many experiences where I felt like my general safety or my well-being was actually in danger. I haven’t had many personal experiences. Now, when it comes to climbing outside, I definitely have a heightened sense of where I am at. Coming from the southeast, a lot of our areas are in extremely rural parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee. As a black person, it’s like—I lived with this existence every second of my life, so I’m always cognizant of where I am and how people are interacting with me and how they’re interacting with the world around me. Every second of my life, I’m having to kind of assess. But once I am outside of certain areas, i.e. Atlanta mostly, I have to be even that much more aware. That’s how I have to kind of navigate the world around me. You know, I go up to Rocktown and Zahnd a lot in North Georgia, and, I mean, admittedly, my first experience going up there was kind of terrifying. This was after the Dylann Roof shooting—Dylann Roof had shot up that predominantly black church and, unfortunately, the narrative had really changed to freedom of speech in regards to the confederate flag. And I remember driving up there and you get up to this town called LaFayette, which is the nearest town before you get to the trailhead. And it was like every third house had confederate flags hung up. Some of these confederate flags had Rhodesian and South African apartheid emblems on them.
(KK): To interject, apartheid is white minority rule. It means “separateness” and was a system of racial segregation that governed South Africa for nearly fifty years. It was specifically aimed to protect the domination of white South Africans over non-white South Africans. There were a hundred and forty-eight apartheid laws in total, such as black people had to follow curfews, carry ID permits with them at all times, and had no political rights. These laws that began in 1948 were a continuation of injustices. Protests were met with severe repression. That wasn’t even a hundred years ago—so, to see this sort of symbolism in 2013 when Brandon started climbing is…kind of fucked up.
(BB): So, when I see that sort of symbolism, it really…it definitely resonated with me. Yeah, it definitely impacted me. It was like, “Oh. Your mindset as far as how race relations look or how they should be is not within my best interest at all.” And I was like, “Ok, well I can’t stop to get gas anywhere near here.” And my buddy AJ was with me at the time. He’s the one that pointed out these emblems. I think I was driving so he was looking around. He was just like, “Oh, these are apartheid emblems on these confederate flags.” I mean, there’s a lot of symbolism mixed in with that. And so, he was like, “We need to get to the trailhead immediately. And do not stop anywhere.”
That’s the sort of shit that I have to kind of be aware of all the time. Every single time I go outside climbing somewhere, depending on the crag: I got my gas stations I go to, I got my restaurants that I go to, I got my places I get my snacks. I usually vet places. Usually, they’re kind of corporate establishments—the quick trips, the CVS’s. But besides that, I’m not stopping anywhere else. ‘Cause I’m not really sure what interaction I’m gonna have with people and I’m not really sure how those interactions are going to dictate how my day goes. Because someone decides to call the police on me—and that is a potential life-threatening experience for someone like me.
(KK): I want to talk about something that was sort of a new topic for me to tackle. And that’s the difference between racism and colorism, a word that according to every dictionary and every auto-correct, doesn’t even exist. Not…officially, anyway. Alice Walker, an activist and author, first coined the word “colorism” in 1983. In her book, ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’, Walker gave name to light-skin preference, or the discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone. Margaret Hunter has also conducted research on skin tone in the African American and Latina communities, education, and urban inequality. Her book ‘Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone’ explores this well-known, yet rarely discussed phenomenon. If light-skinned women gain advantages in terms of educational attainment, income, residential segregation, romantic relationships, beauty status, and mental health—then colorism exists, Merriam Webster be damned. Also, fuck you auto-correct!
(BB): Color politics, or skin politics, within the black community, in particular, is very real. I mean, I remember as a kid, my mother was always significantly more dark-skinned than me and my sister and we used to joke around about stuff like that, you know. It’s a lot of that internalized sort of racism that goes back to mostly slave era of sort of like norms that were established that still impact families today. You know, because there’s so many different levels of privilege that are going on. Men and woman, people of color versus, you know, I guess white privilege. Tall privilege—like being tall is kind of a privilege, right? Being relatively attractive—conventionally attractive, is a privilege. Coming from a good socio-economic background—things like that. When you kind of tackle the ambiguity of privilege, you kind of run into these situations where it’s like, yeah, some men of color—they react harshly and strongly to women of color whenever women of color start bringing up certain issues. You definitely see that happen from time to time, and I would say it’s because mostly men of color don’t recognize that they also possess a level of privilege that ultimately shapes how they see the world around them—and ultimately shapes problematic behavior and actions that they carry out. You know, and there’ve been instances where there’s been pretty significant pushback from different parts of these color spectrums that is really unfortunate because it kind of divides the communities. And in a lot of ways, I would say, men of color definitely have failed to show up for women of color. I would say, as a whole, we really have failed in defending women of color when things come up. And that’s just like an issue that’s been around for a long time—a very long time.
And I think for a lot of people when you start bringing up privilege, there’s a level of guilt I think that a lot of people feel when you start bringing up these things. I mean, I certainly have felt that level of guilt when people have brought up my problematic behavior or behaviors or actions that I’ve carried out. And it’s like, “Mm, that’s really problematic because of XY and Z.” When people start to bring up how your behavior is problematic and how it impacts them—how it hurts them, even—it can be hard to process that. And this is just coming from my perspective as a man—it can be hard to process that because you don’t want to necessarily be the one who’s responsible for this pain. For this experience that people are feeling—this kind of uncomfortableness that people are feeling. Even if it doesn’t have to really have anything to do with you or your actions, in particular, just hearing about those certain things can be really hard to process. And I think a lot of people really hate to admit it, but they start to think about how their past actions have contributed to this cycle of privilege or have possibly hurt people in the past—and they start to feel guilty about it. You know, unfortunately, instead of really slowing down and really trying to process these feelings and just hearing out the person who’s talking to them—instead of just slowing down and just shutting up for a second and listening, you know—they get really defensive. I think for a lot of folks, it’s like, they’re not denying that the privilege exists. I think, really they’re trying to defend themselves and say, “I’m better than that.” Which is really unfortunate, ‘cause it’s supposed to be an educational moment. Right? But I think some folks—they really have a hard time processing all of that. And I’ve experienced that myself. And I’ve had to really come a long way with recognizing my privilege and not making the moment about me, of course. And really just letting this person educate me on what I can do better.
I’m definitely a person who likes to have those sort of conversations in person. Not really in like a DM or like a social media comments thread or something like that. I’ve found that it’s a lot more impactful if you’re looking at the person in the eye and they can see the pain in your face or they hear the pain in your voice. I think it has a much larger impact on how they react. So, I’ve gotten a little bit better about being uncomfortable, in that sense. I’ve had to kind of have those uncomfortable sort of moments with people, even in the gym. I mean, I’ve heard some people say some real rotten things about certain groups and I just couldn’t help myself. You have to nip that shit in the bud sometimes and just kinda call it out like it is. Social media, to me, is a good way to highlight very broad, very general topics and issues that people are dealing with. But when it comes to the more intimate conversations that go on and the dialogue that goes on—I definitely have witnessed things go downhill very quickly. And especially like you’re on like Facebook and Twitter and it’s just like, people are just trying to egg you on just to tear you down. The troll culture is at a whole other level than I have ever witnessed. I mean, I’m a child of the internet. I remember AOL Instant Messenger and I’ve done like the whole playing Halo II online and you know I’ve had six-year-old kids call me the “N” word, you know, while we’re playing Halo and stuff like that. And they don’t even know that I’m black, you know. So, I’m a product of the internet. I have seen and I have dealt with some shit online—but the level that I’ve seen it now is just so toxic. So venomous. So, it’s hard to stay engaged on that micro-level when you’re having to deal with all of that at the same time. I think, on a macro-level, like I said, dealing with like more general topics and highlight a lot of important issues, but, on that micro-level when it comes to more of the personal conversations, man. It seems like it’s getting more and more difficult as the time goes on to really get people to understand and to just hear you out. And that’s just from what I’ve witnessed—from your posts, from posts from various other people, from like Brown Girls Climb to Melise Edwards to even like Nina Williams is getting pushback on certain things that she’s highlighting—and it’s like environmental stuff! And folks are just tearing people down’ cause they just generally disagree. They just don’t even wanna hear your point—they just wanna just tear you down as best they can. It’s real bad right now.
(KK): Does it surprise you—that the commentary comes from climbers? Does that surprise you?
(BB): Yes and no. I’ve been joking that each and every year, I’ve kinda become more and more disappointed in our community as the years go by. At first it, it was very surprising because you think of climbing and just generally speaking, outdoor recreational activities, as kind of progressive, liberal activities and everyone’s kind of flower children and everyone loves each other and it’s all love. And then you kinda start seeing some comments from people. Like, “Oh, you are really harboring a lot of hate.” And I guess that the more and more that I’ve kind of gone into some of these comment threads and kind of read some of the stuff people have said—the more disappointed I’ve really felt. I always knew that the community was very insular in a lot of ways, but that was very oddly eye-opening to me. Everyone’s reaction, especially a lot of these guys holding in a lot of sorta like hyper-toxic masculinity within themselves and how they kind of see the culture and the community within their own eyes, I guess but—man, I don’t know. I just kinda thought that we were just better than that and a little bit more open-minded than that.
(MIKEY SCHAEFER): Yeah, it’s interesting. You’re using I guess a term I’m not familiar with or I think of it as slightly different. Like, maybe calling in. You know, I kind of look at that as almost like education. Right? Like, that’s how you change somebody—well, you make them smarter. Right?
(MS): Because usually, the smarter you are, the more likely you are to do the right thing.
(MS): And if people don’t know, then it’s a lack of education. And how do we bridge the knowledge gap that we have right now? And I think most people want to do the right thing. Do you see any way to bridge that knowledge gap? How do we bring people in, you know? Sorry, if you could just wrap that up for me and make it all nice and neat, ok?
(BB): You have to come from a place where you’re having to educate, which is very hard because there’s a lot of emotional labor that comes with that. But you have to come from a point of education and not a point of shaming. When you start to shame someone, that’s when they’re just going to totally shut off, at that point. They’re not even going to try to have any sort of actual dialogue with you because then it becomes more of a defensive thing. But, it’s like you can’t really be angry at someone because of their ignorance. Like you said before, they don’t know what they don’t know. You can be frustrated about it, but I feel like it’s hard to be angry with someone about these sort of things and that’s where you have to come at it from a point of education with it all—which is so, it’s so difficult to navigate. Now, I think it’s fair to be angry when someone is willing to have that conversation and then instead of listening, they’re just giving a lot of pushback. That’s a totally different thing. And that’s something that I’ve definitely witnessed a lot of times with people where they try to rope you in a little bit and it’s like, “Oh, I want to have this conversation.” And all of a sudden, they start hitting you with their toxic troll nonsense. But I think just coming at it from a point of education versus a point of shaming is the first step.
Climbing is not inherently racist, however, conventional climbing from the beginning—like big wall climbing at Yosemite and stuff like that—it was born during a system of racism, so, therefore, it’s impacted by it, right? Black people were banned from national parks up until I think it was like the mid-fifties or something like that. That’s already a barrier that’s already been set and that has already impacted who is allowed to control the narrative within this certain sport, and who continues on with it. It was born out of the system and it’s going to impact how it is today. So, it’s like, no wonder black people haven’t really been getting into it—because we weren’t even allowed to get into it in the first place. My mom remembers segregated water fountains in Ohio and she’s not even sixty. You know, there’s a lot to unpack, you know, of course, and frankly, when a lot of these big wall accomplishments were going on, black folks were trying to get the right to vote. They weren’t worried about hammering in pitons into cracks and stuff like that—they were trying to just have basic rights. So, who gets to control that narrative from the beginning really has an impact on how things are carried out today. You see it in tech, you see it in climbing—politics. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere.
That’s one thing I definitely have seen a lot of companies kind of lack: acknowledging that historical perspective. Because the entire time I’m watching Valley Uprising and I’m like “Oh, this is cool. This is neat—but, come on, man. Without your heightened status within this country, it wouldn’t have been a possibility whatsoever. You know, you had the opportunity to do this because of your legal status within the country at the time.” But, you know, I think just acknowledging that is a really big step that we’re gonna have to really take at some point—if we’re wanting to become inclusive in that sense.
(MS): You never get to undo history, right? I mean, we’re always at the starting line—
(MS): —Right? So, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. Right? So, if it was up to you, what would we do from today going forward to essentially level the playing field, right? It’s like, I have a head start, right? You know, are there any techniques? Are there any things we can do to get ourselves out of this? And can you apply that thinking to our community or something like that right?
(BB): Yeah, I would say, especially where these gyms are kind of popping up. Like, you look at—what is it? Memphis Rocks. They put Memphis Rocks in the middle of one of the roughest neighborhoods in the entire United States. Purposely doing those sort of things, I think, really opens up a lot of avenues to these communities who are not necessarily exposed to these sort of activities. And in a lot of areas, if you’re wanting to get into climbing, you have to go outside of your neighborhood—which can already have its own sort of loaded historical trauma, depending on the neighborhood and stuff like that. You’re going into a space where, primarily, it’s a lot of white people handling ropes. Emily Taylor has always highlighted this: there’s a lot of loaded historical trauma with that imagery. There’s a lot of symbolic trauma with that imagery. A lot of us have never experienced lynching. But we definitely heard about it. We’ve definitely seen photos of it. And so, that kind of causes some discomfort for some people. For me, personally, no. But for others, definitely. And I can definitely understand where it comes from. And it’s in the back of my mind. It’s not gonna stop me from doing what I wanna do. But it’s definitely in the back of my mind.
Some of these gyms, I think, could take on a bit more of responsibility with trying to get more people in. Especially when it’s in their best interest. You get more of a diverse background within your gym, that’s more money in your pocket. Especially with these big global gyms popping up—these mega gyms popping up, like—
—they’re just, they’re trying to turn out the bucks, man. It’s all about revenue. So it’s within their best interest to do it. But I would say, you know, maybe starting to kind of put in some of these gyms in different neighborhoods outside of a neighborhood that has an REI that’s nearby—or a Whole Foods nearby. That’s a formula that apparently some of these gyms are doing—where it’s like, “Ok, our market typically lives where an REI is at and a Whole Foods is at, and so we’re just going to put in the middle of here.” And it’s like, well—what do those communities normally look like?
On a corporate level—the Patagonias, the North Faces, and stuff like that—there’s been a lot of good initiatives as far as getting more women, people of color, black and brown people within advertisements, within PR campaigns. But I feel like there really won’t be true impact until we start getting more diversity within influential roles. And I’m talking—more people in marketing. More people in your BizOps. More people in your product design. C-level, D-level individuals within your company. Once you start kind of looking—‘cause we’re out there. We’re out there. And I’m not just saying just put just anyone in there—but people who are passionate about your mission as a company. You find those individuals and you put them in those positions ‘cause then, that’s when a lot of those issues will start to be resolved. And, you know, you stop kind of running into these, “Oops. Well, we kind of screwed up here. Oops, we kind of screwed up here.” Well, you keep screwing up because those individuals who are in those positions of power may not necessarily have the perspective to catch those things. I think that’s like the one that’s gonna really change a lot of things. And it’s not just like, “Oh, we have more black people in our retail space!” That’s not really an influential position. That’s not gonna influence the trajectory your company’s going. The positions that influence those trajectories need to be filled with people of a more diverse background who are passionate about your mission statement to see actual change. Like you said, you’re not gonna be able to reverse history—but you can change what the future looks like for sure.
(KK): I don’t hate white people; I hate the system of white supremacy that gives them asymmetrical power and unmerited privilege.
I don’t hate cops; I hate the pattern of police brutality that systematically harasses and kills black people and other people of color with impunity. ⠀⠀⠀
I don’t hate soldiers; I hate the horror of war that terrorizes the most politically and economically vulnerable among us.⠀⠀⠀
I don’t hate rich people; I hate the system of capitalism that creates an elite one percent at the expense of the rest of us.⠀⠀⠀
It is precisely because of my love for humanity that I get enraged at systems that prevent people from flourishing and being free. It’s frustrating to see my righteous anger at unjust systems interpreted as hatred for individuals, but it’s more frustrating to see the oppressed suffer while those maladjusted to injustice remain silent. ⠀⠀⠀
I won’t be silent. These words by Nyle Fort.
– Thank you to Brandon Belcher for having this conversation with me. People like Brandon are helping challenge things like bigotry and racial stereotypes every day—and so much of the conversations that we push to start having today will translate to the rest of the world tomorrow. One of the goals of recognizing your privilege and leaning into these conversations and stories can lead to things like internal healing and positive change—which is something that I think a lot of people could truly benefit from. Not only that, but it could save lives.
This episode is in dedication to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and every single black life that deserves to be celebrated, today and all days.
– Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.
– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.
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Resources for you and/or loved ones:
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. #BlackLivesMatter combats and counters acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose: In this, her first collection of nonfiction, Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Among the contents are essays about other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid memoir of a scarring childhood injury and her daughter’s healing words.
Race Gender & Politics Skin Tone tackles the hidden yet painful issue of colorism in the African American and Mexican American communities. Beginning with a historical discussion of slavery and colonization in the Americas, the book quickly moves forward to a contemporary analysis of how skin tone continues to plague people of color today. This is the first book to explore this well-known, yet rarely discussed phenomenon.
Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Derald Wing Sue’s “Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life offers an insightful, scholarly, and thought-provoking analysis of the existence of subtle, often unintentional biases, and their profound impact on members of traditionally disadvantaged groups. The concept of microaggressions is one of the most important developments in the study of intergroup relations over the past decade, and this volume is the definitive source on the topic.” —John F. Dovidio, PhD Professor of Psychology, Yale University
Additional essential reading for anti-racism work: