News Access for All news East and Southeast Asian people go outdoors too

East and Southeast Asian people go outdoors too

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Who’s writing?

Andrew Wang is a fell-runner, data scientist and activist based in the Scottish Borders. Andrew grew up running on gritstone edges in the Peaks and now spends his time exploring local Scottish trails and hills. Find him @eseaoutdoorsuk

Diversity conversations in the outdoors can’t leave anyone out. At ESEA Outdoors UK we’re celebrating the fact that East and Southeast Asian people go outdoors too, in spite of  historical erasure and lack of representation in outdoors media. Here’s what you need to  know:

A few years ago, I was trundling up the ascent to Froggatt Edge from Grindleford when, for the first time ever, another East/Southeast Asian (ESEA) runner came hurtling downhill past me. For a millisecond, we locked eyes and shared a look of surprise, relief and confusion: it may have also been his first time seeing one of us out on the hills.

Having grown up exploring the Peak District, participating in local races, buying from local brands, I was acutely aware that the outdoors is for white people. This was a lie perpetuated by the outdoors media. I was convinced that other ESEA fell-runners, climbers and hillwalkers had to be out there somewhere, invisible and unheard. Some recent efforts to diversify the outdoors have only further consolidated the exclusion of ESEA individuals with their use of language, such as the recent headlines Black and Brown people are taking back Britain’s countryside or “ Black and brown rock climbers are revamping the sport” . Whilst many ESEA people may also identify as Black and/or Brown, the phrase typically excludes many ESEA identities, so by using phrases such as “Black and Brown” we risk reinforcing the status quo. We need to recognise the existence of other Global Majority communities and actively champion and listen to their needs in order to make the outdoors truly inclusive."

Why do we need diversity in the outdoors?

By now, the outdoors community has thankfully figured out that equity, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors is needed. Authentic representation of marginalised groups on the screen, on the hill or at the crag are desperately needed to combat harmful stereotypes and prejudices, which can lead to racism and discrimination. Unfortunately, these problems are still rife even in established outdoors and nature organisations.

Many people from marginalised communities face barriers to accessing the outdoors and nature, ranging from perceived fears of not “fitting in”, to historical land rights access inequities. To tackle the former, we need representation to empower and inspire people to get outdoors – even when they feel they don’t fit in with the traditionally perpetuated norm. As Shane Ohly, CEO of Ourea Events, told me, “For individuals to feel welcome, there needs to be a critical mass of ethnically diverse participants at an event, not just token runners from minority communities”. He continues: “At Ourea Events, we are actively encouraging minority groups to participate by systematically identifying and addressing the barriers to entry, such as access to knowledge, equipment, fees, travel, experience and, most importantly, the sense of feeling welcomed by the organiser”. Tackling these key barriers is a must for any organisation who cares about diversity. Only by scaling up diversification as a community can we build a truly inclusive and welcoming outdoors.

The ESEA diaspora is systemically erased from diversity conversations

None of this is new, nor is it unique to the outdoors sector. ESEA people are still regularly underrepresented, unheard, and systemically erased in conversations about diversity and racism in the press, online, and even within your favourite progressive outdoors brand. Why? Because institutional racism and subconscious stereotypes have hindered and quashed ESEA social justice movements. Perhaps most telling is that it is only in the wake of the #StopAsianHate movement in 2020 that we have created our own, community-unifying acronym, ESEA (pronounced “e-sea”). While it’s now promoted by amazing organisations such as the British ESEA Network, the term is still not widely accepted in government making it harder to give credence to issues specific to the ESEA community, effectively denying our collective voices.

Conversations about diversity in the outdoors must start including the ESEA diaspora now

I founded ESEA Outdoors UK after several frustrating years chasing backwards-looking national governing bodies, with no idea whether I’d succeed in finding other isolated ESEA folk around the country. Today, we’re successfully unifying ESEA voices and celebrating our explicit representation across outdoor sports and activities. We’re building a community of ESEA Outdoors people across the UK and empowering them through their love of the outdoors. We’ve had amazing support along the way, including the All The Elements community, Opening Up The Outdoors, and Due East. Our community is crucial to grow this movement – no number of award-winning films, books, protests, podcasts, influencers or Kendal Mountain Festival workshops will be able to empower regular ESEA people in the same way.

What can you do to help?

If this has motivated you to go and make a difference, I urge you to learn more about ESEA issues and experiences in the UK. Start the conversation: ask friends, family and colleagues if they’ve ever seen ESEA people on outdoors media, and explain to them what ESEA stands for. If you are an organisation or community leader, think about how you can actively encourage ESEA and other Global Majority people to your outdoors events. Consider, are any communities underrepresented in your depiction of the outdoors? Are there any implicit or explicit financial, physical or social barriers that you can tackle? Make the first step to actively connect and consult with our community, and to further educate yourself.

We need help from charities, brands, national governing bodies, race organisers and more. Unfunded grassroots communities can’t do this all by themselves. If you can help us achieve our mission, or want to learn more, drop us a follow and get in touch on Instagram.