By Cory Richards and Chris Jerard
Please enjoy the full audio transcription below:
The way I view sport is that it’s, it’s a healing process for everyone. It’s a way to connect to the outdoors. It’s a way to connect to our natural world or other than human beings as well as each other, to feel a sense of community. And that was that moment. And that’s what created like this more motivation to drift away from mechanical engineering, which was the path I was kind of going for with schooling and everything and move more towards adaptive sports. It started building this empathy of like, oh, like, this is what it’s about. It’s about building community. It’s about the love of the feeling that we get that sense of freedom that we usually don’t feel day to day because we live in such an aimless world. Because of these power struggles and power dynamics. It’s causing a lot of inequities that are happening in this world, and it’s causing more and more wealth and more and more privilege to be detrimental to a lot of those oppressed communities.
Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Rome podcast, the podcast where we talk about adventure, with purpose with some of the most iconic and interesting folks in the outdoor adventure space. Trying to get into conversations maybe haven’t heard before some insights, different sides of people. Myself and Cory Richards alpinist natgeo, photographer, King of the conversation. We do this every week. So thanks for being here this week, very special guest Vasu, Sojitra. When he was nine months old, he lost his leg. And since then Vasu has not looked back. the help of his parents brother and friends Vasu is built up the confidence to face all sorts of new challenges with grace, courage, strength humor, unwavering determination. When he was living in India, he witnessed crazy poverty. And he’s been living most of his life with a disability. He looks at these experiences as a blessing. They have allowed him to truly hone in on his ability to empathize with others. He continues to strengthen his vigor through his work, and advocacy for those who face mental and physical limitations. Vasu continues to inspire others and be a positive influence in their own communities by pushing his personal limits, and he’s pushing others other people’s limits as well. And he’s encouraging people to believe in themselves in their own unique abilities. He’s got a crazy cool moto “ninja sticking through the woods to bring intersectionality to the outdoors”. He continues to challenge the biases that go with being a person of color and with the disability through the work, his work with in solidarity network, and he’s the first adaptive athlete to be on the North Face team. As well as his previous work as the adaptive sports program director for Eagle, mountain Bozeman, and co founder and program director for earthtone outside. He’s a huge advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. And he works with a lot of local NGOs. And he’s a super interesting guy all the way around. We’re incredibly pleased to have him So please welcome Vasu, Sojitra.
Vasu, how’s it going? Good. How are you? Good to see you. Dude. It’s been a minute. Yeah, right. I’m hoping you don’t mind the sign behind me. No, I would. Yeah, we might take it down. We don’t want to be political.
And for those who are listening and not able to see us, Boss who’s got a beautifully crafted sign that says Black Lives Matter. Right on mounted on his skis. Right in a prominent position. So thanks for bringing that. Yeah, that’s me. Thanks for bringing the conversation immediately.
Yeah, that’s what I’m here for. Yeah, thanks, DPS for the mounting. I haven’t used them in a while, somight as well try to use them in some other useful manner.
Hey, dude, let’s, uh, I want to start this way. We always have our guests introduce themselves just because it’s kind of an interesting way to hear howyou view yourself in the world but also, then we can then we can give a more proper bio. So as we get going, will you just say who you are, where you come from, and then we’ll dive right in.
Yeah, for sure. So, my name is Vasu. Sojitra i go by the pronouns he him his and I am on the stolen and ancestral lands of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne sailor scrutiny. Sean banach, Blackfeet and many others that called and called this land home, aka Bozeman, Montana. and identify as a person with a disability a physical disability, and as well as a person of color, first generation Indian American. And I’ve given myself this up this identity as well as the friendly neighborhood disrupter along with biodiversity steward, when it comes down to it. I’m trying to make sure that I work in an intersectional manner when talking and working and putting into action, a lot of these issues that we are running into in our world nowadays. So that’s kind of how I identify myself with that.
That brings up a great point immediately. This helps us like just move the conversation along because I feel like you have a lot to say strictly in in how you identify. I think it’s beautiful that you’ve found a way to, to be so forthright and articulate about that. But can you explain or define what intersectionality means to our listeners, for those who aren’t familiar with it, or at least how you would define that?
Yeah, hundred percent. Um, so intersectionality was a term coined by a black woman of color activist, Kimberly Crenshaw. She also runs a podcast called intersectional. Now intersectionality now I believe, and it means that our identities how we navigate the world is based on differently layers of privilege and power as well as oppression marginality so for me, I’m man, I’m assist heterosexual man. So I benefit off of patriarchy when it comes down to it, you know compared to the women and the femmes my life and other Nup gender non conforming folks who are affected by sexism, homophobia, and any other kind of gender based violence. So where I benefit on that, and I also am oppressed as a person of color, and a person with a disability within the systems that we are abiding by at the moment, so racism and ableism. Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities. So that’s kind of a short synopsis of what it might it means what it means so it’s, um, it kind of just breaks down our privilege, our oppression, our marginality and our power that we hold in society in structural ways.
Since it’s more of it just means like it not hints at but it actually motions towards the more granular or layeredconcepts of how we identify is that a? I mean, that’s a very, very simple way of putting it, but, is that correct?
Yeah, for the most part. Yeah, exactly. And the way I see it is, you know, I’m more than the sum of my parts as well, you know, I’m more than a person of color. I’m more than a person with a disability. I’m more than a skier. All these identities aren’t my opik in the sense that we don’t have to abide by a lot of these stereotypes that come into play. Especially because stereotypes caused a lot of unconscious biases that happen within our society. So try to just break those down and make sure that we know we are humans first, and making sure that our rights and our privileges and our opportunities are all equal. When it comes down to the bigger picture
So let’s just back up a minute because like, this is awesome, because we’re already in kind of deep for for I think for some of our listeners, we’re already probably over their head in some way. So, which is good. You know, that’s where we want to take them. I want people to be sort of feeling like they’re drowning in some of these conversations, because those are the conversations that that that means it’s an important one, right? If you’re swimming and you’re cruising through it, we’re probably not hitting it, the stuff that that actually needs to be talked about. But can you just walk us through your background a little bit because you do have a really interesting upbringing. And, you know, I’ve watched your TEDx talk, I know about you, but I, I’ve, you know, I’ve read about you, I’ve read about your history, but it’s It is interesting that you move to India, you know, sort of talking about your disability and I don’t I don’t want to retell an old story, but I do think for people that don’t know you it is really interesting.
Yeah, for sure. So I can kind of give a quick synopsis of my life. So I was born in Connecticut. So I’m an American citizen based off that. And I contracted some sort of viral infection which caused septicemia to show up in my right leg, and the doctors had to amputate it pretty much like incredibly quickly or I would not be here today. So that was at the age of nine months old. So pretty much tiny little baby. And I was in the hospital for pretty much that entire year. I would say like, thing they told me like six to eight months or something along the lines of that I was in the hospital just recovering. Um, and after that my parents who are first or who moved here who immigrated here from India in the 80s decided to be important to connect back with family in India, to feel that support, feel that interdependence from our close family so we decided to move back to India at the age of two. When I was when I was two me, my parents and my brother moved back to India to drop is the state that we predominantly called home. And Umdabod is the city. It’s a pretty massive city in Gujarat. And based off of that, we live there for around five years. So I kind of had my you know, developing years in India in Gujarat around… I guess, more Indian culture, Indian based culture, which was nice to see more people like me. And then throughout that time, I was using a prosthetic leg. And given you know, two to seven is a pretty fast growing time for humans. My prosthetic leg, I would grow out of it, I would break it because I was fairly active here in there like football or American soccer, whatever you want to call it and I would constantly break it, we’d have to ship it back to the States, for them to fix it, and then they would ship it back. So you can probably imagine how long that process takes. And based off the medical equipment stuff, we decided to move back to the US back to Connecticut to have you know, better access to these resources, these medical aids and equipment for myself, and just, you know, give more opportunity for me and my brother to be able to find some sort of success in life. So, around six and a half, seven, move back, started school was the only brown or not the only but definitely the only brown person with a disability in my school, which was fairly homogenous and white. So I’ve moved to a town called Glastonbury Connecticut and fairly homogenous, fairly white. So imagine you know, brown kid moving from India, with one leg incorporated into a white culture that doesn’t really know how to work around disabilities. So it was kind of a big culture shock when I was younger. So it was kind of a it was a big, big transformation process as well, when it came down to it. So that’s kind of that that was the journey to the States. And then I was fairly active here in there. Um, picked up skateboarding because of – I don’t know if you all have watched the show Rocket Power, but really stoked about that show when I was younger. Yeah. There’s some brown kids skateboarding and surfing and all doing all these extreme sports and stuff. And I mean, my brother slowly got into that, which is awesome. Picked up skateboarding. My brother wanted to go snowboarding and I was like, how do I go snowboarding so I decided to go skiing instead. And the ski instructor had no idea how to teach me so I was just teaching myself everything at the age of 10 and kind of just grew into that fell in love with it. Serendipitously and I said this in my TED talk too, is there was another one legged skier that came up and said hi to me, on my first day of skiing at this random little hill in Connecticut ski sundown. Like, what is the chance of that? It’s kind of like this destined really, like, out of body experience moment, which was kind of wild now that I think about it always, you know. So that was a cool little experience to see that human, you know, ripping around on one leg and just saying hi, and then cruising off. I mean, he wasn’t compared, you know, to other athletes, adaptive athletes. He wasn’t like, outrageously athletic in that sense, but he was still doing it. So that was a cool, cool representation there. And yeah, so from that, I just kind of started doing some research online like looking up the Paralympics and all these prolific adapted skiers and I was like, Whoa, this is like a whole different world out here. So I just started getting more and more. And, again, no one was really teaching me anything. So I was just teaching myself how to ski throughout the years and pretty much just grew my ski ability on that sense, throughout high school throughout college now as a pro athlete,
When did that happen? Like when I mean, cuz, as an athlete, I know it, there’s this, you know, in our stories, the stories that we tell, all of a sudden, we’re sort of like, Pro, you know, right? And then it doesn’t work that way. It’s like, it’s this long, weird, sort of sloggy uphill battle and then all of a sudden, you get to see you get to say that, but but I think it’s an interesting topic, how did that happen for you?
Um, with a lot of support, I would say, um, so at first I was learning all this stuff and like, my parents were very supportive in helping me acquire some gear or rental gear or whatnot. skiing is just so freaking expensive. I can see why folks of color don’t have the opportunities to go skiing just because of the price point. But, uh, yeah, I would just, you know, just go a bunch of times. Whenever whenever you’re starting something new, it’s like you go five or six times, maybe a season, especially ski oriented. Yeah, I just pushed myself more and more. In high school went a lot more pretty much every single weekend was on the ski team in I decided to go to University of Vermont, as well up in Burlington, Vermont, which was awesome and had that access to the ski areas as well. So I just got better and better at skiing. I would say I cut my teeth at Mad River. Glen. I don’t know if you’ve heard about River Glen. Ski if you can. That’s where I viewed it. Um, that’s where I cut my teeth in it and was just kind of this aha moment of like, Oh shit, like, I know how to ski. Now, this is super cool because there’s there’s no groomers there. There’s only moguls and glades and like steep rocks and roots and all this stuff that you crazy trees. Yeah. Trees. Yeah.
You’re really selling it You guys are really selling it now.
Classic you can Mad River Glen is is as an East Coast skier is one of those places that’s has this cult following. And there’s a lot of pride in how difficult and not necessarily like difficult, like, you know, in the West Coast sense, but just like, tight and hard and Rocky and like, it’s
so shitty, you know?
Yeah, yeah, but but when you grow up in East Coast, it’s awesome. Yeah. And it makes you a good skier.
I get it. I get it, but it’s it’s sounds just like shitty, which is, you know, so it’s like, Come ski this shitty place. And if you do that, then you’re rad, which is kind of like, to be fair, it’s kind of like the climbing alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies. It’s like, it’s some of the raddest alpine climbing out there. Because it’s so shitty. You know, it’s hard, right?
So hard. Yeah, coming from the Utah guy. You know, the eat ready had it? We didn’t even I don’t know when you first skied powder. Vasu but I was like, 18 years old. I didn’t even know what that was. You know, it was just blue ice. And
I can’t even get me to go skiing now because everybody in Colorado is like, Oh, this skiing is so great. And I’m like, I grew up in Utah. The skiing is not great here. It’s fine. You know, like it’s. It’s funny. That’s me being an asshole. Yeah, so
yeah, we are definitely spoiled out here. Yeah, I mean, Mad river was like an incredibly difficult place to learn how to ski I’d say not really many options for easy terrain so pretty steep learning curve there. And just once I got used to it, it was just like, this aha moment of like, Alright, cool, like Now keeping up with my friends and my friends are keeping up with me. I’m jumping off of stuff as much as they are and just like going with it. So, um, yeah, that was an exciting moment. And then throughout the college career, you know, me and my friends are all about hiking and getting into the backcountry backpacking, stuff like that through the Outing Club and one of my friends and like, of course, watching all these ski films and stuff, like we’re like, how do we get out there too. And get started looking into like back country skiing, of course, in Vermont, and I wanted to get out there so we started finishing and like tinkering around with random stuff in the garage or at the Outing Club house just to figure out what’s possible to tour on one leg with outriggers. outriggers, pretty much for on crutches with little skis on the bottom.
And you have a cool for those of us who What do you use moto?
Yeah, yeah, so um, I call them ninja sticks. I call all of my crutches ninja sticks. The way I, where I have, I guess, created this narrative is that it’s reframing what disability looks like in our world. Especially for me, I look at it in a positive sense. I’m very prideful of being a person with a disability or disabled person. And I really enjoy using my ninja sticks in whatever capacity that they allow me to use them. So it’s like this positive reframing instead of like looking at medical equipment as just like whitewash SAP story like, you know, people with disabilities are problem or like broken. My idea and we can go into this further is that people with disabilities are people first always and we should be proud like we should be okay with who we are. It’s more of the barriers that society puts on us that has created these horrible stigmas about disability instead of the people themselves. So that’s kind of the reframing that I’m going with ninja sticks. It’s kind of this positive again positive light into something that could potentially have a negative stigma to it. And usually tends to so that’s kind of that that’s kind of the name that I’ve created for them.
And you were you’re given us the history on how how you engineered you know, touring and I interrupted you I just want to get that
Yeah, I could I just a heads up I’m really good at going off on tangents. So please stop me wherever.
No all good man. That’s it. This is this, this podcast should be called the tangent. So right. It’s good. But I’m curious about the engineering of how you how you put that together.
Yeah, for sure. Um, so I also a little bit of background about me I have an engineering degree as well from University of Vermont. So I was an engineer at you at the university, becoming an engineer at the University of Vermont. So I had this like technical knowledge of like trying to problem solve. So we would, we would be tinkering and like my first iteration of back country ninja steaks or outriggers was these Plexi get glass pieces that I caught or pinned on. And those didn’t, those snapped in about 200 yards from the trailhead. Because Plexiglas is not the best in cold weather, I should have realized that. So then went back to the drawing board and we’re just like, you know what, if we just put skins on the bottom of the outriggers, those would work fine. So those worked fine here and there on hardpack days or group like if you’re just touring up, close ski area on a groomer, whatever those works fine. But then once it was powder, that’s when I was like postholing to my shoulder, my elbow to my hand, like just, it was a heinous climb up the hill just over and over postholing. So we went back to the drawing board and we’re like, okay, we have to make something better, a little bit more surface area. And we found these MSR snowshoe extenders, they look like, like a house, like a frame, silhouetted house and pretty much made it so I could take them on and off with back, you know, little like skins. Toe clips and belay strap in the back. And I’ve been using that since, like eight years now. So those have not those have worked wonders for me in any terrain imaginable.
Do you have a photo or something that we can put in the show notes to to demonstrate what you’re talking about.
Yeah, I can, I’ll take a photo of them and I also have other attachments I, because I started getting into steep skiing as well. I was like, Yo, I need something to self arrest. So a friend of mine welded me a bracket for steep skiing, and it’s just like this. I should have actually had it with me on here. It’s it’s on the crutch, but it’s like ice axe that comes out like eight inches out of the crutch. So that’s, that’s been a cool tool to use on some of the steeper stuff that I’ve been skiing or going up or booting up. Yeah, I’ll send some photos of that.
How long did you go without a tool for self arrest? I mean, where you’re, as I’ve been watching you over the years, you know, when you do these super steep shoots, uh, you know, that’s one of the thoughts I have always like, because you can see the pressure you’re putting on your out, you know on your ninja sticks like yeah, and and on your leg. And I always was wondering that, like, how long did you go before? You’re like, yeah, I need it. I need to or did you have any instances where I didn’t have you know,
I probably went too long without it, I say. So that’s, that’s the wild part. I was like crap, I definitely need to make something just because of the terrain that I keep choosing to go down. But I also feel incredibly, incredibly comfortable on a ski on a single ski on a single edge. And the fact is, like, I use my crutches on a daily basis for the past. I don’t know even when I had the prosthetic probably like 28 years pretty much you know, so the fact that I have this like, innate ability to use my outriggers or ninja sticks or crutches as like, my detachable lens is incredibly useful when I’m skiing as well.
And for kick flips on your skateboard I’ve seen that it’s so sick. Yeah, check out that check out Vasu’s Instagram if you want to see some pretty cool tricks.
Yeah, a little different right? Not many people skateboarding with crutches. There’s a few but maybe not at the same capacity. I wish there were more. I’m always hoping there’s more people doing what I’m doing. And I’m a lot of people have reached out to me on how to make that the snow shoe attachments and stuff. And I’m like, hell yeah, like, let’s go touring. They’re like, I’m just supposed to using it to walk in my backyard like damn it.
But that brings that brings up another like, good question is you’ve become an advocate and an ally and very outspoken. When did you When did you realize that you were more than an Athlete? When did you make that start to make this sort of bigger leap towards activism and allyship? What? And how did that happen?
Um, so it all it all actually happened within the adaptive sports world. So, back in Vermont before I moved to Montana I was interning with Vermont adaptive at Sugarbush. Um, and I had this there was another aha moment. Pretty much My life is built on aha moments, I realized
I’m gonna start calling you Aha. S’up Aha.
Yeah, right. Um, and one of our kiddos skiing was being tethered with some rope down like this green circle of a run, that most of us you know, more proficient skiers would just call like a run to get back to the lodge. And he was having the time of his life. Like just like hooting and hollering, dancing, just like loving life. And I was like, Yo, this is, this is what it’s about, you know, it’s not about skiing, but it’s about the feeling freedom we get from skiing and all these activities. Um, and that kind of clicked for me. And I was like, you know, this is the same feeling I get when I’m with my friends skiing some of this harder terrain. But it doesn’t have to be the way that way for everyone. You know, I, the way I view sport is that it’s, it’s a healing process for everyone. It’s a way to connect to the outdoors. It’s a way to connect to our natural world, or other than human beings as well as each other, to feel a sense of community. And that was that moment. And that’s what created like this more motivation to drift away from mechanical engineering, which was the path I was kind of going for with schooling and everything and move more towards adaptive sports. And once I moved out to Montana, I started working at Eagle mtn Bozeman moved into the adaptive sports director role for the past six years and was just just finished up this summer with them and COVID kind of came crashing in and I had to. I wasn’t well I’m not working there anymore. But that entire six year process made me develop a more like stronger empathy for the families, the caregivers, the participants that have disabilities, whether it’s cognitive, intellectual, physical, and, you know, it just it started building this empathy of like, oh, like, this is what it’s about. It’s about building community. It’s about the love of the feeling that we get that sense of freedom that we usually don’t feel day to day because we live in such an aimless world. And yeah, kind of that grew from there. I started learning about ableism and Disability Justice from that. I started connecting the dots with intersectionality as I brought up earlier Racial Justice and with a local organization here in Bozeman and from that started like learning and connecting with a lot more affinity spaces around the country like brown girls climb and flash Foxy and indigenous women hike so all these folks that are doing this work as well I’ve been doing it prior to my engagement so was starting to connect with them there’s this huge dei revolution happening in the outdoors so you know wanted to make pretty much like I’m all about action so I wanted to walk the talk and to walk the talk I needed to learn the language and like educate myself and break down my privilege and power and oppression and marginality as I was talking about earlier, and just kind of go from there
Again, like you’re fucking throwing like it’s such a great breadcrumb trail like this is your youre crushing this because it makes it so easy. You brought up some really interesting things in that last statement, first and foremost dissecting privilege and learning language. And then I want to get back to another question about how you’ve seen this dei revolution sort of exploding in the outdoor industry, specifically over the last month or two months, actually. But, but first and foremost, can you talk a little bit about what it means and how you view learning this language? Because I think a lot of people are frustrated. And and I and I would say that it’s part their privilege that that lends to that frustration. I know that’s true for me. But can you go through the process of what it means to learn language around around dei and around racial justice and around ableism? Because it’s a that is a process. Oh, for sure. And
You know, the working at Eagle with you know, folks with disabilities firsthand really showed me how powerful language is using the right terminology using people first and not saying, you know, autistic child, the child with autism, or Down’s child instead of instead saying, you know, child with Down syndrome. So all these things are incredibly influential and building relationships with these more marginalized communities and Deaf experiencing that firsthand was that moment and the understanding for me when it came to it, and I was just pretty much connecting the dots of like, Okay, well, disability is a marginalized identity like, also like different races and ethnicities are as well like there has to be different language that goes with it. So really breaking it down, understanding it, building empathy and understanding with a lot of folks that are going through some of these harmful behaviors that’s society as put on them was incredibly, incredibly helpful in building these relationships, genuine relationships. my end goal wasn’t to like, extract anything or anything like that it was just to build and create build bridges between different communities, especially like race and disability. Um, and it was a, it was a big learning process for sure. But it was also something that I had taken part in when I was working at Vermont adaptive as well as me growing my career with Eagle mount as well. So I would say like, man, those first hand experiences was like were like the biggest, biggest educators for me because usually like we don’t, in our schooling, we just don’t learn a lot of this stuff, which is unfortunate. Like it’s so important and building genuine trust and growth within the community. And yeah, I was I was ready to dive head deep. I am still ready to dive headfirst into a lot of these conversations. uncomfortable. Maybe?
I mean, I think I understand this, but why is the language so important? Why is putting a human first versus the disability first important? And, and how can you? I think that’s really helpful for people to understand, you know, little vignettes of how impactful both positively and negatively the right or wrong use of language can be.
Right because, um, a lot because it’s dehumanizing, I’d say so like if we’re, you know, saying Down’s kid, it just sounds kinda it’s condescending. It’s creates this power struggle between someone that might not have a disability with someone that does, and then it makes the person feel inferior, or superior. So it creates this power struggle and that’s not the case. Like, we all live in this world. Doesn’t matter who we are. We’re gonna die, no matter what time or age And we’re affected by everything around us. So like, you know, we’ve we personally have created these power dynamics as humans. And because of that it’s caused a lot of inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities, whether that be, you know, health care opportunities, or education opportunities or access, you know, specifically this conversation, access to the outdoors for a lot of these populations. So it’s like, because of these power struggles and power dynamics, it’s causing a lot of inequities that are happening in this world, and it’s causing more and more wealth and more and more privilege to be detrimental to a lot of those oppressed communities.
So So in essence, when we say the wrong when we say it, as right and wrong is not the quite correct and terminology and that’s not the right words right now for me, but I don’t know how else to say it. But when we say it wrong, in essence, what you’re saying is we perpetuate systems of inequity, so and then that lends itself to a further inequitable distribution of power, resources, wealth, all of those things. So even in our phrasing, in our day to day conversations, the mindfulness about putting people first versus disability or an ism, right, is what helps shift the social dynamic and language. And that ultimately does feed into a more equitable system if I’m reading you, right, is that am I saying?
Yeah, right, right. Yeah, no, yeah, totally. 100% and the way I see it, and I’ve drifted away from right and wrong as well, because, you know, back in the day, it was technically a, it was right to Lynch black people, which is so messed up, right. So it’s like, it’s more the way I look at it is just or in just, or immoral or moral or ethical or unethical or whatever. It may be to start actually uplifting people instead of these more dehumanizing ways of looking at identity.
It’s, I mean, you can be, to be clear, because I think what’s what’s intimidating for people is that they hear words like moral and immoral. You can say something in an immoral way. And that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you It makes you not necessarily educated or up to speed on the language, which is why it’s so important to learn it, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. I think that’s unless you’re choosing to do it to be harmful. Right.
Right. Exactly. And, you know, like, I always recommend books on learning about anti racism and all this kind of stuff. And I’m a great, great author and advocate and activist he grew from Kennedy who wrote how to be an anti racist Puts it really well, like, you know, being called a racist is not the end of the world. It’s not a pejorative, it’s not a dismissive word. It just means that you’re being held accountable to something that you have to work on, to make sure you’re not going to be racist, you’re gonna be anti racist. You know, the weird analogy that I always bring it back to you is like, yo, if Cory if I told you you smelled bad, like, you’re not gonna take that as dismissive thing, it’s probably gonna mean like, you want to you need to go shower, like, right to take some action items to like, fix that one problem that might have caused you know, so it’s like, it’s a very similar way of looking at is like, yo, yeah, you’re racist, but like, there’s ways you can be actively anti racist. You know, it’s a full spectrum. Like, I personally know I’ve done racist behaviors I still do and part of racist behaviors, day in and day out, but like, I’m actively trying to make sure I’m dismantling those racist behaviors and uplifting the committee. Unity’s in an anti racist manner. So that’s kind of how I look at it, especially with like those words to is like, it’s not it’s not meant to be dismissive. It’s not meant to cancel you out, it’s made, it’s made, make sure like these folks that are saying these horrible things are, you know, being checked on, and then they can follow their own accountability and making sure harm is not done in the future.
And that’s, I mean, that’s something that we’ve we’ve talked a little bit about before, but we actually haven’t had a guest on who’s been this verse or this vocal in this conversation. We we’ve talked about other issues that that have some of these topics woven into them, but we haven’t addressed it head on. So I i one thing that I want to say in this conversation, and one thing that I’ve learned is, as I’ve learned how racist I am, as a cisgendered, white male living In America, it’s not about feeling guilty about being white. It’s not about feeling guilty about where you were born in the system. It’s and it’s not about feeling bad about being racist. It’s about reframing what the word racist means. It’s not. I’m in the KKK, and every time I see a brown person, I think fucking terrible words are prejudiced.
I mean, the identification often is racial prejudice, right? As opposed to being being racist, and part of a racist power structure. Right. So and so if you say if I say, Cory, you’re racist. And you don’t have any education. You think Ku Klux Klan. Right. You know, you think like, well, I don’t hate black people. I don’t I’m not I’m not prejudiced. But that’s that’s sort of a this is just my understanding, and I’m learning big time. But you know, it’s a it’s an antiquated sort of an an older view of what racist racism is it’s like from the 50s. Almost right? Like, we’re in 2020 now. And so racial prejudice and racism, there is a maybe if Vasa you could, you could touch on that. I think that’s where you were going, Cory, but just the the, the fundamental difference between being in a power structure that is racist, and being racially prejudice.
Yeah, I mean, the thing is like racism is prejudice plus power. So I’m in our system right now, like, who is holding power is primarily the white population and who’s creating these policies is primarily the white population. So and these policies are disproportionately affecting black indigenous people of color. Um, and no matter what framing we have, like that is incredibly racist. It’s causing more disparities within these communities. And as I was saying, like these systems are all intersecting. So you know if I called you ablest like, yeah, you know, every literally every person without a disability is ablest in some manner, we all are in the spectrum of like ablest and anti ablest or ablest, or racist and anti racist, like, we all flux in between here and there, however we want, depending on our actions and our words and how we move through our spaces, but it’s really depending on like, how, like, when, and how these actions will take place of how you identify in that spectrum. Hopefully, that’s clear,
It is complex, it’s complex, right?
That’s, that’s the whole point about learning the language because for a lot of people, especially our listeners, who who can be quite siloed I mean, we the outdoor community is pretty homogenous, or has been, you know, and we are making and that’s sort of the next question, but that I want to ask but it’s, you know, we we can be a pretty homogenized community we can be fairly well, we’re just we’ve been white privilege for a long time. At least in America and and Europe.
I think that’s a little bit of bullshit.
just from the standpoint of because I think it actually mirrors I mean, it’s see what you’re saying to degree is that it’s not diverse, but I think actually it is diverse. We just have a narrative that is not diverse because the power structure in the industry, is what you’re saying. But in fact, when you look at it, it is I mean, all the groups that you were you were mentioning Vasu earlier, like they’ve been doing this work for a decade. Plus, and it’s actually super, super vibrantly diverse. It’s just hasn’t been modified at all.
Yeah, I’m not Yeah, I’m not saying I actually I’ve got to push back on CJ here. That is a new movement. That’s not. Yes. 10 years, dude, we’re talking about a system that has been in place literally for 400 years. That’s, that’s so 10 years. Yeah, that’s happening. But that’s not that is still not the larger narrative. We are moving towards a better system, which is what I wanted to ask about. Have you seen that D AI? explosion? And what does that look like? Like on the ground level in the outdoor community since you’ve started down this road of activism?
Oh, for sure. And I’m gonna validate both of your experiences there because it is like, yes, CJ, it is true that there is diversity. We’re not being amplified. That’s why we’re fuckin pissed. Like, we’re out here doing this work for our communities day in and day out, but it’s just not getting noticed by primarily the white leaders in the outdoor industry. And same with Yukari as well like yeah, this is more of a newer perspective taken on because I think a lot of these white leaders are seeing how impactful small things like language even has impacted the perpetuation of white supremacy and whiteness within the outer industry. Um, so yeah, like, oddly enough, like, technically you both are right. But, uh, yeah, on the ground like, I’ve definitely noticed, as I said before, like, we’re fucking pissed, like, we’re angry and we want some more systemic change when it comes to these outdoor industries and outdoor leaders to be making space or elevating people of color in the most genuine way possible that the community wants to be elevated instead of being so extractive for commodification for extracting resources from these communities to make money, you know, hit that bottom line kind of thing. Which, in itself is another problem of capitalism? But, um, yeah, so that’s where we’re at. And a lot of these organizations are just like, Yo, I’m done partnering with some of these companies because they are just completely got their head up their asses. Yeah, so it’s kind of a wild experience, like I’ve heard some good experiences, some bad, some horrible, some great, like, you know, it’s really depends on how much work a lot of those leaders one want to put into the organization but also to like how much they want to put into themselves to break down their privilege as a white person as maybe a male or a female, a white woman, white man, um, you know, that’s, that’s also on them personally to take their own accountability path. And if they’re not going to do that, then it’s going to cause more harm to these communities. Over and over again.
And Cory thanks, Vasu. And when I when I’m calling bullshit on you, I’m calling bullshit on me. Yeah, because and that’s why I wanted to say it is that because I’ve been part of this industry for 20 years, yeah. On the media side, right? So first in specifically in skiing, and then more in commercial stuff and then more recently in the in the company’s inkwell in Roam and not seeing myself as racially prejudiced. That’s not the way I was brought up. It’s not that, you know, so on and so forth. Always having a thought, in my position that I want to see more diversity, right? in the outdoors. Why isn’t there more diversity in the outdoors? Why isn’t there more diversity in in skiing? Why isn’t there you know, and these conversations, no shit happening as recently as 10 months, you know, very recently, so when we say 10 years, that’s why I’m using that for myself, right? That that sort of scale is that I’ve had these conversations with leaders within my company, I’ve had the conversation with myself. I’ve had, I have spouted this narrative myself, which is, oh, well, you know, the brands need to do more. It’s a geographic thing. It’s an economic thing. It’s, you know, just a lot of bullshit, right? Because because of where we are at this moment, that is for us to what you’re saying while suit like a lot of a lot more self introspection and education. And when I spent the time and again, I’m not I don’t want to, and shame myself here. I’m not trying to do that. I’m just saying this has been my experience that when I spent the actual time to look into it What I found was, what am I talking about? There’s a shit ton of diversity and community that already exists. And here I am. I’ve been in this for a long time, how do I not know these people? How do I not know these folks? Why? Why is that the way it is? And time, money, effort, power structure, all those things coming into play to say, you know, well, then that’s why push back and say that narrative specifically, I’ve heard that so many times. And I participated in it, that there’s no diversity. There’s no diversity in the outdoors. And when you look deeper, there’s plenty of diversity. It’s just not being amplified, not being authentically celebrated. The relationships aren’t there. And that’s where I say onward. Like, that’s where I say we have to, we have to address that and say, first of all, that that that part of the conversation is not, yes, it’s 400 years old, but to say like, Oh, this is something new. It’s like, no, there have been people doing this work for real for a decade. plus plus. And somehow the the power structure in the outer industry has not really authentically, you know, amplified that.
Right. Exactly. And yeah, I mean I have the same people say the same thing in Bozeman, Bozeman is 90 plus percent white. And everyone’s like, oh, there’s no diversity in Bozeman. Like, that’s bullshit, too. It’s like, if you are actively looking to have a more diverse, inclusive space, like, you have to put in action to be able to create those spaces. And that’s the same thing in the auto industry is like, people have to actively try to work to include these voices at the table. And the fact is like, that, most likely will mean that you CJ, or you, Chris, or whoever the white leaders of these organizations and companies are is like, they’re gonna have to, like, distribute some of their power and privilege to these people. is so their voices are uplifted. Because time and time again, this country is founded on racism and racist policies and racist procedures for 400 plus years. Like, no matter how not racist you are, you’re still going to be racist, you have to actively be anti racist. You have to actively pursue and build these genuine relationships. To be able to say like, you know, it’s not that there isn’t diversity, we just haven’t reached out to these people in the way that they prefer to be reached out to.
Yeah, I understand what both of you are saying. I think I’m still I’m saying, well, it doesn’t really matter. Um, it honestly it doesn’t matter. It’s It’s, uh, yeah, I think we’re lost in a semantic argument here. But I hear what’s being said in the past. Have you seen a like, I mean, obviously, there’s been an uptick in the past two months, what does that look like and felt like,
Um, it has felt it has so powerful in the sense that like, my black friends and relatives are being amplified, and their work is being amplified. And I’m hoping this, you know, is not just a trend, which tends to happen a lot in social justice movements, that it just becomes commodified and starts becoming like, more extractive than anything, that I’m hoping it’s actually a genuine transformation in our society and our systems that keeps amplifying these voices and keeps adding these narratives to the main narrative that people are seeing. And because of these different stories and different lenses and shared experiences that are being amplified like that is breaking down stereotypes that is breaking down unconscious biases people have about black communities, about indigenous communities, about disabled communities about queer communities. So it’s like, you know, that’s what What is going to break down these barriers and break down these social biases is amplifying these stories amplifying these narratives in the way that these communities want those to be amplified. You know, you can’t have extractive storytelling it has to be ethical storytelling.
How do you that that brings up a really good point like how does somebody who isn’t part of that community engage with ethical storytelling and not be extractive Is that possible?
Oh, hundred percent? Um, yeah, I mean, for me is just, I just tell people to show up like if this space is supposed to be open to the general public, like, show up and like, talk to people it’s, that’s very uncomfortable, of course, like, you know, in Bozeman, there’s always powwows happening, of all indigenous communities. Like coming together, and it’s open to the general public to learn about these cultures learn about what powers are, by their art by, like, talk to these artists talk to the dancers build these relationships, like how we usually do with humans, you know, just like, support each other in ways that feels like they’re being supported. Um, you know, so that’s what I tell people. And, you know, I always go back to the model that we had at Eagle Mountain. Eagle mount is like 90% run off volunteers, volunteers without disabilities. We have over 2000 volunteers that have helped out threw out all like 20 of our programs. But you know, all these folks that don’t have disabilities are learning firsthand, with lived experience, how to work with people with disabilities, and now we have over 2000 advocates in the community that know how to talk about disability, how to interact with people with disabilities how to be better allies for the disability community? The like, that’s, that’s so powerful. Like we need more models like that that are engaging these, you know, separate communities and building bridges between the two.
And I feel like we know your time No, I was just gonna say I feel like we need to. It’s It’s It’s shitty because I feel like we need to have a second, like a round to like we need to get back on the podcast like immediately for another hour or two. We’re just because I realize later we’re starting to just start to break through right now. Yeah, yeah. And so it’s, it sucks. But let’s just you know what, let’s just plan on that because I feel like quite frankly Vasu, you are one of the most important voices that we’ve had on this podcast to date. Since we started it you know and and your ability to articulate and be outspoken about ally ship about activism is unparalleled in our roster of guests nothing against the the other guests that we’ve had on it’s just that you have taken the time to learn this language and really know well and I think the way you communicate it is digestible and understandable to our audience. So I really want to work hard to to to do sort of, you know, around to with you and get even deeper into this stuff if you’d be willing to do it.
Yeah, yeah, hundred percent. I’m all for it. I want to keep amplifying Well, not just my voice, but my make my community’s voice as much as possible, as well as the communities that I’m connected with. So um, yeah, whenever that’s possible.
So you heard it here. Vasu just committed to a part two. We got him we got him back. Bang.
So let’s let’s plan on that and and guys a Vasu just thank you so much for taking the time today. I know it’s I know it can be an emotional burden to talk about this stuff and I appreciate you being willing to share with our audience your voice it’s it’s just like I said it’s really important and, and, and I appreciate it’s not unnoticed
I’m still very much open to talking a lot more about these more, you know, broader concepts that are very much influential to any and all communities that we’re a part of. All right, team. All good. Thanks. Take care. Yeah, Secret Love you guys. Take care.
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