Good Story, But It Didn’t Happen That Way

Kitty Calhoun, expedition leader, on the first female ascent of Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. 1990. Nepal Himalaya. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection.

Kitty Calhoun, expedition leader, on the first female ascent of Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. 1990. Nepal Himalaya. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection.

Revelation came to me while relaxing with friends. It was after giving a slide show at a climbing festival.

“Good story, Kitty, but it didn’t happen that way,” John, my Makalu Expedition teammate, said with a smile.

“Yeah?” I asked.

Then he went on to describe the events of our climb totally differently than I had experienced them. According to him, the weather had been horrendous with high winds and numerous large storms. I remember feeling blessed with clear skies and sunshine! Hearing him tell the story, I could not believe we had been on the same expedition. And, it occurred to me that we saw the same things but interpreted those things differently, through lenses shaped by our individual pasts.  

In a recent sermon addressing racial injustice,

Pastor Scott Fine built upon my concept of lens when he said that no one sees everything and no one sees perfectly. Everyone is of infinite value and we are all connected. Build bridges of understanding; lift others up through caring.

Meanwhile, Zahan Billimoria, a black Patagonia ski ambassador, exhorted a group of us to act driven by love and compassion, not by guilt. When he said this, I felt tension rise in my gut. Z doesn’t know my history. 

He doesn’t know that I spent every weekend skiing or playing tennis with my dad. My dad, who modelled minimalism for me, was also a proud Southern attorney. His great, great grand uncle, John C. Calhoun, led the state’s rights movement and was vice president of the confederate states. When the colleges decided to rename buildings that were named in honor of John C Calhoun, or tore down statues of him, I thought about dad and the stories he had told.

Dad had explained our past like this,”It was a socio-economic system where black people were treated like family and all their needs were provided for in exchange for work. Some white people mistreated black people, but those were bad apples. And, the bad-apple-stories were the ones that got told.” That was my father’s lens, and it was also what I chose to believe.

However, because of Z––what he said and how he said it––I am looking at history through a different lens. I can see systemic racism and discrimination rather than merely a few bad apples. All my life, I’ve heard stories told about black people, but now I am hearing black people speak for themselves. 

So what now?

The next steps can not be a performative act, but must have depth to carry lasting change. They will be motivated by a genuine desire to lift others up and in recognition of our intrinsic interconnectedness and equal worth rather than a sense of guilt or obligation. I, and my partners at Chicks, look forward to creating change, and to reporting more in the next newsletter.

1 reply
  1. Tonya
    Tonya says:

    Kitty — I think it’s brave for you to confront your southern heritage — which you’ve been raised to honor. It’s hard to confront bias that has been so baked into our psyche, our identity. I think white people truly thought things were better now and we were past all that … and that any incidents that cropped up were rarities. The reality seems to be that those incidents are super common across the black experience and it’s much more rare to NOT experience multiple incidents of systemic racism, starting at a young age. I’m proud of Chicks for calling this out and working to think about how you create safe space for women of color.

    Reply

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