In the outdoor industry, most folks you meet are all for inclusivity, equity, and diversity, good people in support of positive systematic change. We don’t believe we’re racist—we have Black colleagues and friends, we show up and protest, we signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. If you actually engage in anti-racist work, however, you’ll quickly learn that if you were raised in a white-supremacist, inherently racist society, as all of us in the United States were, then you hold some of these views. Rather than place an unfair burden on your Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) friends to educate you, invest time in your own education and unlearning.
Even as a person of color, I had a lot of work to do when it came to recognizing my own biases and racist ideas, as well as my own lack of allyship and commitment. Although I now realize that the work of dismantling racism is lifelong, these are the books that set me off along the path. Accessible and high impact, each title offers a framework for hard one-on-one conversations as well as larger group discussions. None of them makes for easy reading though—all three are guaranteed to bring about all sorts of uncomfortable emotions, hence their being part of your personal social justice work.
We’ve included purchasing links to Black or Indigenous-owned bookstores, but feel free to explore more options here. If you’re having trouble tracking down hard copies or prefer listening, all three of these titles are excellent as audiobooks (we recommend purchasing them via a Black-owned Libro.fm storefront).
"Me and White Supremacy," by Layla F. Saad
I recommend starting with "Me and White Supremacy" for a number of reasons, one of them being Saad’s international perspective and personal experience with intersectionality. Layla F. Saad is an anti-racism educator, speaker, and podcast host whose work is all about becoming a good ancestor for generations to come. She’s an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman who was born and grew up in the United Kingdom and today calls Doha, Qatar, home. Her best-selling book is full of anecdotes and research from different countries, showcasing how white supremacy is truly a global issue.
Saad’s book also started as an Instagram challenge, meaning the sections are short, digestible, and designed to be read in increments over a 28-day period (you’ll want to set aside a half hour to an hour each day). Finally, this book has a heavy journaling component, demanding the sort of deep dive and self-reflection other texts do not. Books about race, anti-racism, and social justice can leave readers feeling self-congratulatory, patting themselves on the back for just showing up. Saad’s daily writing prompts ensure readers understand the concepts, examine their own biases, and make firm commitments regarding how they can show up for BIPOC long term.
"So You Want To Talk About Race," by Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo is a personable narrator who has a knack for breaking down terminology and concepts in ways anyone can understand and relate to. Oluo, whose father is of Nigerian descent and whose mother is white, began her career in technology and digital marketing. Personal anecdotes comprise the bulk of "So You Want to Talk About Race," helping guide readers through every question they might have about race. Topics include things we’re reluctant to discuss in the outdoor industry, such as how the myth of the "model minority" harms, what affirmative action is really all about, and what everyday racial aggressions can look like. (On that note, please stop telling me how lucky I am not to have to wear sunscreen.)
Oluo’s work emphasizes personal responsibility and encourages an environment where people can criticize and speak honestly about others’ errors when it comes to sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc., without condemning or rejecting anyone outright. In the workplace or in our industry, where a sense of community is paramount, this distinction is crucial, as it allows everyone to learn, grow, and be better going forward. Unlike "Me and White Supremacy," which is really written for anyone who holds white privilege, all BIPOC will benefit from "So You Want to Talk About Race," as it offers a conversational framework to draw from.
"An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States," by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Reading historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s spectacular work was mind-blowing, chapter after chapter. This is a history that includes the perspective of marginalized people, the history we aren’t taught in school. If we were, the United States would be a completely different place (as would the outdoor industry). “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting,” write Dunbar-Ortiz. “America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future." The first step in learning from our past is to truly know it.
In the outdoor industry, where we play on sacred sites and make our money off of stolen land, this book is all the more important. Its chapters span more than four hundred years, detailing the genocidal policies that reduced a population of 15 million Native people to three million. More than just a set-by-step rehash of our history, Dunbar-Ortiz's examination gives voices to the oppressed and offers a way forward for us, descendants of the complicit.