top of page
IMG_1741.jpg

IDEAS

  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting


My friend and I (both Black) have been hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for about 10 years—and they have lived up to their name.


We would almost never see any other people of color there.


But we’ve noticed that changing. 


When we hiked there earlier this month, the diversity of the humans was as striking as the range of plants and trees. As we headed up the trail, we were passed by an after-school program from Fall River, MA with a group of young teenagers from a range of races. Most of them were having a good time.


(The one bringing up the rear responded to my “Are you having fun yet?” with a miserable “No”...Winter hiking isn’t fun for everyone.) 


A group with a range of physical abilities was moving up the mountain on sleds. And some people I thought maybe had some neuro-divergence shared a friendly chat.


All that on one slope, in under two hours. 


The view at the top was just amazing. So was the vision of accessibility. 


Even more surprising was the change in my next winter outdoor tradition: the annual Mount Washington Valley Icefest in North Conway, NH.


Ice climbing has typically been a straight white male pastime; I nearly fell on my face the first time I saw another Black ice climber. But last year they began offering clinics specifically for BIPOC and LGBTQ people. 


I could already tell it was making an impact. At the evening event, the speakers shared their passion for climbing and being outdoors while representing a range of ethnicities, pronouns, hairstyles, and ages. 


As did the audience. The age range was broad. Some people had to be 70—they’d been climbing before it was popular—and I heard a baby crying. I gotta admit, it was nice to look around and see several Black faces. 


Diversity and accessibility matter. One of the speakers, Alexis Krauss, talked about Rise Outside and Kinship Climbing Collective, which help get young people in the city into the outdoors. You might think, what’s the big deal? Not everybody gets to go hiking. But she illustrated the equity implications. She shared research showing that spending time outdoors is good for our physical and mental health. If you’re growing up in the city, it’s hard to get to the places where sky and greenery replace concrete, glass, and asphalt. Not to mention the expense of equipment and time away from jobs. 


I am lucky to be able to experience nature where I live, so I know how restorative it is. It was extra refreshing to me this year to be in a space that had been so homogeneous and has become more open. That only happened because the organizers were thoughtful and intelligent about it, from the affinity-based clinics to the choices about who to include among the speakers. 


Amid all the pushback and doubts, remember: when organizations make real effort, change is possible.


And everyone wins. The crowd still heard a presentation from two white guys, showing slides from their incredible climbs around the world. 


Now they had a more diverse audience cheering them on.

  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Someone once said this to me:


“I don’t think of you as Black.”


I honestly think they were trying to say something positive. But it felt like an insult.


What I heard was:


“I don’t think of you as like them.”


Which implies that Black people are not as good.


Or maybe, “I think of you as normal.”


Because it is abnormal to be Black?


Or, “I think of you as white.”


Hmmm.


Comments like these fit into the color-blind category. “I don’t see color.” “I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, or purple.” “Why do we have to categorize people? Just treat everyone the same.” 


Even though the problems with this approach have been pointed out countless times, it still seems to be a popular philosophy. Some folks justify their belief by quoting MLK. His famous speech about systemic racial discrimination in employment and civic life included a touching passage about children playing—which ended up being the most quoted part.


Yes, Dr. King had a dream that one day people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It was a vision of a future when we have fully liberated society. When racial categories would be less important because they didn’t play a major role in our opportunities. 


Half a century later, we haven’t reached that promised land. And, even in the dream, Dr. King didn’t say we wouldn’t notice color. 


That would be impossible. We see differences naturally, and we assign meaning to those differences based on what we observe other people doing and saying. 


Denying bias does not equal overcoming bias.

Advocates of “colorblind” approaches believe that overcoming these biases is as simple as denying them. But research shows that pretending to be color-blind makes our individual biases worse. 


Besides, I like being a Black woman. I’m not ashamed. I want people to see my wholeness: my politics, my gender, my Jamaican background. I’m okay with you taking in all of who I am when you interact with me.


What I don’t like is being treated unfairly. The best way to prevent that is addressing inequitable systems. 


I don’t want someone to hold me back on the basis of my race. But I do want people to see it.  

  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

I caught myself the other day assuming something about someone.


I was thrilled.


I was on a conference call with a museum client, getting ready for an onsite visit. They were telling me I was going to meet with their head of security, who they referred to as Nicky (or sometimes Nick). 


What picture is coming to your mind? 


For me, it was a tall, burly man. Maybe Italian. Strong Boston accent.


When I walked into the room, Nicky introduced herself. 


No resemblance whatsoever to my mental picture.


What’s wrong with me, falling prey to stereotypes? I’m a diversity professional! 


Lucky for me, I hadn’t said or done anything to embarrass myself before my biases were checked. But even when I’m not so lucky, I’m still grateful when I’m corrected. 


Biases are usually unconscious, so I never know they’re there. The only way to reprogram them is to see them—which usually means making a mistake. 


Only then can I know to ask myself why I jumped to a conclusion, where I learned the stereotype. Only then can I anticipate the assumptions before I act on them in the future.


People often thank me after workshops for sharing anecdotes about making mistakes. I guess they appreciate knowing I have to do work on myself too. So now I make it a point to collect these examples—not because I want to share my shame, but because I want people to realize that just because I’m introduced as an “expert” doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to learn. 


Why not try doing the same thing? Be honest about your own mistakes and missteps. It feels vulnerable to let go of our pride and perfection. But I’ve found that being corrected is a gift, and talking about mistakes lets other people learn from them too. 


bottom of page