In towns, it feels like I’m near-constantly glued to a screen. Mostly, it’s because I chose the wrong external battery for writing blog posts – I should’ve brought the big one – but also because I have relatively few hours in which to contact the outside world, see what’s going on, not become completely disconnected from context. Otherwise, it’s all eating and resupply and talking with friends and and and – it’s easy to just forget the rest of the world is there.
But when I heard through the Facebook grapevine that Blackhawk started the Colorado Trail, I got absurdly, unabashedly excited. Not only another brown person, but another black person! Hiking! And while he’s only slightly newer to this whole backpacking thing than I am, he’s out there! Doing it! Getting it done despite hesitations and fears and a heavy pack and all those things I’m feeling. And I’m excited for him and excited for me and excited for us and and and–
And I wonder how different our experiences will be: he as an identifiable black man, me as a visually-ambiguous brown-black woman-girl.
Color privilege is absolutely a thing. The lighter the skin you have, the closer you’re considered to be to whiteness, and as such, the more exotically beautiful you’re considered to be, the more intelligent you’re often considered to be, the less intimidating you’re considered to be. It’s all a crock, of course, but it’s still a sore spot within the black community, because being light-skinned also gives one more passes when it comes to things like people being overtly racist. Haters gonna hate – I’ve certainly experienced racism, both overt and subliminal, in my life – but folk as light as me tend to escape the worst effects.
In ways, I’ve got gender privilege, too, inextricably linked to my color privilege. Being a woman generally makes me seem less intimidating; being light-skinned rather than dark skinned is a further privilege there. In ways, being (at least initially) alone on the trail, I registered as a woman first – “Wait, you’re hiking alone? Aren’t you worried about [insert terrible thing about humanity here]?” – rather than as a black or even brown woman. Sure, my brownness as a woman statistically makes me less of a pitiable victim and more of an acceptable target when it comes to sexualized violence, at least in the eyes of some, but ultimately, I’m not a threat. Even if the worst were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be killed. Probably. Historically, the odds are not as good for brown men.
It’s bullshit, all of these systems of beliefs – built on a history of oppression and externalized racism, now front and center in thought patterns, media treatment, and microaggressions. But still, I’ve got privilege because of it, a privilege I recognize and try to use to help others, at least spread the message if nothing else. So while I’ve been interested in how I’d be received, what about him? I’ve been traveling with other (white) people, primarily other women, what about him? How has his experience been? How has his experience of people, of places along the way been?
I hope he’s having a good hike, and I hope he’s becoming more confident as time goes on. I also hope he has a safe hike; I hope no one decides to be “that guy” to him on the trail. I hope other hikers stick up for him if he does – we’re all doing the same, awesome thing, after all. Ultimately, I hope he, too, finds what he’s looking for out here, whatever that may be.