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Bringing Color to the Public Lands Landscape

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Wayne Hare

Well-familiar is the cry that our parks are in danger of losing mass appeal because visitation is flagging (this year seems to be bucking that trend, but that's fodder for another post). More serious, in my opinion, is that the diversity among park visitors seems to be lagging.

Park Service officials realize this, and are working on ways to boost the racial diversity in the visitorship.

But perhaps the best essay I've seen yet addressing this issue is one that surfaced today via the Writers on the Range syndicate. Written by Wayne Hare, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger in western Colorado, the essay raises some thought-provoking issues tying diversity to the future of our public lands.

The most recent U.S. Census indicates that sometime around the year 2050, people of color in this country will outnumber the current white majority. If the emerging future majority doesn't find intrinsic value in our birthright of publicly owned lands, how much tougher will it be to fund and protect these special areas?

You can read Mr. Hare's essay here.

Comments

The same arguments about race diversity on park staffs have been made about gender. And it is nearly always framed as an issue of unqualified women getting jobs that should have gone to qualified men. Sometimes there was even a suspicion that unqualified women were selected over qualified ones so as to prove the point that women could not do the job. There may be unqualified people of all races and both sexes, and they should not be selected for jobs. But there is still a very strong odor of male superiority and misogyny everywhere and this is a factor in hiring and promotion decisions and reactions.

I once wanted to hire seasonally a young black woman who would have been very good at visitor contact, and in a southern state. But the money for the position went to some ranger function instead. This was the kind of person that should have been encouraged to think about a career. On the other hand, one of the least qualified seasonals I had to hire was a white male veteran with preference points that put him at the top of the hire list. During the summer he even had a run-in with the local police for some infraction.

The Forest Service had to be sued to allow qualified women to be hired and promoted in professional positions. These were women who had the skills, the education, the degrees. So, ultimately the court forced the USFS to a quota system that resulted in more diversity at the time than the Park Service, which had relied on the more successful tokenism strategy. Success was keeping the numbers of women low and ensuring they would stay at the bottom of the ladder.

My own opinion is that the mission of these agencies has been so compromised by outside forces, including global warming, and politics, that the quality of performance has been adversely affected, regardless of diversity issues. It has come to be seen as an impossible job, and one that is not valued by our political bosses who are eager to hand over the land to extraction and motorized use, and privatize the money making parts. Who can have pride in such a situation, or feel their work is valued, or feel that the lands can be successfully protected? They can't even be sure they will have careers at this point. So what kind of people will that scenario attract?


Why don't you two just get a room and get it over with???


Okay, we can pick this up another time. One of my favorite philosophers is G.W. Leibniz, a contemporary of Locke, and he disagreed with Locke on so many things. He actually wrote a dialogue called New Essays on Human Understanding that reads more like a blow by blow response to Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. I come from the rationalist tradition, though I'm not that fond of Descartes or Spinoza. Anyhow, we aren't really that far removed from that climate, though Locke's worldview has been far more influential on practice, especially in the American experience. Perhaps, that's why I think the critics of Locke are all that much more relevant, whether they be rationalists like Leibniz or fellow empiricists like Berkeley. I'm especially fond of the critiques offered by the Scottish common sense realists, especially Thomas Reid. Of course, this isn't just academic to me. How we talk about what we think we know and why we know it goes deep into our discussions about things that are seemingly more accessible, like the issue of race in the national parks. Often, our dividing lines, or the reasons we stay divided, come to basic questions about existence and knowledge. A lot of us haven't thought much about those problems, but we still carry on the thinking of these dead men almost unwittingly. It's doubly interesting when one thinks of the role European men like Leibniz and Locke played in the racism of our own times both consciously and as part of the colonial process.

I don't think one needs to study Locke and Leibniz to talk about race in the parks. I think all one has to do is talk and be willing to consider the force of the discussion on each of our lives. I hope that people will continue to do that. the other stuff we've been talking about is there for those who are interested--in the history, in the history of the ideology, etc. But, it's clear from even just this discussion that racism poisons us, keeps us separated and disempowered. Discussions that explore that experience are worthwhile. And, it might as well be in the parks context; there are a million fitting reasons why.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World


Jim,
Thank you and I'm sorry for my sarcasm.

I'm weary of the discussion and will just agree to disagree. Let me first add a bit of clarification or whatever.

I lean toward libertarian and free market, not only in economics but in science.

John Locke wrote "The strength of our persuasions is no evidence at all of their own rectitude." In other words, never mind how you feel or what you think might be; you have to be checked.

Liberal science says you must run your belief (in this case, that minorities are underrepresented in natural areas) through the science game for checking. So, Hare came up with a list of studies that have been checked in the "marketplace of ideas" to back his opinion. But one person's experience is not knowledge; it's personal experience. For it to be come knowledge, it needs to be checked. That's all I was sayin'. I'm sure Kurt and Jeremy and everyone else is tired of this, especially of my sarcasm and ranting.

So adios!


I'm sorry if you took what I was saying as patronizing; I apologize.

Are we really talking about knowledge when we are talking about anything empirical? I don't think so. It's all subject to induction, which is always at most probable.

My point about anecdotes as "evidence" was not to suggest that they were knowledge but to say that anecdotes can be evidence of something, perhaps not sufficient evidence, but evidence nevertheless. When someone has an experience of racism, their report of it is evidence. Whether that evidence adds up to anything is for further exploration.

However, in no case is the result of the testing knowledge. It's strong or weak, probable or improbable.

That's what I'll throw out there to start this discussion. I don't think there's a stark line between the anecdote and the repeatable experiment, and the meaningfulness of either depend upon a context. If I'm talking about the number of elk in Yellowstone, and I go out and say, "Wow, I just didn't see many this year." That's worthless to answering the question. However, if someone isn't hired for a job because of reasons of race, their telling of that story is directly relevant to that. As instances of racism are sufficient for there to be a problem of racism, we don't need to know whether racism is a general pattern to know that it's a problem. The specific instances are enough. There, the anecdote is relevant. In neither case is the end result concrete knowledge. There's always a chance of being wrong, a chance of falsification, and knowledge is certain if it's anything at all. The end result of evidence isn't knowledge but probability. Evidence is meaningful when relevant. That's how it's used in a court of law, and the threshold of its importance isn't knowledge but probability. Quantifiable and repeatable things are more reliably probable, and that's why science can be quite useful to us. However, that's not the end all and be all of evidence; the end isn't knowledge (though we use the word "know" loosely; I certainly have even within this discussion).

I've laid some of my epistemological cards on the table. I think you have a high burden to show why anecodtes aren't evidence and why the scientific method is necessary to have a conversation of racism in the parks. What might it produce that makes all other discussion moot until it happens? I think science has a far more important role - to provide us with a diversity of colorful metaphors to flavor our discussion.

As for taking things personally, I think you've missed my point. He certainly was talking directly about things you have said; it's not the same thing as to attack you personally. There's a world of difference. Are we identical with the statements we make? He was picking on what you said, which presumably speaks to an idea that you or others may hold. You happened to say it, but that's not a personal attack. It's an attack on the ideas you've shared, which you have no ownership over. That's another reason that anecdotes are potentially useful to us for discussion. Like anything that's communicated, they are able to be taken by someone else and considered in a different light. The aim isn't to repeat so much as to analyze, synthesize, and therefore understand. That is, what does a proposition speak to, and what doesn't it speak to?

But, we should slow this down, perhaps. What do you take knowledge to be? Why? And, how do you know? I have one hunch. I have a hunch that your answer won't be something we could empirically verify.

For those who don't want this to drift far from the subject, think of this claim. Our problems in the parks aren't problems of science so much as they are problems coming to grips with the values we presume to know. Just as racists once presumed to know their superiority; we presume a lot of values that science doesn't shed any new light on. Those are questions of knowledge; they are not questions of empiricism. The questions are fueled by our experience and are not prejudiced simply toward the measurable variety. That's all I'm saying.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World


Jim,

When someone else uses the exact same words and the exact same phrasing I used and then uses the word "pretend", well, that's quite hard not to take personally.

"Let me know that you really want to go down this path because it's a very serious sort of question, and I don't think you'll like at all where it leads."
"However, I'm still around and willing to have the epistemological discussion when you want to have it."

Stop patronizing me. If you want to have a discussion about the liberal scientific method and what constitutes knowledge, that would be great. I still hold by my assertion that anecdote is NOT knowledge and that knowledge is derived empirically and is independently verifiable, which anecdote is not.


I have no idea what Mr. Hare has to say about this, but I have plenty of my own thoughts on these remarks.

Mr. Hare has taken several thinly-veiled slams at me. The first instance referenced people who "pretend that they lost their job because of somebody else's need to hire a diverse staff." This was clearly in reference to my previous statement, "I was 'diversified' out of a job at SEKI. My boss, a Hispanic woman, wanted to 'diversify' the staff, so she hired a Hispanic woman for my position." The second occurred in his last comment: "Contrary to what is sometimes put out there, white people are seldom actually 'diversified out of a job' by a person of lesser abilities."

I think this is unfair. He took slams against ideas represented in your posts; those aren't necessarily slams against you. If he were taking slams against you, they would be ad hominems; however, he was careful to leave you personally out of it. That's not a "thin veil"; that's a way to talk about ideas, positions, and stances without making this about you per se, but about the position.

In the first instance, Hare implies that I'm "pretending" that the reason I wasn't rehired was due to my boss' desire to see more Hispanics on the staff. I'm not pretending and have plenty of anecdotes to support my claim.

Actually, he doesn't have anything to say about you. Obviously, you feel that you lost your job because of your boss's desire to see more Latinos on the staff, and Mr. Hare doesn't think that happens very often. However, no one is asking you to defend yourself. I haven't heard that from anyone or from any quarters. Seldom or not so seldom, these are experiences worth sharing and considering. In your case, without judgment about the particulars but just considering what you are sharing at face value, there's a wealth of things to talk about. What you point to is a process that is rather patriarchal used to correct a wrong that came out of a patriarchal society. I think that's a strong point to consider. It speaks to the depth of the pain of the situation and how racism has had a bad effect on everyone, including those who have belonged to groups that have been in general privileged. It speaks to the need for us to break down generalizations and be open.

On the other hand, your sarcasm about anecdotes, I don't feel, is very helpful or relevant. You never heard me say that an anecdote was what you caricature it to be in your response. However, I'm still around and willing to have the epistemological discussion when you want to have it.

As for Hare's second assertion, that "white people are seldom actually ‘diversified out of a job’ by a person of lesser abilities", that is clearly another slam, but Here left a loophole by using the word "seldom". By using this word, Hare admits that it sometimes happens. Sometimes is too much, especially in light of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits using race as a hiring factor.

And, where did you see Hare justify racial discrimination in hiring? It seems he went at pains to show you that there is no policy to do this. I think he was pointing to a fact of practice, not something that the government does on principle. Again, I'm not sure why you are making the argument more personal than it is? It's good form in argument not to call someone out because the individual is irrelevant to the general point. There are plenty of personal things to share, and we are dealing with people attached to these arguments, but his point is worth considering regardless of your defensive posture against what he's saying. I'm really curious why you feel the need to be defensive. I wonder if that's a relevant talking point to consider here. You have had some very negative experiences when it comes to race and your experience with the National Park Service. I don't know how that speaks to the larger points about diversity, about coming to grips with the history of racism in the current picture, in our place in it, and what we might do about it. Your story is part of that puzzle; I wonder why you see it as antithetical to what Mr. Hare suggested in his original piece or continues to suggest.

All that said, we are not an equal opportunity society in any number of ways. We all know this; I know that you know it to based on other things I've read by you on different issues. Things that we can do to make each other of the processes that keep us from opportunities is worthwhile, including an analysis of the opportunities themselves. For instance, I'm against war. I have a lot of trouble getting enthusiastic about the issue of gays in the military or women in combat because I fervently believe that there shouldn't be a military at all. Maybe, there shouldn't be a Park Service at all or a national parks system. All of that will change the way we view the remedies of diversity, but if we are going to acknowledge the current reality and accept that, then we had better be willing to work on opportunities within that reality. If that still leads to injustices, then when are we going to fess up to those and do something about them? I don't think we can on the one hand say that race doesn't and shouldn't matter and then prop up the social mechanisms and systems that make it reality. If we are going to do the latter, then we have to acknowledge the former. I am for fighting systems of oppression because one's race does not matter, but the history of racism is a reality and a present. And, fighting the systems that make racism the reality it is has to start with considering the larger puzzle and with people sharing their experiences openly. Being defensive prejudices what I think should be an open discussion, and so I think that's also worth considering. I often find myself defensive about things; there's often a lot of justification for being defensive, but there's often something else behind it as well that's pertinent at another level.

Hare also previously stated (and reiterated): "People like to invoke, 'It's culture, not color.' I hear that all the time. But we've been together over six hundred years! Do we really have different cultures?"

First, "we've all been together over 600 years"? The first Africans arrived in what is now the United States of America around 1620, less than 400 years ago (Columbus arrived in the hemisphere 515 years ago, still not more than 600, and certainly we weren't all "living together"). I get it, though. Use a bigger number and it'll back up your point.

Are you seriously going to quibble over 85 years? I mean, we can get ridiculous and say, "Well, maybe the Americas weren't what was assumed?" "Maybe, the Vikings should be counted." I mean, geez. Do you think the point was to make up some ungodly big number. Would over 500 years be less of a point than over 600 years? Does cherry picking a literal error over a figurative estimate make your point or your criticism hold more water? It's hard to understand how what you've said here is relevant to Mr. Hare's points about race and culture. It's worse than a strawman since at least a strawman is relevant. It's like saying someone doesn't know what they're talking about because there's a typo or a grammatical error in their statement. You sound like people I've argued with who insist that anyone who calls a "bison" a "buffalo" is incorrect because "buffalo" are those animals over yonder. However, you not only can figure out that "600 years" means "long enough," and any more precise way of saying things is not more helpful to advancing the discussion.

As for do we have different cultures, the answer I'd tell you, that most multiculturalists and anthropologists would tell you, is a resounding OF COURSE! While there some can say we have a prevailing culture in this country, there are many separate cultures. We have a gay culture, hundreds of different aboriginal cultures, Asian cultures (look at the China Towns across the country and tell me they don't represent distinct cultures in America), rural cultures, urban cultures. There are millions of first-generation and illegal Mexican immigrants, whose culture is very unlike ours (different language, food, religion, etc.).

I'm not sure that the two of you aren't having more than a semantical argument. I think the overriding concern is that the use of "culture" not be used to cloud the reality of racism in this country or the fact that people have had, for totally bogus reasons, a history thrust upon us on the basis of race. Whatever cultural hierarchies exist are relevant also in a discussion of racism, but one cannot deny the one by asserting the other.

Speaking of this last culture, I was at Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (operated by the USFS) on Sunday. I saw Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, the whole rainbow of color. One Mexican male made rude sexual comments (in Spanish - he assumed I didn't know Spanish) about my future wife (there's a personal anecdote for you, something I don't need a study to prove because I can see it). Clearly, that behavior is not tolerated in our mainstream culture as it is in Latin America (I remember having to watch videos during Peace Corps orientation about Latin American cultures and the difficulty female volunteers face there) or in African-American urban culture (seen a rap video lately?). I'm sorry, but I don't really want to run into that type of BS sexist patriarchal machismo anywhere, let alone the backcountry where I'm miles and hours from social safety. But hey, what can diversity do for you?

I love Multnomah Falls.

Anyhow, your anecdotal sarcasm on anecdotes is delightful; you're right, we don't need a study to talk about what you experienced. We'd need a study to know what is tolerated by mainstream culture or by "culture" in Latin America. However, I think it's an interesting thing to talk about sexist patriarchal attitudes and racism. I'm sure it would be worthwhile to study why patriarchy is a part of different culture. I mean, look for instance at Plains Indians tribes during the 19th century. Plains nomadic societies became far more hierarchical and patriarchal as trade for buffalo increased and as labor became more and more specialized in tribal society. This is not an excuse for sexism; the slavery that women suffered was brutal. It is to say that you cannot tie a patriarchal tendency simply to a definition of a culture (or a race or a sex or a class). Many tribes were judged, however, on their essence, on their worthiness as beings, based on certain behaviors that were not independent from the dominant society. Sometimes, criticisms of the acts seen in different people slip into becoming racist or bigoted because they are generalized that way. For instance, does your use of the word "machismo" tie in any way to the culture you were criticizing? Would you use that word to describe non-Latinos? Perhaps, you would. I can't say.

Diversity can be a beautiful thing; I worry about the way you cynically conflate diversity with what you judged to be an incident of sexism that's tied to a particular culture. I don't know how to say it concisely, but you seem to conflate the sexism that exists in a culture with the essence of the culture itself. That's often what's at root in bigotry, that kind of generalization. I hope you meant something else and were being a little too sarcastic for my slow wit.

Why was there so much "diversity" at Multnomah Falls, Oregon's number one tourist destination? Because it's easy to get to, and people across all of all colors are lazy. And fat. They don't want to hike. You can see the Falls from the freeway, the parking lot, or behind the gift shop. In addition to being too lazy to walk, people don't want to have to plan ahead or carry food and water great distances while they walk, so the Falls also works because it has a restaurant, lounge, gift shop, and ice cream stand. If there is one predominant US culture, it's the culture of Lazy.

Well, that's something we can agree on; there are too many lazy people. I hope we are not lazy in pursuing discussions like this with the seriousness and passion they deserve and then taking difficult actions. Hiking up the falls isn't that hard; dealing with a human history of abuse toward each other and the earth is a much harder hike. I see no reason why it has to be as lonely as it sometimes is.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World


Ranger X you're priceless!


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