Multi Sport

Why We Won’t Be ‘Staying In Our Lane’ When It Comes To Race And The Outdoors

The outdoor community can either be part of the problem or part of the solution

Whenever we publish something remotely political on Mpora, our comments section inevitably gets filled up with people telling us to stay in our lane and “stick to action sports.”

We’re not going to name names. You know who you are. 

For some of our audience, it seems the idea that we’d dare try and weave wider issues of racial inequality and environmental policy into our space is too hot of a soup to handle. Whether this is because they honestly don’t think there’s a problem, because they can’t see a connection, or because they’re unwilling to do any kind of deep self-reflection – these people fail to see that by trying to shut us up they themselves are being complicit in the wrongs of the world. 

“There are only two types of people in the world; racists and antiracists”

As Ibram X. Kendi points out in his book ‘How To Be An Antiracist’, there are only two types of people in the world; racists and antiracists. What this means is that simply being “not racist,” isn’t enough to stop racism. To oppose racism, you have to be actively against it.

You have to fight it with awkward conversations with friends and family, with donations to relevant causes, with the signing of petitions and with the attending of protests. A passive stance just means systemic racism, and the structures that uphold it, goes unchecked.

If you’ve been watching coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement and seen placards that say “Silence Is Violence,” you’ll already be aware of this idea that a failure to speak up is a failure to act against racism; to do nothing is to be a part of the issue rather than the fix. 

The black squares on Instagram we all posted a few weeks back were a nice show of solidarity, but to not follow up on them now would make us as guilty of maintaining the status quo as those actively fighting for it. The black squares made us (white people) feel good for a bit but, let’s be honest, they didn’t really achieve much. 

“Black squares made us (white people) feel good… but… they didn’t really achieve much”

We have a platform here at Mpora, and we’re going to use it. In the weeks, and months, ahead we’ll be changing our approach and, whether people in the comments like it or not, we won’t be “staying in our lane.” 

We’re passionate about championing more black voices in the outdoors, holding brands to account when it comes to making the outdoors a more inclusive space, and celebrating brands that are doing good things to try and balance out some of our planet’s blatant inequalities. Do we have all the answers? No, obviously not. Will we get it right every single time? No, we’re learning as we go here. Do we want to do better? Yes, definitely.   

As much as you might want to forget about politics, and embrace escapism, when you’re riding trails on your bike, hitting backcountry on your snowboard / skis, hiking over green hills, surfing through barrels, camping out beneath the stars or climbing up a slab of rock – the time has come for all of us to face the fact that we’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Everything is connected, and decisions taken miles away from wilderness feed into its narrative in positive and negative ways. It does this whether or not you’re confronting it in any meaningful way.

As Phil Young pointed out so well in his piece on race and the outdoors back in April, a willingness to make the outdoors a more racially inclusive place should be a priority for anyone who cares about the environment, climate change, and saving our natural spaces from ruin. 

“We’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution”

When the outdoors is essentially just a white space, you’re inevitably going to get predominantly white people fighting for its survival against the impact of climate change. To be a truly powerful, policy changing, force for good though the environmental movement needs everyone onboard. It needs the world, or a better representation of it at least, rather than just a group of well-meaning white people. Fractions add up to a whole, and we need the whole. 

The importance of the race and the outdoors issue, it’s worth stressing, obviously goes way beyond ensuring we still have some snow to ride through in future winters.

As cases such as Ahmaud Arbery – a black jogger shot and killed while running in Glynn County, Georgia at the end of February – have underlined, for black people the simple act of doing some very basic exercise outside can literally become a matter of life and death. 

Killings like Arbery’s not only once again highlight what damage racists with access to firearms can do, they also speak to wider issues around the whiteness of jogging itself as well as criminalising stereotypes surrounding black men who go running in urban environments. 

Credit: Jordan Tiernan

In 2017, sociologist Rashawn Ray published the paper ‘Black people don’t exercise in my neighborhood’. In it, Ray documents a striking pattern of middle-class black men choosing to exercise in majority-white neighborhoods less than they do in majority-black or racially mixed ones. According to Ray, this pattern reflects black runners’ concerns over mistreatment in white spaces. The paper shines a spotlight on the group’s fear of being wrongly perceived as a criminal, and ending up on the receiving end of vigilante justice or police brutality as a result. 

America is America, of course but be in no doubt that the United Kingdom has more than its fair share of problems. Ongoing debates over whether or not we should still have monuments to literal slave traders on our streets in 2020 being an excellent case in point. 

“The United Kingdom has more than its fair share of problems”

A recent disagreement in the Derbyshire Dales town of Ashbourne, one that resulted in a long-standing racist caricature bust of a black man in the town being hidden by a Tory councillor so it can be put back up at a later date, has underlined some of the prevailing attitudes to ethnic minorities outside of the UK’s big cities. The outdoors, we like to tell people, is for everyone but places like Ashbourne, a launchpad for exploring the beautiful scenery on offer in the Derbyshire Dales, seem to counter that. 

I have no doubt that there are many progressive welcoming people in Ashbourne but its recent news coverage inevitably feeds into the narrative that outsiders who are pro-diversity aren’t welcome there, and in places like it. The result of the Brexit Referendum, where big cities in England like Bristol, London, and Manchester were majority Remain in contrast to less urban, Leave-voting, areas was the country’s division between non-rural and rural environments writ large for all to see. 

Pictured: Instagram posts from ThirtyTwo and Gnu after they dropped Nicolas Muller

As Phil highlights in his piece on race and the outdoors, 98% of the UK’s entire BAME population live in multicultural cities. It’s all well and good saying “come on down to the outdoors, the air’s clean and the water’s nice” but the message from the electorate, and places like Ashbourne, seems to go against that. We need to make the outdoors a more welcoming space. We do that by pushing for positive change, being allies, and by encouraging our space’s athletes and brands to do likewise.

Ah, yes. Our athletes. We’re not going to waste our energy disproving the countless poorly researched, and blatantly false, conspiracy theories recently shared on Instagram Stories by snowboarding giant Nicolas Müller, to his 123,000 followers, because while pouring petrol on bullshit and lighting a match might seemingly burn the crap away it also stinks the whole place out and only serves to reinforce what the majority of sensible people know – it’s all shit. Speaking from my own personal experience, reasoning with online trolls is a futile exercise. 

“We need to make the outdoors a more welcoming space”

What I will say is that the fact that Müller, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, decided to use his platform to insinuate the death of George Floyd at the hands of blatant police brutality was part of some elaborate hoax is deeply, deeply, troubling.

The athlete, whose mental wellbeing is now a matter of concern, has been dropped by two of his major sponsors ThirtyTwo and Gnu. At the time of writing, he remains sponsored by a number of other brands but it remains to be seen how much longer they will want to be associated with toxic ideas from the darkest recesses of the internet.

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We know and acknowledge that for too long, racism has made the world unequal and unsafe. We recognize the pain and suffering racism has caused and are making a commitment to be part of the solution. We are standing up, because we owe it to everyone affected, ourselves and you. Find out more via link in bio.

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Brands cutting their ties with conspiracy theorists, sharing racially offensive material, is a step in the right direction; a bare minimum. Moving forward however, we want to see brands taking proactive steps to make the outdoors a more inclusive and diverse place. We have, for example, been impressed by The North Face putting some of their money where their mouth is by donating $50,000 to the ACLU, $25,000 to Outdoor Afro, and $25,000 to PGM ONE

These donations on top of The North Face’s ten year project the Explore Fund, which has seen $500,000 go directly to benefitting BAME communities in the outdoors, and their Walls Are Meant For Climbing program are clear signs of positive steps being taken. 

The North Face and Patagonia’s decision to stop spending ad money with Facebook and Instagram, as part of the #StopHateForProfit campaign, is another welcome commitment from the industry. While both brands would be the first to admit that there’s a long way to go, it’s great to see brands of their size and status reflecting on the current situation and putting pledges to do more into tangible, concrete, action. 

“Let’s be proactive, instead of reactive”

In his recent piece in the New Statesman, titled ‘We Can’t Breathe’, Gary Younge says “Since we didn’t get to this place by accident, we won’t get out of it by chance.” 

Younge was predominantly talking about COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact it’s had on BAME people, but I think the words make for a good rallying call around which the outdoors community can bring about change in its own space. 

Let’s be proactive, instead of reactive. Let’s do better. 


Wondering how you can be a better ally? As a starting point, we’d recommend giving a listen to episode 126 of the Looking Sideways podcast – featuring a discussion with Phil Young.


Since publishing this article, we were notified that over the weekend just gone Oakley announced on Instagram their parting of ways with snowboarder Nicolas Müller

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