With its mild humor and compelling, dynamic narrative, I found Haile’s “Going It Alone,” extremely insightful, and topical. It highlights a major human flaw, and one that is very noticeable in our modern American society: we, at large, are stuck in the past, be that in racism, xenophobia, or the like. One could say that this is no longer commonplace in our society, but I would point, as Haile does, to our current political landscape. It appears to be the modus operandi for many, though not all, on the right, is to blatantly ignore or downplay examples of it, while some, though not all, on the left try to elevate the situation for their benefit. One could certainly argue that the former is larger and more dangerous than the latter, but still, both are issues, and the resulting situation is exemplary of the fact that we have not progressed much beyond our troubled history.
One example of this issue that Haile uses early in the article really struck me, as she intended for it to do, is a response from a fellow hiker she is chatting to after she says she is of Eritrean heritage.
“‘I knew it,’ he says. ‘You’re not black.’ I say of course I am. ‘None more black,’ I weakly joke. ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘You’re African, not black-black. Blacks don’t hike.’”
This, of course, is terrible, and it really shows how ready to jump into this stance he, and likely many others like him, was. There is a good, and even productive way to approach a conversation like this, if he were to be more respectful and interested in her history, and obviously far less presumptive and prejudiced. As a hiker and backpacker myself, I have heard people in the past remark at how notably non-diverse the community is. This is something that could be explored in a considerate way, asking why this is the case, and what prevents people of color from becoming involved in these activities.
Those who continue the stereotyping and categorization of people, especially over small things like hiking, are perhaps not knowingly being racist. They may just be acting upon what they think is acceptable or amusing at that moment in time because they are not aware of the implications of their actions. Not that this excuses it, but quite the opposite. As I, and many who enjoy dad-humor, like to say, “you know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of you and me.” That is very much the case here: people need to be educated to be aware of how their actions play into a larger system that hurts marginalized groups. Of course, I’m not saying to stay quiet when Uncle Dave makes an offensive comment at Thanksgiving dinner, but rather when you do reply, try to help him learn.