I am writing to apologize on several fronts, and to thank the readers who took the time to contact Rock and Ice and me personally. Your thoughtful feedback has led to profound reflection on my leadership of this magazine and my origins and actions as a climber.
I approved the publication of last week’s op-ed, Between the Lines: “It’s Time to Change Offensive Route Names.”
While it is long past time to change offensive route names, I was wrong to approve that article because I haven’t, and Rock and Ice hasn’t, done the work to educate myself about the issues, namely a system that favors me, a white male American, at the expense of people of color, in particular Black Americans. I should have sourced this topic to someone who has lived the experiences on the receiving end. Having a white man write on the topic was an error.
For the people who didn’t find anything wrong with the article, please keep an open mind and consider the following points.
I have been wondering why the climbing population is about one percent Black. The answer is in the mirror. I grew up climbing in the rural South 45 years ago (I’m 60 now), and was part of a white boys’ club. We were young and could climb and enjoy risks because we had freedoms that non-white America does not have. We were part of a culture that I regret. White privilege let our “fraternity” exist, and we could be inappropriate, and do just about anything without consequences. Broadly speaking, the white, male-dominated club still exists worldwide.
One of those privileges was putting up routes and getting to name them. When I approved the column, “It’s Time to Change Offensive Route Names,” I was thinking in part of my past, because I gave two routes from that era 40 years ago racist and appalling names. The most egregious used the N word, and I am deeply sorry. Later, when given the chance by a guidebook author, I changed that name, and recently the other on Mountain Project. I should have acted sooner.
Many climbers—notably white—have wrongly believed that route names are sacrosanct. Yesterday morning I spoke with Dominique Davis, a Black climber and mother of two in Atlanta, who is trying to make changes. “It’s disheartening,” she said, “because we’ve gotten so much pushback from the climbing community to change route names, and from the admins on Mountain Project. They aren’t listening, or they just don’t care.”
Going forward, I will work to be a true ally for all minorities, and will strive to fully understand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. I will put the resources of this publication behind the effort, and ask the outdoor industry to join us in offering staff diversity training, providing scholarships for BIPOC climbers and giving voice to underrepresented communities, as a start. The time for fence sitting, letting other people do the work, and being a part of the problem, is over. And the problem is more than just one article and route names. The problem is systemic and reaches into all aspects of society.
“Climbing trips aren’t the carefree escapes from reality for me that they are for you,” said Davis. “I’m Black no matter where I go, and with that comes the reality that the towns many of these crags are located in are not as welcoming and accepting of people that look like me. When there’s a Confederate flag hanging in a gas station, I know I’m not going to risk my safety by stopping there. It has been scary to see the comments on social media and how many climbers are comfortable with keeping racist and oppressive language in our sport. It makes you think about who’s standing next to you at the crag.
“We can’t accept any level of racism or discrimination in our community. We are still stuck in the ‘good ole boys club’ of climbing, and it’s past time for a change.”
So you know that my words are backed with action, I am stepping aside as publisher and editor in chief and empowering the new internal leadership with the tools they need to make the climbing community a better, more inclusive place for everyone. I urge you to support these efforts, because at this critical time in our country we need everyone pulling in the same direction and on the right side of history.
To the climbing community, I sincerely apologize, and am honored to have the opportunity to help affect change.