I’m not Racist, I’m Redlining.

Written by Serena Ryan and Philip J. Carcia, co-founders of Summits in Solidarity. Carcia has hiked the White Mountains Redline in 99 days. Ryan owns and operates the Notch Hostel in North Woodstock, NH, where Carcia has been working since 2018. 

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Mardi Fuller (@Fattoosday) and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram for their contributions to this article, and to the development of our thinking around the term “redline” through many conversations over coffee and while hiking. They would also like to thank the Abenaki people, the original inhabitants of Wobanadenok, now known as the White Mountains. 

“When two Black women and I returned to the trailhead after an overnight hike, one of them spotted a car with a bumper sticker that read, ‘I’m not lost, I’m redlining!’ She turned to her friend in horror. “REDLINING?!” she exclaimed. Her friend quickly explained that the term “redlining,”—understood by most to be a series of federally-sanctioned discrimination practices against Americans of color—is a niche term used to describe hiking all the trails in a given region, which one highlights on the map in red once completed. We shuddered to think how a Black hiker might feel seeing this bumper sticker for the first time on a remote Northern New Hampshire road with no one around to explain it.

Knowing about my friendship with Philip Carcia, the White Mountains Redline hiker, the two women asked if I could work with him to raise awareness about this problematic term. Already uncomfortable with the term myself, and now witnessing it triggering anxiety in Black friends, I decided to speak up.”

-Serena Ryan

Outside of the hiking world, “redlining” more commonly refers to nationwide discriminatory practices that deny housing loans to people living within specific “undesirable” (code: Black) urban areas, which banks outlined on their maps in red. Redlining practices rob Black Americans in particular of the opportunity to build home equity, the single largest contributor to future/generational wealth and financial stability. The resulting lack of wealth has directly resulted in poverty, shorter life spans, higher rates of chronic diseases, and reduced access to healthy food among urban communities of color (NCRC). 

These federal discrimination practices, while technically outlawed in 1968 following pressure from civil rights activists, continue to the present day, and are reinforced by municipal, cultural, and social institutions across the country. One hiker who spoke with us recalled how her parents had been denied the chance to view properties for sale outside of historically redlined areas in New York in 1976, and again in Florida in 2002, because they are Black.

Historical redlining in the city of Boston is a strong predictor of racial demographics. Black and Brown neighborhoods have lower life expectancy and greater social vulnerability than White neighborhoods. Source: University of Richmond.

If you didn’t know that redlining is a country-wide discrimination tactic, you are not alone. American schools generally do not teach us about how our country has continued to oppress and segregate Black and other marginalized communities post-slavery and Jim Crow, through redlining, mass incarceration, and just about every other structure, policy, and institution in the country. Those living in affected communities, however, need no formal education on these topics to know and experience their crushing impacts.“

My Black friends were horrified when I used [the term redlining] in reference to hiking,” said one White hiker in an online forum. “To them, it was similar to using the N word.” Numerous others described having to explain themselves when they tell friends outside of Northern New Hampshire “I’m redlining”, because their friends only know the term in reference to the discrimination practice.

“For most White hikers in New England, redlining is a sign of personal accomplishment, commitment, endurance, and boldness,” one Black hiker told us. “It’s an entrance into an elite community. Outside of this dynamic is a much much larger historical dynamic associated with the word, where redlining is a fundamental exclusion of possibility, a limitation placed on people for no other reason than that they are Black, Asian, gay, or otherwise marginalized.”

Redlining and its legacy are primary reasons why White Mountain hikers, and ironically, White Mountains “Redline” finishers, are almost all White people. Many folks living in historically redlined urban centers, the majority of whom are people of color, cannot afford the luxury of recreating outdoors for long hours far away from home. 

A hiker tracks their progress in hiking all the trails in the White Mountain guidebook, a game known as “redlining.”

“As a hiker and runner in the White Mountains, my personal identity in the outdoors and the term “redline’’ have become undeniably connected over the last year. When I hiked the White Mountains Redline in 99 days in 2020, I found myself as the poster child for a word that few White people (myself included at one point) realize has a frightening double meaning.

Now that I know the oppressive history of the term redlining, I can’t use the word without cringing, knowing that I am actively disregarding the experiences of Black and Brown hikers. Because of this, I’ve decided that as of this article’s publication, I will no longer be using the term. I expect this decision to be met with outrage and ridicule from many White hikers and community members. I expect to lose “followers” and even be viewed as a hypocrite because of my prior relationship with the word. None of that will deter me from holding myself to a higher ethical standard that takes into account the preferences of the Black hikers I’ve spoken with about this issue.

I have benefited my entire life from my White, male, cisgender, able-bodied existence; if I can change one word in my vocabulary in order to make the predominantly White hiking culture more welcoming to hikers of color, I’d be foolish not to embrace that opportunity. To resist a change that has no negative consequences for me but a significant positive impact for hikers of color is undeniably racist.”

-Philip J. Carcia

Whether you just learned the significance of the term redlining or have been aware of it for a while, knowing that it stands for racist practices and that its continued use in hiking circles diminishes the experiences of hikers of color means that a change is needed.

“It’s incorrect to say that redlining, the discrimination practice, is not connected to hiking,” a Black hiker from Massachusetts commented. “Redlining was designed to restrict Black peoples’ access to what was thought of as the better, best, or pristine geographical places of the world, and to prevent miscegenation and racial mixing.” Taking a look at which race dominates the White Mountain trail system, it’s visually apparent that redlining and its legacy have succeeded in doing just that.

Forest paths by their very nature evolve and change course over time. Hiking can similarly evolve, and let outdated words and practices erode away. We invite you to join us in co-creating a hiking culture that respects the wishes and experiences of hikers of color. 

In keeping with hiker etiquette: “redlining” as a hiking term, like an old trail that has succumbed to erosion, is no longer appropriate to use. Please follow the re-route, or step aside. We are moving to higher ground. 

Update: The Grid Council, the group in charge of issuing White Mountain Redlining certificates of completion, responded to us and renamed “redlining” to “tracing” the White Mountain trails. We support this new term! #tracethetrails #trailtracing 

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