Natural Selection and the inherent racism of snow sports culture
How snow sports culture perpetuates white supremacy (opinion piece)
I live in a mountain town in Canada.
I moved here to pursue the mountain town lifestyle; namely chasing the sensation of skiing deep powder in winter.
It’s a well known town amidst the winter sporting world having risen to fame on the annual snowfall that accumulates in this region - a delectable detail that has snow sports enthusiasts salivating in their salopettes (no-one says “salopettes” in North America - I’ve given away my European upbringing)
Upon travels to other destinations where mountain-town people like to congregate I have relished in the appreciation written on other people’s faces when I respond to their question of “where are you guys from?”
But lately I’ve developed a bit of a sour taste in the mouth for certain aspects of my little mountain town.
It’s very, very, white.
Now I’m no expert in matters of race and sociology, but my skin is brown and so that endows me with a certain perspective learnt from over thirty years of experience being a brown person amidst a wash of white.
So I write from my own personal perspective and my own individual ideas. I’m not writing having researched the entire history of the topic, merely my own personal history; I do not speak for every brown skinned person, I speak on behalf of my own brown skin.
My discomfort around the whiteness of my hometown has been growing, no doubt invigorated by the BLM movement of 2020.
And it’s a certain breed of discomfort - it stems from my ostensible otherness.
It’s nothing new that I feel my place here is questioned, having moved in ecru echelons my entire life I have always been something of an oddity.
This awareness of otherness has meant I have strived very hard to “fit in” amongst my caucasian companions, and a recent rebrand of my mountain town has ensured that my feelings are warranted - see this aggressively worded promotional video they made (also I’m pretty sure everyone in the video is white…)
Exclusivity, that’s what they’re selling here.
And boy what a price they’re demanding!
Who can afford to “earn” their place here in the mountains and continue the jostling for position on the white white mountain top.
Why don’t we see more black, South Asian and Indigenous people on the ski hill? I bet on any given day you won’t see a single one of these peoples gracing the slopes.
I’m not going to conveniently surmise the entire history of political and socioeconomic fucked-upedness that allows white supremacy to prevail - to be quite honest I don’t know enough about it - and if you want to attack me for that then be sure that you do know the entire history of political and socioeconomic fucked-upedness that allows white supremacy to prevail before you do.
So now perhaps let’s deal with the title of this piece:
Natural Selection - a name taken from Darwin’s Origin of Species and indicates:
“Natural selection is the process through which populations of living organisms adapt and change. Individuals in a population are naturally variable, meaning that they are all different in some ways. This variation means that some individuals have traits better suited to the environment than others. Individuals with adaptive traits—traits that give them some advantage—are more likely to survive and reproduce. These individuals then pass the adaptive traits on to their offspring. Over time, these advantageous traits become more common in the population. Through this process of natural selection, favorable traits are transmitted through generations.” https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/natural-selection/
So some witty folks over in the snowboarding world have plucked the concept as a name for their “new generation of outdoor events and experiences” which they have stated “inspire a deeper connection to Mother Nature”, by showcasing the “world’s greatest snowboarders” competing in various snowy locations.
And here’s the thing, everyone participating in this “natural” occurrence is white.
The “world’s greatest” are white and they hail from the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and New Zealand (see a pattern?).
And it’s not because of political and socioeconomic advantages that they have been access to snow sports in the first place, no its “Mother Nature” coming into the fray and bellowing from the mountain tops: “white people receive my favour and I endow them with traits that give them a natural advantage so that they are more likely to survive and reproduce because this is what I want because they are better and I prefer them and there is no arguing with this because I make the laws around here.”
But really, what is the message here?
That an event called “Natural Selection” showcasing only white individuals suggests that the world’s greatest - the people we should look up to and aspire to be more like, are white. That white is the ubiquitous and irrefutable paradigm we must all adhere to, for to be white is to be “naturally” the best, and this event just goes to prove it.
Now I’m sure the even organizers had absolutely no intention of promoting white supremacy when they set out to showcase the world’s snowboarding elite.
But they kind of have anyway.
And this sort of thing happens everywhere all the time.
Go to your social media and hit the search button and see what comes up in the suggestions feed below the search bar, refresh it a number of times and just notice - who do you see? who is represented? who has meta decided is worth your precious focus and attention? Just an experiment, I wonder what you’ll be presented with.
For me, it’s a celebration of white people; white is presented as the norm, the natural, and the only thing worth looking at.
I’m veering off course here.
I’ve opened up a powder white Pandora’s box the contents of which I am ill equipped to grapple, so perhaps that is irresponsible of me.
Going back to Natural Selection the snowboarding event, I’m all in favour of inspiring people to forge a deeper connection to nature - its the basis upon which I have built my own business.
But I admit to feeling disappointed by the reality that it is really only white people that enjoy the privilege of access to the mountains, to mountain culture, and to adventure sports.
That is because this lifestyle is expensive, and it’s a luxury, and only those with enough cash flow are able to pursue it to any degree. The truth of the matter is white people have more advantages and access than non-white people and the structure and framework of our society is such that this “phenomenon” prevails.
Do I have a solution to this? Of course not, it’s so vastly complex that no one person could possibly configure immediate and effective resolution.
But perhaps I can encourage a little curiosity and invite you to look a little closer at what we are being shown as “normal, natural and right.”
Be aware of the unconsciously insidious messaging of popular culture and how it consolidates white supremacy please.
I’ll probably at some point write about how this is also most grossly prevalent in beauty culture….oh golly! If you want a little warm up reading on the topic I suggest you head over to Jessica De Fino’s page here.