The murder of George Floyd has shone a forensically piercing light on racism within our society. In the aftermath, so many Black Lives Matter commentators have highlighted that it is not enough to ‘not be racist’, but if structural change is to come then we must be actively anti-racist. This was an uncomfortable realisation for me as I sought to educate myself, and realised what a white echo-chamber I was operating in as a climbing coach, with predominantly white social media feeds, white friends, white books and white colonial history. We are naïve to think that because we love climbing and find it a welcoming culture, that it is somehow protected from the very worst of the world. In fact, there is layer upon layer of privilege in operation – white, able bodied, finance/ class, language and culture, and still in terms of instructors, gender. In order to be able to take advantage of our supposedly open and welcoming culture, you need to feel safe, have cash in your pocket, access to the right kind of venues, and people you can identify with there ready to welcome you. Can we really say that is the case? And I’m frustrated with the slow response from the BMC and MTA, and a sense of them trying to be apolitical in some way, perhaps to suit what they consider the broader membership? I think what recent events have shown is, we have to be prepared to put our values on display and take an active stand.
For a long time I have thought I was doing ok, trying (and sometimes failing no doubt) to live by my own personal values, and keeping private any actions I took to further those values. I held those values close to me, the better to present the blank canvas that theory says clients want in their psychologist, and also because I am a naturally private person. Its been a painful realisation that this must look very much like apathy and collusion, and I have realised that I must do more to make an active offer to meet people where they are, to make an active offer to make my sessions accessible to anyone, rather than sitting back and waiting. I have been inadvertently succumbing to the idea that ‘anyone can climb’ and missing all the invisible barriers that prevent participation, and by not publicly naming those values, I have perhaps left people from BAME backgrounds wondering whether they really would be welcomed as clients by me.
So, my pledge is
- To do all I can to ensure that people from BAME backgrounds are welcomed and actively invited into the climbing community.
- To challenge racism wherever I see or hear it.
- To broaden my own education, social media feeds and reflect on my own attitudes towards race and ethnicity.
- To actively ask clients from BAME backgrounds about the impact of racism and structural inequalities on their experiences of climbing.
- To start conversations within the climbing spaces I inhabit (such as climbing walls, coaching forums and organisations) about equity and inclusion.
I’m aware that this pledge may not be enough and I would welcome feedback and dialogue as to how I can continue to change my practice.
I’m really grateful for some of the suggestions so far on how to broaden my social media feeds, for the articles and book recommendations I have been sent. Below is a list of some people and resources I have benefitted from…