Trail So White- Why The Trail Needs More Diversity
The trail is teeming with diversity. It’s a very diverse group of white men. White men from all over with all different backgrounds and stories. But they are white, white, ultralight, white. I have so much love and respect for this trail. My time so far has been eye-opening, humbling, challenging, spiritual, and a masterclass in awe and beauty. I want everyone who dreams of this adventure to realize it is available to them, no matter what they look like, believe in or who they love. Unfortunately, on the trail just like the rest of the world, we have a long ways to go towards real equality and inclusion.
The trail gives you an opportunity to see the inside of people right away. To strip back the layers of facade that people put up as a defense. On the trail, that all goes away and what you are left with is two people seeing each other for who they are. The heart of them. The inside.
For me, the trail has been an opportunity to see people past their political leanings. After a particularly brutal and divisive campaign year I was left wondering, how do we heal? How do we get back on the same page and move forward united? Maybe we don’t. Maybe the divide is just too big.
On the trail I have been able to (*mostly) connected on a human, emotional level with people who believe the opposite of me. I can see them as human beings, fellow hikers and friends, not as splotches of red, blue or green. This is how we heal, we find a common ground, common trail we all literally move forward together.
So, if this works for political leanings it can work for religious beliefs, sexual orientation, color of skin, etc. People are people are people are people. Exposure is the antidote to hate and ignorance. Education will always reduce xenophobia.
This is an amazing opportunity to break down barriers, stereotypes and dangerous assumptions, to see the real person inside. To see that you aren’t so different. But it will be a wasted opportunity for connection if everyone is white, straight and Christian. The trail direly needs more diversity. There is room out here for everyone, there is a space out here for everyone.
Representation matters. People sitting at home can be inspired to buy a backpack and a plane ticket because they are following someone who looks like them on Instagram. That really happens all the time.
You can be that someone and you can be a part of healing, tolerance, and education. Long distance hiking is just walking far with a backpack on and I’m so sure that anyone who wants to can do it. I had never been backpacking on my own before and I’m doing it, I’m 700 miles in and going strong. If I can get here, you can get here. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about how to turn a thru hike dream into a reality, although please forgive any time lapse in responses as I am currently on trail.
I saw two swastikas on the trail last week, one in the trail register one tattooed on a local ‘hostel’ owner’s arm. That’s a problem. In this day (or any day, really) to still be in a place where saying you agree with murder based on religious beliefs is a problem. This is the same year headstones have been overturned in Jewish grave yards. It hurts my heart to think about how far there is to go, how real these problems are. The world is not a place for hate and bigotry and the the trail even less so. But its here. It’s everywhere.
What is the appropriate response to the glorification of a hateful symbol? Education, representation, love, light, tolerance. I know that starts with you, it starts with the person sitting at home wondering if there is space for someone like them here on the trail. And there is. People can watch your journey and be inspired to take one themselves. Year by year the trail can become a rainbow of love, hope and acceptance. Otherwise this is a missed opportunity for people to connect, soul to soul, heart to heart and dismantle some powerfully dangerous stereotypes. You can do that. We can do that.
There is space here for you.
There is space here for everybody.
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So, how do you propose this diversity? I have hiked Thousands of miles for over 25 years and have never experienced anything but love, inclusion, and acceptance. I can give you 100s of examples of where people have gone to extremes in order to help people that are ‘different” from themselves. The trail is open to everyone equally. So come.
I deeply believe that diversity in human experiences and the sharing of them is a gift we give each other. That said, the demographics of those walking the AT or any other trail has nothing to do with cultural or ethnic diversity. Those who choose to hike do so for personal reasons, perhaps a life changing purpose. I am not sure how that leads to increased “diversity” among our trail travelers!
SOBO starting 6/12/17 White male, sorry Leah.
No need to apologize, Jason. Your duty to see through others’ eyes will be life-long.
What a thoughtful post, Leah. Keep pushing doors open and hold them open for others.
Hmm! Interesting. I’m not surprised its a bunch of whities. Seems like a whitey thing to do 🙂 Hehe. Whatever that means.
I appreciate the idea of the trail offering a grand opportunity to challenge beliefs and assumptions. Just as I’m working more, being more engaged, interacting with people more, my beliefs are being challenged big time and I’m growing! Somewhat painfully and with resistance, but gosh, what a shell I have built!! Ay karumba!
Nice hiking and writing, lady! Love you! HeartSmileHug
Good health, good luck.