Farah seems to have it all. An ambitious college student and collegiate athlete at a prestigious university, she embodies drive and success. But Farah looks different from the mainstream core of outdoor recreation: though American and born and raised in Southern California, she is a brown girl – a young Muslim woman. In today’s day and age, that shouldn’t matter… right? Yet it does. We all are familiar with the buzzwords of micro aggressions and subtle bias that leads to exclusion. Here’s how Farah describes her personal experiences in the outdoors:
‘As a young woman, and a woman of color, the world of mountaineering and entering outdoors environments can be very intimidating, (especially when you are surrounded by people who may not look like you). Often times, I have felt out of place, unwelcome, and uncomfortable because it is as if the mountains and areas of recreation were not created for people with darker skin tones and complexions. The most uncomfortable experience I have ever been hiking outside is when a group of men approached me and asked me the classic question “where are you from?” that I have become so accustomed to – but they followed it with saying “go back to your country” as if I was not born here.
“Constantly seeing white males and females highlighted made me feel like the mountains were never a place for me to be in or experience for myself.”
The outdoors and mountaineering industry contributes to this issue by falling short of supporting and acknowledging women and women of color in their adventures and amazing feats. [Editor’s note: case in point… have you heard of Sophia Danenberg? If not, read this – and ask yourself why she hasn’t been covered in Outside Magazine, or Alpinist, or any other major publication.]
As a whole, the mountaineering and outdoors environments lack diversity, inclusion, and has been slow to increase access and opportunities for people with financial misgivings, disabilities, and people of color. As a young, brown, Muslim girl growing up, I had always dreamed of seeing someone look like me on the cover of a magazine like National Geographic, standing on top of Everest or one of the Seven Summits. Constantly seeing white males and females highlighted made me feel like the mountains were never a place for me to be in or experience for myself. The lack of representation of women and women of color has definitely made me question whether or not I belong in outdoors spaces like the mountains and sometimes I find myself still questioning my place in such a beautiful but exclusive space.’
Farah should have no reason to question if she belongs in the outdoors and in the mountains. The answer is an unequivocal YES: we all do. And yet we, collectively, socially, create imposter syndrome in this young woman as we do in so many other individuals — because we all subconsciously carry with us an image of who belongs out there: on average, that image is molded to the likeness of a fit white male with experience and well-curated gear. Introduce a different skin color, above- (or below-) average age, some extra pounds, a second x chromosome, or simply the “wrong” hairstyle — and all a sudden that mold is broken. Attributes such as skin color, age, gender, body type and personal style should be just that – they should be attributes, not qualifiers. They should be divorced from our assumptions about others’ and our own ability and belonging in the mountains. Unfortunately that isn’t yet reality, and as such it’s up to us to continue talking about micro aggressions and bias-induced imposter syndrome until we reach a state where seeing a young brown girl in the mountains triggers nothing but camaraderie and respect. Because the mountains are for everyone.