Issues Of Race, Class And Gender In The 2011 Reel Rock Film Tour

Many thanks to the reader who passed along this article from the blog Girls Like Giants in which the writer, who I don’t think is what one would consider a “hardcore” climber, reflects on her impressions of the 2011 Reel Rock Film Tour:

To pretend that there is no race or gender in climbing is naive. And indeed, while I really enjoyed a lot of the films in the 2011 Tour, most of them would reinforce gender stereotypes about the climbing world: nary a woman to be seen, except a few that hang around the camps of the kooky guys…

…snip…

It’s strange, trying to be ideologically savvy while watching Ashima climb in the midst of all these other climbing videos. You don’t want to point out her gender or her race – it seems somehow belittling to do so.  She’s just an athlete, I want to say, doing what all climbers do, but better. But the subtext just doesn’t go away.  All the while you’re aware that she’s a nine year old girl, she’s urban, she’s Japanese. These things make her even awesomer as a climber, right, because they’re the things she has to fight against. But…you’re not supposed to notice them. Watching this rock climbing film just made me incredibly conscious of how difficult it is to navigate race, gender, and other conditions shaping our lives.

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96 Responses to Issues Of Race, Class And Gender In The 2011 Reel Rock Film Tour

  1. John May 7, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    It seems obvious. Climbing is dominated by white (middle to upper class) males. A story about someone that deviates from the norm is more compelling because it is unexpected.

    The author thinks she should ignore these obvious differences, yet of all the videos in Reel Rock she chose to write about Obe and Ashima because, well, it’s a relatively more compelling story.

    I think it’s unfair to say that Reel Rock 2011 reinforces stereotypes. The proportion of the number of minutes dedicated to types of climbing/races/genders/etc is probably pretty proportional to the climbing community itself. That’s not stereotyping – that’s documenting climbing in 2011.

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  2. Dave May 7, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Pretty hard to take this seriously. I haven’t seen this year’s Reel Rock but climbing media is generally packed with photos and videos of women climbers. If you want to see women climbing hard and doing rad stuff but haven’t seen it, you aren’t trying very hard to find it.

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    • CarlosFromPhilly May 7, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      You should probably… idunno, either watch the video or read the article before you comment on both.

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    • Peter May 10, 2012 at 9:34 am #

      o word

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  3. Narc May 7, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    I didn’t share this article because I thought it was any sort of indictment of the RRT in any way nor do I think that is what the author was getting at either.

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  4. DK May 7, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    I just don’t understand the point. Yes, rock climbing is dominated by white, middle class males. Is that the problem? Are we trying to understand why that is, or how that can be changed?

    RRT certainly doesn’t seem indicative or emblematic of the issue. It just happened to be a sort of window into the climbing world for a person who clearly doesn’t know much about it.

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  5. Crimpin' Ain't Easy May 7, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Can someone please explain what Ashima has to ‘fight against’? Outside of media chatter and internet trolls, it seems like she’s just doing her thing and excelling. The creation of these labels as limitations/impediments strikes me as arbitrary, and frankly unfounded.

    She’s young, but some of the best climbers in the world are young. She’s japanese (though US-born), but some of the best climbers in the world are japanese. She’s a she, but some of the best climbers in the world are women. She’s ‘urban’ (a seemingly ridiculous euphemism when employed in a statement about skirting issues, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and take the term literally), but some of the best climbers in the world live in cities.

    So I’m a bit confused as to why any of these constructions ought to be seen as a detriment, or enunciated in the first place. But maybe I’m missing something…

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    • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      This is a reply to your “long, but hopefully didactic” comment.

      I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the issue, but please stop using so many long words. You’re speaking to a bunch of climbing bums here–we don’t want to have to pull up dictionary.com every time you use some unnecessarily obscure word that isn’t any more “didactic” than a simple one.

      In the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is far smarter than you or me, “Short words that conjure big ideas are more impressive than big words that don’t. e.g: Explore versus Paraskavedekatriaphobia.”

      P.S. I’m sorry this is off-topic, I’m just trying to ensure that your future comments can be understood by the masses, because you bring up very good points.

      P.P.S. you said: “there is a complex explanation to why a minority group in our sphere has less members than the majority group.”

      But you’re wrong–It’s ‘fewer’, not ‘less’.

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      • whatiswrong with all of you May 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

        well I knew what didactic meant without a dictionary… sorry that you didn’t.

        maybe try reading more??

        also, did you have to look up Paraskavedekatriaphobia? or was that, like, one time, a ‘funny fact’ under your Snapple lid and you saved it for use in a mixed analogy later…?

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  6. Cady May 7, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    I never even considered Ashima’s race, or the fact that she is female when admiring her achievements showcased in the RRT video. Now of course I am an average White Male so maybe I’m just to much in the mean of things to see problems that exist? I would not have considered any of her points without her first pointing them out in the first place.

    Am I that naive? Or is there really an underlying race/gender biase not merely associated with the old skool stone masters of yester year?

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  7. mh May 7, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    not every investigation into racial / economic narratives is an accusation

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  8. Disappointed May 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    The article referred to in this post seems like a classic example of academic interpretation run wild. It’s looking at something through the lens of someone who desperately WANTS to see issues of class, gender, and race. As someone above mentioned, I’ve never even considered Ashima’s race, gender, or social background when watching her climb. I’ve only been amazed that someone so young can have the strength, determination, and drive to climb at the highest level, and to still look like she genuinely enjoys what she’s doing.

    It disappoints me that the “race card” has been pulled in this context. I’m not even sure the author has a point, other than to “point out” that race is involved. She says, “you don’t want to point out her gender or her race.” I say, her gender and her race are immaterial. Sure, race plays a role in a lot of things, if you want to notice it. Race is involved when I eat a bowl of cereal with my Polish-Chinese-American roommate. Does pointing out race in that context do anything except draw attention in a pointless direction? I contend it does not.

    In my opinion, until articles like this are no longer written, there is no way we will be able to view people as just people. It is people like the author, who think they are doing a service by pointing out these “difficult issues,” that actually reinforce the idea that race should be a significant factor in how we view someone. They’re making something out of nothing, and in this politically correct day and age, anyone who argues against them is immediately labeled as insensitive. Or worse, racist.

    Let’s just watch a nine-year-old climb harder than most of us will ever climb in our entire lives, and leave it at that.

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    • mh May 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      I respect (and admire) the ideal that one day “people” might just be viewed and treated as “people,” but asserting that race, gender, and class do not constitute salient differences in the lived American experience is not the way to get there.

      Even if you and I pretended that these parameters did not exist–and this smoothed out our peer-to-peer interactions (i.e. how I personally treat you, and vice versa) on a local scale–how much mutual understanding can we really achieve if our assessments of each others’ narratives end with: “sorry, but from my perspective, your struggles are imagined?”

      It isn’t strictly about objective achievements. It’s about life experiences. Ask the author of Sicky Gnar Gnar if sexism has affected the climbing experiences of himself and his wife. Ask Alex Johnson about what female fashion is like at comps, and how it makes her feel.

      Not to mention, the author isn’t even necessarily representing class as an obstacle. Ask Obe what it was like learning to climb while growing up in economic hardship. Did it make training more difficult? Did it make climbing all the more sweeter? Do these details not enhance our understanding of what his life is like, of what the term “American climber” represents?

      I’m a little taken aback by the volume of backlash this article has gotten for just attempting to discuss these topics, and how they may or may not permeate a specific domain of a person’s life. I don’t see the cause for offense. UNLESS we adopt a defensive posture and treat every such investigation as an accusation.

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      • Nietzsche May 9, 2012 at 12:23 am #

        Thank you.

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    • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 1:07 am #

      I agree that the influence of race might be overemphasized sometimes, but the idea that the only way to combat racial inequality is to stop talking about it is, frankly, absolutely absurd.

      Would you apply your “logic” on the topic of racial inequality to any other social issue? Would you suggest that if we simply stop talking about HIV and AIDS, a cure will miraculously emerge? Would you suggest that if we simply stop talking about world hunger, food will miraculously appear on the plates of the starving? I don’t think you would.

      You can’t just close your eyes, count to ten, and hope that the issue disappears. These problems are embedded in our society, and the only way to recognize, define, and address them is to engage in the kind of discourse that is occurring on this forum right now.

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      • Disappointed May 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

        Comparing racism to HIV is unfair, I think. HIV is a physiological condition that attacks the body. Racism, and racial inequality in general, is a socio-psychological condition that is perpetuated because of perceived differences in people. These differences are, in my opinion, immaterial; especially so in climbing. The color of your skin, or the country your ancestors came from has NO bearing on your physical ability to climb v13 as a 9 year-old, or any other age for that matter.

        Racism, unlike HIV, is manufactured. Every person is different, of course. Some are smarter, some are stronger, some are more nurturing. These are attributes that DO affect one’s ability to perform, compete, and survive; in essence, to live in society. They are standards by which, I would argue, people may be compared and judged by society. Race is not one of these.

        My takeaway point is this: racism results from focusing on immaterial differences between people. If no one saw these differences, or cared to judge people in ANY way based on them, racism would not exist. How could it? I believe that any long-term solution to racial inequality will only come through learning to look at each person without regard to race. This includes learning to look at oneself with the same indifference to race (this is distinct from ethnicity, to be clear).

        Instead of pointing out differences in race at every opportunity, why not help to perpetuate the notion that race is immaterial. Why not look at skin and hair color without any value judgment whatsoever, negative or positive?

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        • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

          I agree–I don’t think race really plays a role in one’s ability to climb. But a large part of that, I would argue, is because the current climbing community developed quite recently, and is therefore somewhat more post-racial than most other communities. I can see how one would argue that in the climbing community, talking about race isn’t helpful. I don’t agree, but I can see your reasoning: there are no current problems, so talking about it can only create them.

          But when you look at America as a whole, talking about race is essential because racial inequality, over the course of more than 300 years, has been institutionalized into our society. You can tell inequality still exists because of statistics like these and the ones I list in comments below–in unemployment-rate terms, Whites do better at every single level of education and SES than blacks. The same is true for academic achievement: when SES and other variables are controlled for, black and latino students do worse on tests than whites. As I said, more stats are below. The effect of race in American society is rarely overestimated.

          These disparities pervade our whole society, but how? why? Hopefully we can all rule out the idea that black and brown people are simply genetically inferior to whites. So if the reason can’t be explained biologically, there must be factors in our society that allow the disparities to persist, but then you look around and realize that no obviously racist policies exist in America. They couldn’t. No politician could possibly get away with supporting a policy that ensures blacks do worse on tests than whites.

          So if the answer doesn’t lie in biology or in modern public policy, then it must be deeper within our society–racial inequality persists in our culture because of deep structural, largely unconscious factors. This is the only explanation left. If no one is actively making policies to disadvantage people of color, then our current policies must simply overlook the pre-existing inequity in our society, thus allowing it to survive and self-perpetuate.

          Thus, if we stay silent on the issue, these unconscious inequalities can continue to exist. If we think critically about our community, however, these inequalities have the chance to be discovered and addressed, so that everyone might finally have equal opportunity in this land of the free.

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  9. Tufa May 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Disappointed, I totally couldn’t agree with you more.

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  10. colin May 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    At least the author admits that she has gender insecurity issues up front. “Should we see race/class/gender on the rock?” then “What’s the most sophisticated way to watch this film?” Really? I mean, really?!? “Trying to be ideologically savvy while watching Ashima climb…” I just puked in my mouth a little bit.

    Academic gobbledygook.

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    • Morgan May 9, 2012 at 3:04 am #

      yep…that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the article. so many words to say so little.

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  11. Guidoprincess May 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Its a serious shame that so much was wasted (my time, other peoples time, the resources of the earth to put/keep this on the internet) to produce this worthless dribble of an article.

    It also kind of a testiment to everything thats wrong with out overpriviliged country today. Ashima does not “struggle.” In the 3rd world, people are “struggling” for food and water. This is complete BS.

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  12. Russell May 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Well I’m white, middle class and Male, but since I mainly climb in South East Asia I am far from dominating anything. Since Asians make up about 95% of the climbers I see in the gym or at the Crag and about 40% of them are female.
    From what I know, Indonesians, Malaysians, Thais, Koreans, Japanese and Chinese all have strong climbing communities and many climbers of international standard.
    Is it surprising that White Middle Class Males are in large numbers in an extreme sport when your sample region is USA in which White Middle Class males have statistically greater means, time and motivation to do so?

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  13. David May 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    “subtext” ….she’s projecting.

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  14. dand May 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    If you call something a fight it becomes a fight, i really doubt someone whos grown up in a major and diverse city, like New York ,even gives it a second thought. Obe once said when watching Michael Bautista ‘i like a little colour in this industry’, i think thats all that needs to be said here tbh

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  15. Jasin Nazim May 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Thanks for the link Mr. Narc.

    Whether or not the article makes any good points or is a load of waffle, the discussion it inspired is worth having.

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  16. Bill May 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Climbing outside is not dominated by middle and upper class males. Lower class for sure, some middle, but not upper. FYI, I can’t think of anyone that cares about skin color or gender any more, it is the 21st century. Under 70 pound kids sending v 10 or better will become more common with all of the kids climbing in gyms at younger ages, doesn’t matter what color, where they are from, male or female, who cares, why even bring this up, because it does not matter to anyone….

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    • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 12:44 am #

      You are arguing that we live in a post-racial society, and that simply isn’t true. Black high school dropouts have higher unemployment rates than white high school drop-outs. White males with a criminal record are more likely to be called back for a job interview than black males without one, even when all other criteria between the candidates is indistinguishable. Blacks are FORTY-EIGHT times more likely to be incarcerated for a first-time drug offense than whites, even when SES/prior criminal record are controlled for. Black males are 2-3 times more likely than their white counterparts to have their vehicles stopped and searched for illegal contraband even though white males, when they ARE stopped, are 4 times more likely to actually be in possession of illegal contraband. Finally, job applicants with “white sounding” names are 50% more likely to be called back for a job interview than applicants with “black sounding” names, even when all other variables are controlled.

      When you consider that in 1963, whites thought blacks received equal treatment in their communities, and then look at your misinformed comments now in 2012, it becomes clear that white folks’ opinion of whether or not race matters in America is never accurate.

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      • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 1:08 am #

        correction: Black high school GRADUATES have higher unemployment rates than white high school dropouts.

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      • David May 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

        And 73% of statistics posted on the web are inaccurate and lack citations.

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        • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

          Black graduates higher unemployment than white dropouts: (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2007).

          White males with a criminal record are more likely to be called back for a job interview than black males without one: (Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” 2003).

          Blacks are FORTY-EIGHT times more likely to be incarcerated for a first-time drug offense than whites: (National Corrections Reporting Program, 2003).

          Black males are 2-3 times more likely than their white counterparts to have their vehicles stopped and searched: (Brooks, Mitofsky, and Seguino, 2010, and Department of Justice, 2007).

          applicants with “white sounding” names 50% more likely to be called back for a job interview: (Bertrand, Mullainathan 2004).

          in 1963, almost 70% of whites said that blacks received equal treatment in their communities, and bonus fact: in the same year, NINTEY percent of whites said black children were treated equally in terms of educational opportunity as white children. (Gallup, 1963).

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          • Sp May 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

            Tyler – not disagreeing with you that blacks and other minorities face greater barriers than whites in America, but most of the statistics you posted are dated or in previous posts taken out of context. 2011 shows white dropouts have a higher unemployment rate than black graduates.

            And how do you differentiate exactly between a white name and black name?

            Again, I agree with your point, but no one benefits when facts are manipulated.

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  17. Leftyloverbean May 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I appreciate both sides of this commentary. I think the article is a little overboard, but as mh said its about a persons lived experience, so maybe from the outside one cant judge whether a person feels discriminated against. Do I think the article goes a tad overboard? Yeah, I wouldn’t say that reel rock is trying to continue a stereotype and when i look at ashima all i see an amazing young athlete who climbs harder then I can ever imagine and I appreciate all her hard work… And I would say most people look at her the same, not based on her race or gender.
    But bill, to say that because we’re in the 21 century there isn’t gender or race discrimination is a severe misjudgment. Just look at the dialogue about women in this country right now, but that’s another discussion.

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  18. James May 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    I thought this was a brilliant article. It asks questions that the climbing community is obviously uncomfortable discussing (case in point: the comments on this article). It explores the motivations behind climbing in a broader context, looking beyond the cliches of “because it’s there” or “because that line is just so beautiful and i love being outdoors in my sanuks, brah.”

    At no point does the article make any suggestion that there should be more women/minorities/kids/gays/whatever in climbing, it just explores how these differences are portrayed in the climbing media.

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    • DK May 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      What questions does it ask? I couldn’t find a single one. It’s just a bunch of vague language about “trying to be ideologically savvy” and “how difficult it is to navigate race, gender, and other conditions shaping our lives.”

      There certainly are interesting questions that can be asked and points that can be made, but this person is not doing it. She is simply not equipped to do so, as shown by her very evident lack of experience with both the activity and culture of climbing.

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    • Guidoprincess May 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      I don’t think the climbing community is uncomfortable discussing this, I think its just saying that the article is unfounded and irrelevant.

      It would be like if I wrote an article about how much tougher it was for climbers wearing five tens to “navigate the complex shoe wearing landscape” when the industry is obviously dominated by la sportiva, and when everyone replied that this was the dumbest thing they have ever read, for me to say that shoe difference is a subject that the community was clearly uncomfortable discussing.

      I think the reason many people, including myself, find this offensive is that we turn to climbing exactly to avoid worthless BS like this. While many other public forums are full of this “racial landscape navigation” nonsense, climbing is a pure activity where everyone can just chill the f*ck out. Its offensive, or maybe just annoying, when someone tries to bring this crap into climbing too.

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      • Disappointed May 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

        Very well said. If there’s a microcosm where we, as a community, can simply not allow racism to exist by not acknowledging it, please let it be the climbing community.

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  19. Brad Werntz May 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    I find it really interesting that many people who are commenting have never seen the movie, nor seen the article.

    It’s doubly interesting that those of you who have seen it haven’t even mentioned Obe Carrion, and how unlikely it is that he was a top sport climber, and now a top coach.

    Yes, Obe Carrion’s story is one that highlights a racial issue. He is black, and from a relatively poor, urban family. Ashima’s story? Maybe not so much.

    The outdoor industry in general and climbing in particular don’t look like the rest of America by the demographics. The question as to why this is the case is difficult to answer, and an ongoing discussion in the outdoor industry.

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    • Sid May 7, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      Actually, he’s not black. He’s Puerto Rican. But I digress.

      Dare I go out on a limb and suggest the reason that there is not as much coverage of “other” racial groups is the same reason there aren’t THAT many asian basketball players (Linsanity aside…). Okay okay… so that may be ONE reason. Another is perhaps that the sport, in its modern incarnation, originated with the white male folk. Be they European or American.

      And fact is while there may be the Obe Carrion, the Said Belhaj, the Dai Koyamada and the Sasha DiGuillian – the BROAD climbing population consists of Caucasian males. As the sport becomes more popular, and gets more exposure the diversity will increase.

      That being said, this discussion is really mostly relevant to us here in the United States. We have always been good at producing Entertainment, and we can’t help that we favor covering our own talent. But regardless, it seems to me that climbers shine because of talent and little else. Everyone gets equal exposure (broad brush strokes people… broad brush strokes).

      P.S. This is the internet. Comments may contain hints of sarcasm, and non-serious content.

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      • Brad Werntz May 7, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

        Actually, you can be both black and Puerto Rican.

        And, according to OIA figures, climbing is growing at a rate beyond the general population, and climbing participants don’t look like the rest of the country in any way, shape, or form.

        You may compare it to Asian NBA players, but that sets aside the idea that climbers of different shapes and sizes and genders all have an equal playing field on the rock, or in the mountains.

        Basically, climbing isn’t appealing to different demographics for a lot of reasons. Why that is, that’s an open question. But not recognizing that it’s a question at all is part of the problem.

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        • Brad Werntz May 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

          And, to clarify: The point is that nobody talked about Obe, and what a unique presence he was and is in the sport-climbing and bouldering scene.

          There are far fewer people of color in climbing than there should be given the US population as a whole, the appeal of climbing, and the idea that regardless of where you are you generally have access to places to climb.

          We need to fix this.

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          • Paul May 8, 2012 at 12:58 am #

            Really, no-one talked about Obe? You didn’t see Dosage? Or Rampage? Or Frequent Flyers? Or any other number of media featuring him?

            And why single him out. Why does he need to be “talked about”? He’s just a climber, like all the other climbers, out there, having fun together. You seeing colour is your issue, don’t project onto everyone else.

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          • Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 5:53 am #

            Sorry that I wasn’t clear, Paul: I find it very interesting in a discussion about race and class and gender in climbing that everybody is talking about Ashima in “Obe and Ashima,” but not Obe IN THIS STRING.

            Considering that in “Obe and Ashima” a significant portion is spent on Obe’s hard-scrabble roots, don’t you find it interesting that nobody IN THIS STRING has mentioned him?

            Otherwise yes, I’m well aware of his media presence elsewhere.

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          • Crimpin' Ain't Easy May 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

            Hi Brad,

            It is clear you have put a lot of thought/time/research into your argument. This is an important topic worthy of discussion by the informed–both on climbing and social disparity–and not the Melissa Sextons nor those blind to the enduring subtext of inequity (*let’s stop making this particularly a race issue, since congruous arguments can be lobbed at many other minority/majority groups within the sport), so I commend your effort.

            That said, I have questions as to how you apply a normative obligation to diversity. By using a term like ‘should’, it seems that there is an implicitly determined ideal racial/gender/age/ethnic/socio-economic/etc. ratio for our community. As per your assertions above, that melange should mirror US demographics (maybe you could expand?). This is a position I’ve always been wary of, since it has a prescribed goal in mind, without the inclusion of voices from the group being ‘helped’. Ostensibly, one that simply offers integration for integration’s sake.

            Granted, there are a number of real encouraging/prohibitive factors to climbing (barely scraped by the article, but nevertheless significant). Paramount is interest, which can be deciphered through a myriad of other considerations. It is an expensive and not financially rewarding sport, it is masochistic, from the outside it can seem repetitive or contrived, it can be scary, it is accompanied by no fame outside of our tiny community, it is reliant on a connection with nature, it is not classically competitive, etc.

            All of these influences are seen through the lens of our personal/cultural biography and value systems, and then met with our own justified reactions. The narrative, thus, that influences each one us to climb is multifarious. Surely, there is a complex explanation to why a minority group in our sphere has less members than the majority group, but the explanation for the majority group’s preponderance is equally complex. This is just hermeneutics.

            And I do feel it is significant to get both perspectives. However, it is essential not to externally root a group’s interest/lack thereof in a reductive and contrived notion that is defined by “the other”. It is condescending and misrepresentative. Moreover, it devocalizes the minority group, stifling their ability to assert their own opinions. Such instances always taste a little too much of Kipling, imperialist rhetoric, and hegemonic power structures for me to stomach. In this case, it is that we (myself not included, seeing as I am in the racial minority you speak to) should work proactively to recruit minority members who were somehow barred from entrance into the climbing world.

            This creates a few logical corollaries: what does the minority group itself want and which of the aforementioned structures is precluding them from fulfilling this desire and why are these positions being taken on their behalf, etc.?

            As a member of the racial minority, I’d have to say no one/nothing external has stood between me and my passion. A room, crag, or forest full of white dudes is hardly as scary a social scenario as you determine it. Not seeing people who look like me in climbing media has never been an issue. And, people deride others for far worse than choosing a culturally unpopular sport. What’s more, I have never once interacted with climbers or a boulder/cliff that denied my participation along these lines. All these white, middle class, males have been nothing but supportive of my CLIMBING, not my race, so much so that the latter has never been an issue. Perhaps, this perspective is limited, but I’m of the belief that one ought to (normativity implied) only tell his own narrative, and the almagamated sum will be more valuable than people speaking on other’s behalf.

            So if there is no clearly prohibitive factor, other than those that are universal (culture fits here…you readily discount the fact that the majority group is socially pressured away from climbing for a host of reasons that, while not directly mapped to those of the minority, still exist in reality) and one’s own right not to join, aren’t you overstepping your bounds in holding an ideal diversity which necessarily conflicts with personal freedom. Each person makes decisions from a particular standpoint, predicated on much more than can be discerned from afar, and it isn’t our place to question the validity of such choices. Please consider, what the minority has to say for itself before envisioning their future for them.

            This was long, but hopefully didactic…

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          • Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

            Thanks for the thoughtful question, Crimpin’.

            Here’s the deal: I believe that climbing is so great and so life-changing that anybody and everybody should get the opportunity to engage with it. My job is to be a story-teller for climbing, to get people to engage with the story, and to participate. Yes, I get paid for doing this, but – frankly – I did it before I got paid for it and I would continue to do so even if I didn’t get paid for it. Climbing has changed my life, and I believe in its capacity to change other people’s lives as well as the world.

            When I look at the metrics, here’s what I see: Only 7% of the US African American population participates in outdoor activities. (Same for Asians, and 8% for Hispanics.) When we drill down, we see that favorite activities include “hiking,” “fishing,” and “picnics.” When we drill down even further, climbing isn’t a statistically significant activity for any of the above user groups.

            So, as a story-teller, I ask myself: Is it because they haven’t heard the story, is it because they don’t believe in the story, or is it because they have barriers to participating in the story? The last question you ask is: Do they WANT to participate in the story? And it’s a good question.

            Given that we haven’t answered the first three questions yet, we’re not in a position as an industry to answer your question. If black people don’t want to climb, then fine. If it’s because they haven’t heard about climbing, if they don’t believe that climbing is cool, or if they don’t believe that they CAN be climbers, then it’s part of my job to help solve.

            I’m an idealist, and I believe that climbing is so great and good for people and the world that everybody should be able to do it. It’s an arbitrary metric, but I believe that climber demographics should be a proportional microcosm to the US population. If this turns out not to be the case in spite of our best efforts, then so be it.

            But I can guarantee you that we – as an industry, as a culture – haven’t yet given this question our best efforts. So I’m still giving it my best effort.

            Hand-in-hand with this, I have to say: Saying that this is not a problem is part of the problem. The same was true when we looked at female participation. Personally, I think we’ll find the key to making climbing – and other outdoor activities – more accessible and engaging to people from all walks of life.

            So that’s what I’m shooting for…

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        • Sid May 8, 2012 at 10:38 am #

          Wow, I didn’t know people could be of mixed ethnicity! How is that relevant to Obe? Is he black and Puerto Rican? I digress… again =\

          Maybe I didn’t get my point across well. Let me try this again. Black people are more likely to have a more favored physique when it comes to basketball than Asians. Doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Climbing on the other hand, favors people who are very lean and small-boned. So the chances of a pro climber (akin to an NBA player) being black is slimmer. Of course this isn’t usually a reflection of the general populous, but the people at the fringes of the sport.

          To be concise: climbers of different shapes and sizes and genders absolutely DO NOT have an equal playing field on the rock. Or in the mountains.

          Of course, one might argue that while the point I made above may be valid, a more likely reason for the seemingly skewed racial profile among climbers is more related to the variances in the penetration and exposure of climbing among the different socioeconomic demographics. But that’s all quackery. Everyone knows sociology is not a real science.

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    • SP May 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Brad – why is it interesting that nobody mentions Obe? Please answer that question with your opinion.

      My opinion on “no one mentioning Obe”: Maybe because anyone who watches climbing movies knows who he is, and because 99% of the people on this thread and out climbing couldn’t care less what the color of his skin was, or his background?

      You are projecting, and not in the climbing way, in the same way the blogger is.

      I find it intriguing that you and her see Ashima and say “look at the stereotypical challenges that asian girl must face” and everyone else says “look at that kid crushing.”

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      • Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

        You’re putting words in my mouth. I’m not talking about the climbers. I’m talking about the film “Obe and Ashima” and what it means to the broader climbing community.

        Further, this string is about race and gender in climbing, not about who is or is not crushing.

        I find it interesting because there were significant portions of the film that talk about Obe’s background, where he came from, and how unlikely it is that he would be a world-class climber.

        By contrast, Ashima has no such barriers. Her father is a prominent and relatively wealthy artist.

        Nobody mentioned either of these things in this string about racism, classism, and gender. Don’t YOU find that interesting?

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        • SP May 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

          How do you take this sentence:

          “I find it intriguing that you and her see Ashima and say “look at the stereotypical challenges that asian girl must face” and everyone else says “look at that kid crushing.”

          And suggest I’m talking about crushing? Who’s putting words in one’s mouth?

          And Obe’s story is much more impressive from his economic background, not his racial background.

          The point is pretty simple: some people look at Ashima and Obe climbing, and they see minorities climbing. Most people look at Ashima and Obe climbing, and don’t have that thought.

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          • Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

            First, have you seen the movie? We can short-cut this a lot if you haven’t. Maybe you’ve only seen the footage of Ashima in Hueco, but that’s not the movie. Let me know if you have or haven’t, please.

            To me, the movie a comparison/contrast of Obe and Ashima, being from two different backgrounds and two different generations of strong climbers. It’s not just about footage of Ashima crushing with a story about how her coach used to crush.

            If you did see the movie, maybe you were really excited about all of the footage of Ashima sending hard problems, and just glossed over the rest of it. But – to me – this string and the blog post that started it is a discussion about “the rest of it.”

            On my desk I have a report that examines both race and socioeconomic status with activity levels in the outdoor industry. You can say that Obe’s socioeconomic status is a more impressive testimony to what he accomplished than his race, but I have the figures to show that they often both go hand-in-hand.

            Why this is the case is an ongoing discussion in the outdoor industry.

            Meanwhile, I’m not “projecting,” I’m analyzing. I want to know what’s happening here, and why. This is important to me personally – my wife and kids are brown – as well as professionally. I pay a lot of attention to it and have for a long time.

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          • Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

            ps: For the last year+ on our blog we’ve been running a series entitled “Opportunities.” This series is basically about how we can get more people from all backgrounds, age-groups, and abilities more involved with the outdoors. Most of it was written by guest-writers who were from a particular segment, from their perspective.

            In my opinion, we haven’t fully tackled race or class, or for that matter gender. But it’s been an ongoing discussion.

            http://www.pembaserves.com/category/outdoor-industry-bizness/opportunities/

            So, in other words, I’m not just here spewing, and I’m certainly not “projecting.”

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          • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

            SP,

            This is a reply to your reply to the statistics I cited earlier. First, let me assure you that any “manipulation of the facts” is not manipulation at all–just ignorance on my part.

            If studies have come out since 2004 showing that it is no longer true that white males with a criminal record are more likely to be called back for a job interview than black males without one, please show it to me. I am not trying to manipulate data, I’m just using the latest reliable sources I know of.

            As for black high school graduates having higher unemployment rates than white dropouts, as far as I know, this is still true. Maybe you can give me a different source, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of August, 2011, lists the unemployment rate of Blacks with a high school diploma at 15.8%, while that of Whites without a diploma is 13.9%

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          • Narinda May 9, 2012 at 2:18 am #

            It’s not about accusing anyone or the community of racism/sexism/classism. I really can’t say that enough.

            It’s not about what anyone sees or doesn’t see in others at the crag. For me, it’s about how I saw Obe and Ashima and thought “Hey, this actually reflects a lot of stuff I’ve dealt with, internally and externally, as a climber and a human being. Wow.”

            When I look at Ashima and Obe, I definitely see them as talented climbers! What I also see are two stories that make me think about the struggles I had while becoming passionate about climbing myself. And how incredible it was that I saw both in one short film: the small Asian female, and the person of color from a low-income background.

            To tell me and the others that we shouldn’t think about this stuff is sort of like telling someone who was hit by a car that the car wasn’t real because you didn’t see it. Are we going to talk about whether the car was real, or are we going to deal with someone being hurt?

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  20. Narinda May 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    One person’s “academic gobbledygook” is another person’s lived experience. When I read this article (as you can see by the comment I left on it), I was incredibly glad that someone had taken the time to write about things that I think about often and have considered writing about.

    As others have said, the article isn’t at all condemning the climbing community for what it looks like; it’s about the author dealing with her feelings about doing an activity that she likes and doesn’t always see herself represented in. I can’t think of myself as a climber without thinking of all the other parts of me, too– and why should I? It’s not about emphasizing difference so much as being willing to talk about the differences that exist.

    And at the end of it all, my main takeaway from this article was:

    “Rock climbing lets you fight for it, all the while hiding the many ideological things which you may well be fighting against: not just gravity, slippery holds, lactic acid in your muscles – but your class background, your race, your gender, your age. It lets you believe, as I have well experienced, that for a few moments it’s really just about you as an embodied being taking on the complicated and gymnastic problem before you.”

    As a queer, Asian, woman, I feel my difference from most people at the crag pretty immediately, and it does affect my relationship with climbing. And then there’s the actual climbing, when all of that slips away for a few lovely minutes. It’s hard to describe that internal process in a single article or a single comment– but does that mean it shouldn’t be brought up at all?

    The thing is, if you don’t have to deal with what she talks about, if you don’t experience it, you have the option of just walking away from the topic. Not everyone can. That’s why I submitted the article to Narc. It wasn’t to shame anyone; it was to share an experience that’s a little different.

    I’m hoping that the community can be as open to this kind of discussion as we are to yet another beautifully-shot video of yet another awesome first ascent in yet another gorgeous area that many of us will never see. Eh?

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    • MadDog May 23, 2012 at 12:32 am #

      Thank you for submitting this article and this subsequent comment. It is a conversation that needs to be had, as evidenced by some reactions in the comments.

      I also think about race and gender representation in outdoor sports quite a bit. I work in the industry and have been frustrated by who is in advertisements, who gets sponsorships, and who get the glitzy film deals (almost exclusively white folks, far more men than women).

      Outside Magazine has been a source of frustration. Their gear reviews are for men, their stories are about white men, their ads usually feature white men, etc. But they devoted one whole issue (watch out!) to the topic of people of color in outdoor sports. In the feature article ( http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/politics/Whats-Right-with-This-Picture.html?page=all ), publications including their own were called out for not being more intentional about including people of color in their magazines.

      Out of curiosity, I decided to flip through that issue to see whose pictures they put in there. There were lots of white men. There were a few white women, usually playing sidekick to a man. There were two people of color pictured outside of the feature article’s accompanying images. Neither were outside (which was part of the point of the discussion in the article.

      I continue to get the magazine because of a family member’s Christmas gifting, so I have monitored their progress. Which is to say, there hasn’t been any discernible progress.

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  21. James Edward Mills May 7, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Thanks CN for posting the story and hosting the discussion. I’m writing this reply from the Yosemite Lodge. I just arrived from South Lake Tahoe after the first meeting of an all-African-American team of climbers that’s currently training for an ascent of Denali in 2013. We’re working with NOLS to directly address the issue of diversity in outdoor recreation in general and climbing in particular. Our primary goal is to demonstrate that everyone is welcome to explore and enjoy a fulfilling life in the natural world. Our climb will covered as a documentary by the CNN program Black In America and I personally aim to write a book about it.

    As a journalist one of the many things I cover is the issue of diversity. Currently I’m on an extended road trip through the west dropping in on prominent climbing spots in between coverage of the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale Colorado and the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. As you can imagine I’m one of a few people of color in most of the places I visit. But regardless of my own race I continue to find the outdoors accessible and I can only encourage more minorities to venture out into the world of adventure. Climbing films with more diversity will inevitably follow. Check my most recent blog post: http://wp.me/p1Ho6S-1T3
    And please follow along on the Joy Trip Project http://www.joytripproject.com
    Sorry for the typos. Damn iPad!

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  22. Zac May 8, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Having seen RRT, and several subsequent videos of Ashima crushing, what stood out most obviously (and, really, it’s the ONLY thing that stands out to me) is her age and size. Seeing her climb–with Obe, or without, no matter–evoked a discussion not of race or gender but of the problems associated with climbing grades, and the relative difficulty for someone so small that she must find alternate holds to make it work. Is it really the same problem? Perhaps it is made harder (I generally doubt it’s easier since she seems to hit most of the routes’ holds in her climbing, she’s just forced to use intermediaries as well)? And that discussion (and its kin) is, to me, the most contentious issue surrounding her climbing.

    When I watch someone climb, I don’t see race or gender; sometimes I don’t even see a human. I see fluidity, finesse, and true strength juxtaposed against the beautiful but unyielding rock.

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  23. Jake May 8, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    This is F-cken BS. Get over it, and climb some rock.

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  24. Brad Werntz May 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Jake, if you don’t care there’s no need to disparage people who do. This can all go on and you can be completely uninvolved. We won’t mind at all.

    Meanwhile, for the rest of y’all: In the late ’80′s and early ’90′s we had similar discussions as to why there weren’t more women in climbing. In that era, women were only about 10% of all climbers. Now, they’re about half of all rock-climbers, and are gaining in ice climbing, alpinism, and other forms of climbing, too.

    A few things happened to change all of this. First, we started having discussions like this. Then, we started calling out people who were behaving in gross, sexist ways. For example, it became uncool to name climbs things like “Nipples and Clits,” and any time anybody said,”Women can’t climb as hard as men,” we just pointed to Lynn Hill and Bobbi Bensman. Then, outdoor companies started sponsoring female climbers, and featuring them in ads. When climbing gyms opened and made climbing more accessible to all people, many gyms catered to women, and got them involved.

    A lot of thought and discussion went into getting women climbers to be viewed as something other than “the cute girlfriend who can belay,” to a focus of the future of the sport.

    Today, because of all of this, climbers like Sasha DiGuilian have the opportunity not only to be the “Best Female Climber,” but the “Best Climber,” also. We’ll see what happens in time with her and others who are crushing it.

    Meanwhile, we don’t have enough brown people or people from lower socioeconomic classes climbing. Like it or not, people are working to fix this. You don’t have to be involved with it, just be open to it.

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  25. James Mills May 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    In the interests of full disclosure I’m not taking sides. Brad is a friend and partner in both business and climbing. We’re co-owners of a gym together. I do, however agree with him because I know that he has given this issue a lot of thought both as a professional in the outdoor industry and the father of two mixed-race children who are young climbers. Obe’s ethnicity is relevant to his career as a climber because in this country socio-economics are still directly related to race. And despite his physical talents and abilities Obe was apparently lacking in the cultural support and encouragement that white climbers frankly take for granted. Is Chris Sharma necessarily more talented than Obe? Or does he enjoy certain privileges as a white person that Obe doesn’t? I for one have been told by friends, peers and even members of my own family that climbing is something that white people do. There’s a lot of pressure that comes of being told that something you love invalidates your racial authenticity. I can see how Obe’s life as portrayed in the film could take a turn toward the dark side as many of those around him including his mother question the wisdom of his career choices despite his apparent success. It takes an incredibly strong individual to overcome those circumstances and as we see in the film Obe does just that. Returning to his original passion for climbing he not only got his life back on track but now he shares his talent and experience to train a new generation. It’s through examples like this that we can make true progress toward a strong and diversified climbing community that freely welcomes the contributions of anyone interested in participating. But we’re not there yet. Despite their dirtbag existence climbers have to realize that they are indeed privileged. The freedom to defy cultural norms and live for the pleasure of adventure is something that few people of color today enjoy. Sitting here in Yosemite now and camping last night in Camp 4 I for one am infinitely grateful for the opportunity and I know from personal experience that to get this far is not easy and horribly lonely. So when I see a fellow climber of color you bet I think they deserve credit for their accomplishments because of their race. To “not see color” today in any human endeavor that is disproportionately biased toward one race over others is at best naive and at worst a blatant show of support for the status-quo which for the long term preservation of public lands and our natural resources is unacceptable.

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  26. Josh Lowell May 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    I think it’s great to see an important conversation sparked by the subtexts of our film. It’s about more than a little girl who climbs hard, and it’s rewarding to know that it’s reached people who might not otherwise see themselves as fitting into the dominant climbing culture. I didn’t take the original blog post as any sort of condemnation of the climbing community or our work, not sure why some folks seem so defensive. Thanks to James, Narinda, and others who are able to speak from personal experience on the subject.

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  27. toothbrush May 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    This summarizes the entire article for anyone who is curious and not able to waste as much time as me…

    ” What’s the most sophisticated way to watch this film? Acknowledging and drawing attention to race, class, and gender? Ignoring these categories and simply appreciating remarkable athletic skill? I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. But I think these questions are worth mulling over – and that it’s naive to pretend that we don’t notice these categories in films and sports dominated by the young, the white, and the male. We need to keep thinking about how to pay homage to people for their remarkable work while also challenging the invisibility of class, race, and gender.”

    Will…I have the answers. Yes, we should ignore race, class and gender and simply marvel at the accomplishment of their athletic skill. And no, these things are not worth mulling over. It is not naive to understand the pure and simple fact that few, if any, are going to open a rock climbing gym dead smack in the middle of ghetto. Is that so wrong to say or acknowledged that? No, it’s just a pure and simple truth people. Relish in it, accept it, move on and understand people are the way they are. Just one mans opinion…

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    • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      “People are the way they are.” You say that one wouldn’t open a climbing gym in a ghetto, which I think is true, but then you say to just “accept it” and “move on?” Why? Because blacks living in ghettos is a natural state of being and we can’t change it?

      Are you are suggesting that black people live in ghettos by choice? That “they” just happen to enjoy the poverty, unemployment, low life expectancies, high infant mortality rates, and high crime rates? I hope not.

      But if you aren’t saying that, and you don’t think it’s in “their nature” to live in ghettos, then you must acknowledge that there are other factors besides human nature that lead to the overrepresentation of minorities in those ghettos. Once you have acknowledged that, in turn, then I would hope that your next step would be to try to mitigate these factors so that ours is an equal society.

      The argument that “we just need to accept the way things are” is an incredibly dangerous one when you are considering human rights: it is the same argument slave-owners made hundreds of years ago.

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      • Disappointed May 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

        Funny, I didn’t see mention of the word “black” in toothbrush’s comment. How can he possibly be suggesting what you’ve outlined above? Perhaps you should objectively examine what you yourself are suggesting by way of implication….

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        • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

          Just as you are suggesting that I should examine what I am “suggesting by way of implication,” I was suggesting that toothbrush examine what he/she/it was suggesting by way of implication.

          (I’m just going to assume toothbrush is a he from here on out, because statistically speaking, that’s what’s most likely)

          So yes, it is very clear that toothbrush did not mention the word “black” specifically. He instead chose much vaguer terms like “race” and “ghetto,” and essentially said that it’s ok that no one would ever want to build a climbing gym “dead smack in the middle of [the] ghetto,” because it’s “just a pure and simple truth people.” We should just accept it, he says.

          By suggesting that we should just accept the way race and the ghetto effect people’s lives, he is suggesting that there is no problem with it. There should be no changes to our ghettos because that’s just the way it is, and it’s fine. Because blacks are vastly overrepresented in ghettos, he is suggesting that this overrepresentation is also fine. This must be just a “simple truth” that cannot be helped.

          Thus, toothbrush is trying to justify the existence of an institution through which blacks are systematically and consistently disadvantaged. If he is fine with this process, he must think that they deserve it.

          On the other hand, maybe he just has a different moral compass than I do, which is why I would love to hear his reply!

          Anyway, hope this helps–I’m not the best at articulating my ideas.

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  28. MB May 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    This may be just me, but I feel like posts like this Girls Like Giants one actually sets up and/or reinforces distinctions between races and genders, which is the opposite of the intended purpose of promoting equality. After all this discussion, the majority of the climbing population that doesn’t care about race or gender probably have a bit of a bad taste in their mouth for being accused as a bigot. And, inevitably the people complaining about feeling isolated end up feeling more isolated because they feel like their opinions weren’t heard as a result of a narrow minded community. As others have stated, the majority of interactions are likely between two white males, but certainly have never met anyone with intentions to enforce that as a rule. The climbing community, in my experience, is very largely egalitarian and setting up these distinctions about females and different ethnicities ends up, by default, creating a blameworthy “white male” category that I’m sure all encouraging and inclusive white male climbers don’t contribute to and would rather not bear the weight of those false implications. Growing up as a white minority in the deep south, where the distinctions of race, gender and class are potently and negatively interlaced into much of the culture, I’ve always been proud of the relatively few factors required in the climbing community to make friends and feel included regardless of any distinctions: an excitement to climb, a story to tell, and some wood for the fire.

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    • AJW May 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      I also agree… we should probably also apply this concept to Cancer. If we just ignore cancer I am sure it will go away because in my experience it is only when we talk about cancer that it appears.

      Luckily for you ignoring the issues of race and culture is one of the advantages of being white.

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      • Guidoprincess May 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

        Are you seriously comparing cancer to a hypothetical dirty look a non white climber may or may not get at the crag?

        The world would be a much better place if people who spend all day thinking about navigating racial landscapes spent their time thinking of a cure for cancer.

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      • MB May 8, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

        I guess I didn’t get my point across well. I am in no way saying that we should ignore issues of race and culture, as if they will magically disappear. I would say that my personal experiences growing up white, lower class, and a minority in a rough town has given me enough perspective to know that there are serious societal issues that certainly need to be addressed. My experiences have also taught that alot of these issues stem from abstract ideological inheritances from culture, parents, stereotypes, etc. These things are all based in perspective and that perspective isn’t hard to change, and I would definitely love it to change. I certainly didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to be invited to friends’ birthday parties or why I couldn’t go down certain streets because race related violence was common, and that’s because there isn’t actually a good reason! We were friends at school but couldn’t be friends outside of school, and that gave us all alot of perspective on how absolutely ludicrous this system is. Luckily for us, we all got old enough to think and act on our own and subsequently there’s definitely a huge divide between the social norms of my parents’ generation and mine, and it’s for the betterment of equality in a huge way. None of my friends back home really care about race, to be honest, and it shows when we all get together. If you want to continue to hate, that’s fine, but realize that will never solve the problem. In the many conversations I’ve had about this topic the perspectives that fall on stereotypes to make points just end up fueling the flame for hatred and segregation rather than actually solving any problems. My post earlier was based only on climbing, which IS a great equalizer. Most climbers that I’ve met seem to be pretty liberal minded and ready to encourage and include others. I see nothing in climbing that comes even remotely close to the inequality that I’ve experienced in other groups and societies. And this topic is about climbing, right? General society has a real problem with inequality and I don’t ignore that fact. And as a person who actually cares about solving this problem since it directly influences the safety and well being of my friends and family, it is always unfortunate to have my point reinforced by being, once again, lumped into the category of the uninformed, overprivileged, white male that I’m not.

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        • Tyler May 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

          really interesting points, but I have two small disagreements:

          First, I would simply say that while it is true that our climbing community is, I would argue, almost entirely egalitarian, it is also true that who is given access to this community is decided by our greater society. So yes, once you are in the climbing community, race and class have little influence. But one’s access to our community is decided in large part by a vastly unequal society, and we should therefore address this inequity and work to eradicate it.

          My second point it that I think it’s very possible to address the topic of racial inequity without “creating a blameworthy ‘white male’ category.” There is a difference between looking to a category of people and blaming them for inequality and simply looking at our society and recognizing that inequality exits and the need to address it. Surely some people will want someone to blame, but the route that needs to be taken is one in which we simply look empirically at the world around us, and without blaming one group of people or another, simply work for equality.

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          • MB May 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

            Thanks for the reply. I totally agree with you entirely. In fact, I’m having a hard time seeing what you wrote as disagreements to my opinion. I definitely haven’t been shy about acknowledging and addressing the greater societal problems that create inequality, especially if the point is to progress toward workable change. My wholehearted sentiment is that if we all were able to see these issues more objectively and without bias for or against broad social categories, the issues would seem much more obviously rooted in, and perpetuated by, problems of human nature. Greed, anger and other innately negative aspects of human nature aren’t specific to any race, class, or gender. And, those negative aspects of human nature, in my experience, are the direct source of the inequality. I was only speaking to the original article where the idle accusation of the statistically larger “white boys club” being possibly at fault for the inequity by blinding itself from the issues or actively neglecting climbing subgroups didn’t seem to have any ability to create positive discourse. Especially in regards to, what I consider, a largely egalitarian climbing community, that supposition may actually stoke up more of those universal pangs of human nature than solve any problems of inequality.

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  29. Disappointed May 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Well, I’ve just read every post to this point, because I think this is a very interesting discussion, and one worth engaging in. I’m proud of all the intelligent and, for the most part, respectful commentary that has resulted from the climbing community on this one. In my experience, this type of discourse on an open unmoderated thread is far from the norm on the Interwebs.

    I count this as a win in itself for the climbing community, as far as racial, economic, and gender tolerance goes. At least we’re willing to exchange ideas in a respectful and productive way!

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  30. texasclimber May 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    I still think the only reason she climbs “hard” is because of those tiny hands.

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    • Tyler May 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      Hahah best comment yet. Thanks for the comic relief!

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  31. kurt May 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    Typing on the internet apparently yields huge gains in finger strength

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  32. Matt May 9, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Why is it that people think everyone in the world should become climbers, there are lots of activities for people to engage in that are meaningful. You can find all kinds of types and demographics that are not represented in climbing, why do some people feel that everyone needs to be represented at the crag? Why dont you go represent at some inner city basketball court, I dont see too many white kids there. It really sounds like people think that becoming a climber will change everyones life for the better just because you think it is so rad yourself. I have a few serious hobbies that I think are rad, should I try to get everyone else to get into them also, to make it more diverse?

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    • Brad Werntz May 9, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      In my case, it’s not about “making everybody a climber.” Rather, I’m interested in removing barriers so that people from all backgrounds and walks of life can access climbing and other outdoor activities if they want to do so.

      One of the most significant barriers new climbers face at the moment is social. A common survey response we see is along these lines: “It’s just not something that people I know do.”

      Another barrier is more logistic: “I’ve never had the chance to do that.”

      A third is expense: “It costs too much to do that.”

      A strong one is mental: “People like me can’t do that.”

      So we have these life-changing activities like climbing (and others) that get people outside, and we haven’t fully told the story of these activities, made it resonate, or given people the opportunity to participate with it.

      By contrast, here in the US basketball is easy for people of certain demographics to engage with because any concrete slab and a hoop becomes a gathering point to play. So some of the kids who played street ball have used their game as a ticket to education, and some of the lucky ones have even gone on to the NBA. Worldwide (not so much in the US), soccer takes this spot, because all that’s needed is a ball and an empty space. (Which is why so many top players come out of the slums of Latin America and Africa…)

      But the skater Tony Hawk has been busy with his charity, which puts skate parks in blighted urban areas. (You can’t have a basketball hoop on every corner…) You know what? Kids are using them, and they are bringing wicked psyche and fresh eyes to skateboarding. Some of these kids are really good, and are bringing new tricks. Pretty soon, we’re going to see innovative pros in skating, coming out of these parks.

      What if we built free-standing boulders in these same urban open areas? What if they were cool enough that you would use them? What if they were free, installed as part of a public park? Look at the strong bouldering crew that came out of Central Park in New York. Many of those climbers were poor, too. Some are brown. Some crush it. Who might we find to inspire us if more people were introduced to climbing, and wanted to try it?

      For reference, if nobody had built a climbing gym in his small town Chris Sharma right now might be a surfer. (Even after all of his success early on, in his mid-teens he almost gave up climbing for surfing, by the way…) And he doesn’t come from money, either. Surfing was close to where he lived, and all his friends did it. He might be working construction and watching waves, right now.

      So, it’s not about MAKING people become climbers. It’s about opening the door to new and different populations who have a hard time finding this sport, now. What if the next Chris Sharma is right now a Somalian refugee in downtown Minneapolis? What if the next Tony Hawk is the child of Hmong meat-packers in Milwaukee?

      Have we done everything we can to help them find us? I can tell you that the outdoor industry doesn’t believe so.

      You don’t have to care about any of this, quite frankly. But some people do. There’s no need to rip on those who do, or those who don’t. If this conversation doesn’t interest you, then leave it to those who have interest in it. If you have interest in issues of diversity and equity in this sport that we all love, then recognize that some people really don’t care about it.

      I’m just going to echo what Josh said: I really don’t understand where all the defensiveness and cynicism comes from, here. I’ll just leave it at that.

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      • Matt May 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

        The outdoor industry is interested in making more money off of sales of gear and I dont care where the next chris sharma can be found, I really dont. If I lived by the ocean I would try to surf, if i live by a rock I will try to climb it. If I dont than I will try something else. The push to involve lots of new climbers to the sport is about making money off of them, this trend of growing the sport is funny to me. Why do people that climb want the sport to grow? I dont care if anyone else climbs or if everyone from every background is doing it. I will climb and enjoy it till I cant anymore and then I will find a new hobby to engage myself in. Growing the sport and finding new revenew streams for corporate is not something that I will promote.

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        • Brad Werntz May 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

          That’s an overly easy observation to make, but one I understand.

          I’ve been climbing for thirty-six years, an I’m on my way to climb right now so I’ll make this brief.

          I don’t think anybody I work with would agree that it’s about the money, or selling more stuff. It’s about giving back.

          Tony Hawk doesn’t build skate parks to sell more skateboards. I’m not an advocate for getting people involved with climbing because of money, either. I’m passionate about climbing and want to share it with others.

          You have an awful lot of passion about this if it’s just a hobby. Why don’t you just go climbing and leave this be? It obviously doesn’t mean anything to you, but this topic means something to the rest of us.

          That something isn’t money, either.

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          • Matt May 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

            I am glad that you are going climbing, thats what it is all about, I am too. And you are right, it doesnt mean anything too me. I was interested in why some people are and so asked my question. I can tell you are very passionate and want to give back and appreciate your view. I know that climbing is awesome and people want to share that with everyone. to go out of your way to bring that to people who wouldnt otherwise get the chance is great. I dont think that activities need representation by different demographics though and that lack of representation is not an issue with me. Dont come off as insulted by it. To me, giving back is picking up trash and cleaning chalk and fixing trails, and I do these things also because I care. I dont understand why its a problem if different groups are not represented and the need to make it an issue. I like the idea of having bouldering parks in cities, that would be cool. Now I will go climb and leave this be like you asked.

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  33. Jeff May 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    My experience has been that those who notice someone’s race or gender in today’s world (perhaps I should limit that to America/Europe) where the equality is so much greater than ever before are so preoccupied with it that they become part of the problem. The greatest thing that could happen is to just let their accomplishments speak (which they do and it is impressive) and not their demographics. Let’s not create an issue where none exists.

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    • Tyler May 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      Well yes, but the argument is that an issue (racial inequity) DOES already exist in the climbing community, and that’s why we’re talking about it.

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  34. tradster May 9, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    climbing movies are about climbing. they are supposed to be inspiring and get you pysched to climb. i thought 2011 was a better film than 2012. thats all i have to about that

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  35. jason May 10, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    I think there are a couple of points:

    One is you have to distinguish between the views of the climbing world. Many people come from well-off backgrounds where they don’t need to worry about finding a passion. Likely their parents would have paid for whatever sport grabbed their attention to begin with. For these people, climbing is important to them. They care about the sport because if makes their (individual) lives more enjoyable. So washing chalk and fixing trails is a good thing to do (to continue insuring the continuation of the sport for their enjoyment). Many people approach climbing with this attitude–they really don’t care that much about other climbers. And I honestly can’t talk bad about this. I want to highlight the individual mentality this approach (that many people take) is prevalent amongst many white, male, and middle class climbers.

    However, there are other people that think about climbing in a broader view. Many of these people (I’m not one, but I work with many kids that are) don’t have such easy access to the sport. A huge barrier is financial. They can’t afford the sport. And let’s face it, anyone wanting to get into climbing has to drop enough money that would feed a sole person (especially a dirtbag) for over a month–much less a family. There is a notable financial barrier to this sport and anyone who says to the contrary is sadly ignorant.

    So, back to my point. Many people see climbing as a way to form self confidence, develop a broader network of friends, and kindle a new found hope. This last point is particularly important in the case of people that have come from very under-privileged backgrounds: specifically Obe, because of his notes on the environment he grew up in. Sports are a common theme that many people that have grown up in inner city (read poor, largely minority, lower educational attainments on average, etc, etc, etc) have talked about in their ability to overcome some of these issues. Here, access to climbing (and sports at large) becomes an issue about race, class, and gender, as it may provide spaces to overcome the horrors–and I do mean horrors–of the lives many (specifically Obe) grew up in.

    In sum, these concerns are not issues if you climb for yourself. Nothing any of us say will change that. People that focus on themselves, well, they focus on themselves. However, the questions raised in the article (and for those of you that claim you can’t find questions in there, please read between the lines–it’s NOT hidden) are important as climbing becomes something, as the author states, that can be a bridge between people and a way for many folks dealing with the absurdity of daily issues to begin to move beyond those problems. That is the reason she (the author) says she is so interested, intrigued, and called to the sport. Let’s focus on that and find a way to begin to open opportunities to those that don’t have them to get into the sport. I echo Brads’ thoughts. This includes people from diverse racial backgrounds, gender identifications, and classes. The sport is not really that welcoming to people that don’t come from a privileged background–I hear about it all the time.

    And let’s not say that race isn’t in issue in America. That is just pathetic. Racial blindness is just another more insidious form or racism. We have to deal with the pain that others are struggling through if we are to work through it–or we can let the problems keep going (and this is a way oversimplified argument; I think it needs to be a two way street. Both sides have to want to work to new possibilities, including the poor. We can’t give them anything, we have to work to create it with them). The world is NOT a happy and lovey place, so let’s not pretend.

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    • A-man May 11, 2012 at 3:04 am #

      Interesting that I read this post at this time. Just last week I was climbing in Skaha and ran into a fellow climber/genetic researcher who has been working with under privileged youth.

      In her genetics research, she found a gene that makes one per-disposed to becoming a drug addict. She also found that many extreme sports enthusiast have this gene. She believes that the sport is a positive outlet, where as drugs is the negative outlet (She also had a lot more to say on the issue than I will pretend to understand).

      But I agree that sharing our sport with underprivileged youth would help usher in a calmer, more confident, healthier, and more environmentally sensitive generation. Come to think of it, if my own teacher hadn’t shared climbing with me, I wouldn’t be doing it! Hell, I’d probably be shooting h in some ally!

      On a side note, I lived and climbed in Japan for two years. They have a ton of MAD boulderers, including Dai Koyamada (Wheel of Life, V16… ever heard of it?).

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  36. Peter May 10, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    “urban” wtf

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  37. Russell May 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Hey Climbing Narc,

    Check out these “White Middle Class Men” Buildering in Medan Indonesian, Oh Whoops they’re Asian, well you get the idea.

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/412320922127455/photos/

    Cheers

    BTW I love Climbng Narc site.

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  38. Tyler May 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    For anyone interested, I’ve made this survey to actually find out what the climbing community looks like so we don’t have to make assumptions any more.

    It’s only 10 questions long, so please take a minute to fill it out!

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/H78BMNG

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    • Brad Werntz May 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      Thanks Tyler, that’s great.

      For reference also, here are summaries of the data that I said was “on my desk,” above: http://www.outdoorindustry.org/participation-studies.php

      As an OIA member, I also have access to drill-down information in the database, but these summaries give good overviews. Much of the summaries are not climbing-specific, but some of that is available on the active database.

      Generally, the data says that the active participation of any given minority in climbing is “statistically insignificant.” That is, less than 2% of the population.

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  39. Egghead May 11, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Wow.

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  40. Neil May 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Little known facts:
    Rosa Parks put up the first confirmed V5 at HP40. She called it Alabama Short Bus.
    Ghandi established the first modern boulder problems in Hampi, India and wrote the first book on climbing nutrition.
    Chairman Mao sent the first trad lead of a 5.10+ in Szechuan, China. Little Red Open Book is considered a classic of the grade today.
    Pancho Villa put the first bolts in El Potero Chico’s limestone walls, and Emilano Zapata developed some super secret out-of-the-way caves in Oaxaca and Chiapas.
    A ‘brotherhood of the rope,’ including Yasir Arafat and the Ayatollah Khomeini, introduced climbing to Palestine/Israel.
    And ancient tradition has it that the Aztecs discovered first lines on weakness in El Dorado canyon.
    There you have it, A People’s History of Climbing. Represent.

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