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Outside » Outside Features

The Epitome of Privilege

Do you ever fall down the rabbit hole?

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For this week's Outside Guide, we asked local outdoors advocates to weigh in on the topic of sanctuary in the outdoors.

Do you ever fall down the rabbit hole? You know the one; it feels hopeless and it's full of stories with tragic endings to human lives. Lives that couldn't feel farther from my own. Stories that seem light-years away from my reality as a white woman living in our majority-white, majority-Democrat state.

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This issue is about the outdoors as a sanctuary. This essay is a call to action for those of us who go outside to hide from the world, even when we don't intend to.

When someone asks what the outdoors mean to me, my gut response is that it's where I go to solve problems. Too stressed from work? Got in a fight with my partner?

Go outside. Go for a walk. Watch the river. Take a beat.

That habit that I have - seeking sanctuary outside - applies today perhaps more now than ever. 100,000 dead from the pandemic? Go outdoors. They're literally dynamiting sacred Indigenous sites in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to build Trump's border wall? Go outside. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others who never made it on my radar? Go outdoors.

But when does going outside transform into looking away? What does it mean that I can use the outdoors as a sanctuary, as a place to distract myself when things get tough, when others don't have that option? Where do they get to go?

This, my friends, is the epitome of privilege. Things get heavy, I go running. I can run up Pilot Butte and ignore the fact that the KKK used to gather and burn crosses there. I can run wherever I want without people questioning my intentions. I can go outdoors in search of sanctuary from the nasty reality that follows my fellow humans with black and brown skin. I get to decide if and when issues of race warrant my attention. This sanctuary is a privilege and it's time I call it by that name.

Please do not take this as my self-celebration, or a victory lap. If I have learned one thing in recent days, it's that allyship is consistent work, and I have a lot more of it to do. I'm still searching for resources, answers, and solutions. And I hope that if you find yourself in a similar circumstance to me, reader, that you consider this your formal invitation to do the work that needs to be done.

There's a different world we could live in, one where that particular rabbit hole no longer exists. Where the incredible experiences I've had outdoors, and the safety I generally experience throughout life, is widely accessible to everyone regardless of their race, gender, and orientation. Where the sanctuary I seek outdoors does not come at the expense of others.

Each of us has a role to play in birthing that reality. I can't say what yours is, but I can say with absolute certainty that it is not to simply look away.

—Jamie Dawson works for Oregon Wild in Bend

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