Why don't you see 'us' on the trail?
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“.....don't 'clown' on me, but sad to say much like the stereotype, my 'brown-ass' did not grow up hiking, I did not have extensive hiking experience let alone on back country hikes” ...expert from prior blog post "The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Part 1"....
In my prior blog post (Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Part 1), I briefly referred the the stereotype "Black People don't hike". Obviously, many 'black' people DO hike*, but it's safe to say not in as large a number as those of European descent.
I wasn't kidding (ref: Machu Picchu part 1) when I said I didn't grow up hiking, but to be fair, it wasn't just my father (Creole: Black, Cherokee & French) who didn't take us on hikes, my mother of 100% European descent, didn't take us hiking either. For my mother, growing up (in) inner city Trenton, NJ as part of an extremely poor 'white' 2nd generation immigrant family, they barely left the block, let alone ever leaving Trenton for nature hikes. My father grew up (in) inner city Mobile, Alabama, and to be honest, leisure activity was one of the furthest things from their minds. For them, a lower middle class 'black' family in 1930's Alabama, survival on a daily basis was more the task at hand.
Now, about that stereotype. Any commentary I have on the subject would of course be speculation, based on my personal experience and the stories of those I surround myself with. That said, I do believe there is some truth in the following three points: #1. Money #2. safety #3. Conditioning.
"That's a white people thing"
Let's start with #1. As I write this in Jan 2017, there are far more families of color doing well enough to be able to afford some hiking supplies (shoes, raingear, nice backpacks etc) than say in the days my father was coming up (1930's). That being said, money can play an important role in a family's decision to go hiking. If you can't afford decent shoes for the trail, some (at least) mediocre raingear, perhaps a compass or some trail supplies ('trail food'/canteens etc) you will not be hitting up the trail. Having the (financial) means to go on a hike is not a race issue. Though I will state of decades prior, considerably less families of color happened to have these (financial) means. If said family did not go hiking, never talked about hiking, and little to no advertising was showing families of color on hikes, it's very likely once these kids have grown up, hiking is not an activity that's on their radar (bringing us to point #3).
You may find that if you ask a person of color (who did not grow up hiking) about hitting up the trail, you may find some of them to say "That's a white people thing". This person may not even have a clue as to why they think that. It's highly likely this person is saying that just because they aren't around any people of color who even talk about hiking let alone actually going (hiking).
"Even though as time progresses and families of color no longer have to run from white hooded men (though some might question my statement rightfully so), the legacy of this fear lives on through generations"
The other big one on my list is point #2: Safety. Many families of color (though of course not all) had run from one thing or another facilitating the idea that life itself is dangerous day to day, so the very last thing you would do on your day off would be to potentially put yourself in more danger. Think about it. Let's use my father as an example. He grew up in 1930's Alabama as a black man. Pretty much every single day of his life was loaded with some level of fear. From something as simple as fear of snakes (of which there were many in Mobile at that time), to something far more of imminent danger like being shot at by 'racist white folks' on his way home from working as a pinsetter at the bowling alley, or having a dog 'sicked' on him (badly bitten) while he was delivering the newspaper*. If on the daily you live in fear (as a child), once you grow up you very well may raise your family to always be in the safest environment possible. There is NO WAY you would even chance putting yourself in any kind of 'dangerous' situation.
Even though as time progresses and families of color no longer have to run from white hooded men (though some might question my statement rightfully so), the legacy of this fear lives on through generations*. Hiking on trails is considered 'safe' yet on certain trails you have bears, wild cats, snakes, slippery narrow trails near steep drop offs, all of which could be frightening to someone who considers life itself to be scary & dangerous.
You can have person A (of whatever color/creed) who came from a family stressed out by fear (WWII survivors, refugees, ppl from other dangerous environments) and they may not assume to be safe in many situations or most of the time. Then you have person B (of whatever color/creed) whose family for generations did well, may not be rich, but def not poor, never wanting/needing. This person's family for generations may have had the same (family) business for over a century, showing to the children a long history of success. This family may have never gone through extreme danger on a daily basis. Therefore, person B may have the outlook on life that they will always turn out on the upside, never end up truly broke or destitute, they might fall and scrape a knee but they don't worry about that fall being fatal. Hence, person B may be more apt to try skiing, hiking, boating, and other things deemed scary or unsafe by person A.
Now, that we have some perspective on perhaps why it seems diversity is in low numbers out on the trails, let's get back down to Peru. Here I am 1st time backcountry hiking. My first time camping at the end of a long day of hiking and waking up on the trail. We reach the highest peak on our 4 day trek (about 4 thousand meters). I look up and see an Andean condor, look out and see snow caps on higher peaks of the Andes, turn around and see the trail continue to get more narrow and seemingly more rugged. My guide then says to me, OK, how are you feeling, because once we pass this section there is not turning back. There are no towns, now way to reach help if you feel you can't continue, and if someone gets hurt, there is only a helicopter that can take you off the trail (which we had no radio or phone signal to call for one even if sh$% did actually hit the fan). I said, I'm great, let's go!
We descend from the 4,000 meter peak and the trail proceeded to get more windy, narrow, slippery (as it began to rain). I was proud of my brand new merrill's, thinking I did my research and finally bought the right shoes, only to realize the model of show I bought had very slippery soles, making me feel like I was wearing ice skates on the wet terrain.
Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe what I saw, yet at some point even the beauty could no longer camouflage my fear. as the trails kept getting more narrow, seeming to me not possible to have 2peoplee walk side by side 'safely', I begin to panic. All I could 'see' beyond the beauty was my 'brown a$$' slipping and falling off the very steep cliff, or getting blown off by the wind. I somehow couldn't assume I would be OK. I kept thinking I was surely going to fall off. And so began the tears. I was so frightened I stopped at points on the trek, leaning up against the rock furthest from the edge and crying, just thinking 'this is it... I'm going to die up here'. Now, there is now way it was 'that' scary or 'that' dangerous. I seemed to be the only person freaking out. At the time of that trek, I was unaware of research/studies done to prove that fear/trauma can be passed down through one's genomic makeup. Unaware that perhaps a combination of subconscious conditioning by my family and genetic inheritance could be the root of such a paranoia. Once we are aware of these things that is when we can begin to consciously break barriers and move through them past them.
Day 4, crossing the sun gate and descending to Machu Picchu. The Sun gate is the home stretch of this 4 day hike. The views are spectacular, well as least that's what they tell me, since it was raining, I still felt like I was wearing ice skates, and just at the sun gate it's very steep, windy and NARROW. So, yes, once again, I began to cry. This time i was able to push through it a bit better than the day before as by this point it wasn't the 1st time I had seen such a windy narrow trail on the edge of a cliff 2-3 thousand meters up. My guide helped talk me through, letting me know I was going to be OK.
I am happy to report, that not much later I did indeed finally make it to the end of our trail. And also happy to report, that tears aside, I would be happy to do this hike again.
*True Story: my father was delivering the paper to a family. there was a dog on the porch, and my father was hesitant to walk any closer. The man on the porch said " don't worry 'boy' it's ok. So, my father then approached the porch to deliver the paper, only to have the owner command the dog to bite/attack my father (for being black).
References: http://tinyurl.com/honlu4x , http://tinyurl.com/l2r9bm4