A Conversation with Rue McKenrick on White Privilege

Rue McKenrick is unlike any distance backpacker I’ve ever met. As the creator of the American Perimeter Trail (APT), he’s been forging his way around the perimeter of the U.S. hoping to connect the land, resources, people, and communities.

Rue’s APT journey brought him along the North Country Trail, which is located a few miles from my new home in Longville, Minnesota. Arrangements had been made for Rue to stay with me and my partner, Demi. On my way home from work Friday afternoon, I recall thinking, “I’m finally going to be a trail angel!”

Demi had plans to pick him up later that evening, but as most hikers know, it’s hard to keep a schedule. I found Rue trying to hitch a ride into town and picked him up. I’m not sure what he thought—a Black woman picking him up in the middle of nowhere. Undoubtedly he’d been passed by many whites and had likely not seen a Black person in several days.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rue. His energetic spirit, kindhearted nature, and his passion for the APT project were apparent. He shared various highlights of his journey and we played Roll It (I won, beating him and Demi!). We discussed gear. Demi and I tried desperately to convince him that Darn Tough socks were the best. He disagreed. I conceded this dude has been hiking 14 months non-stop, he knows his socks!

Of course, in sharing trail stories, I shared my most recent trek on the Superior Hiking Trail. For a 310-mile journey, as a Black person, I had to forewarn locals about my presence on the trail. I can’t take for granted that I’d been seen as a hiker, an explorer, and a lover of nature. I talked to Rue about his privilege during his journey.

Early explorers exploited people of color, destroyed the land, brought diseases, and killed generations of indigenous people. Obviously, Rue was not passing out smallpox blankets or killing Indigenous people, but the institutionalized racism in our country could have still pushed him in the direction of the exploitation of people of color. However, Rue’s mission is solid.

The journeys of white men carving out space in the landscape of this continent are part of the foundation of the U.S. Regardless of his intentions, as a white man, he is part of that cultural landscape. In the backpacking community (like society in general), privilege is being able to hike without thinking, “I should avoid this resupply stop or bypass this section of the trail because I don’t want to deal with racists or the police.” He, and other white hikers, do not have to ask themselves, “Will I be safe hiking through a Klan town”?

As a Black person in the outdoors, you don’t get to go out and explore “unannounced” or “uninvited” without making an effort for people to know “who you are” and “why you are there.” That has to change.

In reading this, some people might misinterpret this and read that I’m saying Rue’s a bad person or that he shouldn’t be creating this trail. I’m not. Rue’s a solid guy with an infectious laugh and deep gratitude for the opportunity he’s been given. His actions are noble.

In this reflection, I’m hoping that folks will consider and perhaps acknowledge the struggles that BIPOC face in the outdoors. My hope upon completion of his project would be that Rue would reach out to communities of color and find out how he can connect with trail communities to make our trails more accessible and safe for all people.

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Comments 10

  • Michael S : Oct 8th

    Is there a standard definition for White Privilege? And, how do I know if I do or don’t have it?

    Reply
    • Crystal Gail Welcome : Oct 8th

      White privilege is the unearned, mostly unacknowledged social advantage white people have over other racial groups simply because they are white. So Michael, if you are white whether you accept it, acknowledge it or believe – you have privilege because you are white.

      Reply
      • Mike S : Oct 9th

        Who is the deciding authority?
        From where does this authority derive it’s power?
        Are there gradations of White privilege?
        Separate question, do people of mixed race bare a proportional responsibility for their Whiteness?
        Are people of mixed race due a proportional recompense for their proportionally less advantage?

        I honestly think this is a made up, feel good mental exercise. Just know, there will be some number of people that will agree with you, simply because they won’t or can’t articulate their view. You can practice answering these questions, if for no better reason, than to practice the logical construction of an argument.

        Reply
        • Crystal Gail Welcome : Oct 10th

          Mike, I don’t know if your questions are rhetorical. The Trek is a site about the outdoors… bringing this back to context. A white hiker doesn’t avoid parking at a trailhead to avoid being targeted by the police. The outdoors is welcoming of white people because those in those environments whites are predominantly represented. A white backpacker doesn’t avoid hiking certain trails or through specific neighborhoods for fear that their skin color may mark them as suspicious. Or result in unwanted conflict or interrogation.

          Reply
  • dwest : Oct 10th

    I believe what is mistakenly called “white” privilege is simply in-group preference.

    I am a (gasp!) straight white male. Also (gasp!) I do actually have a few black friends (who despise the hyphenated term african-americans; since humans originated in Africa, all of us are “African” Americans, but let that go).

    One of my friends is from Philly. A nasty neighborhood, don’t ask me where. A place he escaped from the moment he had the means. He thought it was good sport to bet me that I, mr casper as he nicknamed me, that I couldn’t walk 1 block thru his neighborhood, during the day, and avoid being accosted.

    I accepted his challenge, and he dropped me off on the corner and drive ahead of me while I walked along by myself. It was under 60 seconds before I was identified as an outsider and verbally harassed. I ignored them and continued to walk. Very soon I had a small parade of aggressive young men behind me threatening nasty things. Naturally I picked up my pace but did not run.

    I made it to the end of the block but my friend drove an extra block, because he thought it was funny. At the end of the 2nd block I was running for my life! If he hadn’t got out as I was diving into the car, and briefly explained to them, I believe I would’ve been attacked and killed.

    Is that the white privilege you’re talking about? Because it’s BS. A concocted myth made to justify a victim ideology as a cope because you’re too weak to just deal with reality. There’s nothing racist about in-group preferences or confronting “the other” in regards to strangers you know do not belong in your area.

    Instead of using false mythos to guilt trip gullible whitey, maybe do something besides complain about a natural tendency in ALL people to prefer their own family, friends, or race.

    Reply
    • Crystal Gail Welcome : Oct 10th

      Dwest

      Defining white privilege as an in-group preference makes it something individual and personal. That is not the meaning of the term. There are numerous resources available to you if you would like to learn more about it. Congratulations on having Black friends. Please remember that no group of people are a monolith. Your anecdotal story about a few Black friends does not prove anything and does not relate at all to what I address in this post. Note that in your account, you went out of your way to put yourself in danger.

      In contrast, I don’t feel comfortable going to a grocery store or a park. You were “running for your life” after walking two blocks, but Black people are killed every day just in the process of daily living. I wonder if your Black friend knows that you used him to make a point against white privilege on a website?

      But aside from that – even using your definition of white privilege still leads to Black people having less access to the outdoors. Let’s connect the dots: knowing that outdoor spaces are frequently all-white spaces and saying that it’s okay for people to prefer being around their own race leads to excluding Black people from the outdoors. Newsflash: white people don’t own the outdoors.

      But it is not my intention to engage in a discussion that is solely about white privilege here. There is no shortage of those conversations happening all over the web.

      I discuss white privilege in the context of how it restricts my ability to move in outdoor spaces safely. My posts reflect my experiences, so I’m not going to omit speaking about race just because it might make people uncomfortable. The fact that race is not discussed by anyone else is another demonstration of privilege – white hikers don’t have to think about it, so they don’t write about it. I do.

      Reply
      • dwest : Oct 26th

        The “meaning” of the term is magical fluff dreamed up by a victim mentality. Meaning: IT ISN’T REAL.
        I have red hair. Was mercilessly picked on as a kid, and long into my adult life the stupid nickname “red” continues to follow me. I am not fond of it, however, once you bristle at anything, it becomes a weapon against you. How easy for you, or any black person with this slanted false perception on reality, to cozy up behind some reverse racist BS, there’s a literal ocean of lemmings and like minded ignorant sheeptards crippled by their “white guilt” who are ready and willing to enable your codependency.
        Wake the F up and smell the aftermath of the late 1860’s. Or… I will happily fund your one way ticket back to Africa.

        Reply
      • dwest : Oct 26th

        Everyone must contact private owners of land, whites included (you moron), if they plan to camp. It’s called common courtesy, and it has nothing to do with privilege, it’s the property owner’s RIGHT to know who you are!

        Reply
      • dwest : Oct 26th

        Lastly, I didn’t think I was in danger. I figured on trust. My (anecdotal) friend had earned my trust, so I simply trusted. Against his own admitted racism we had become friends, forced together during our service in the Army. The Army doesn’t care about your skin, your feelings, or anything else you SJW’s think is important.
        Looking back, if I had similar circumstances, I probably would’ve pulled the same amusing stunt on him, have a bunch of my back woods NH country good’ol’boys chase him around with a rope and a noose! Oh ha ha, right? Not funny right?? If everything is racist, then NOTHING is. Peace. Hope your black privilege doesn’t ever get in my way.

        Reply
        • Crystal Gail Welcome : Oct 27th

          Dwest, thanks for sharing. Be well!

          Reply

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