OPINION - Take North Face's racial inclusion course to get a discount? No thanks


Oh, curses. There’s my chance of getting 20 per cent off the price of a lilac and black Jazzi Gore-Tex jacket or a Y2K bum bag gone. I was getting quite excited at the thought of getting a fifth off the price of outdoor clothing just for sprinting through a mini online course. But I am sorry to say that after a few pages of the Allyship in the Outdoors — a digital course on racial inclusion and allyship created by North Face — I gave up. It’s back to the sturdy waxed jacket for my next walk up a mountain.

In case you hadn’t heard, North Face is a US retailer of stuff for skiing, trekking and running. But it has gone beyond selling backpacks; it is now in the business of consciousness raising. The outdoors for them is not, as you may have thought, a place where there’s a certain camaraderie; it is, rather, a site of exclusion for ethnic minorities which North Face is out to make us aware of.

This silly little course will not generate mutual goodwill; it will aggravate division

The course starts off with a guilt-raising exercise: did you know that only one per cent of visitors to National Parks are from an ethnic background? Or that just over a quarter of ethnic minorities spend time in the countryside compared with almost 45 per cent of white people? No? The explanation may be that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in cities. If you’re near the countryside, you’re more likely to walk in it.

Whatever. This hour-long exercise is symptomatic of a new divisiveness in the culture. It’s a bit like that very weird submission to Parliament by assorted wildlife charities which designated the countryside a white colonial space. It’s not actually the kind of thinking that would make black people make for the countryside, is it? It attempts to make people feel guilty for an offence that would mostly never have occurred to them. Granted, some rural communities are curious about or suspicious of outsiders, but it’s not wilful racism.

This silly little course will not generate mutual goodwill; it will aggravate division by making people tentative about talking to others. How about bringing school trips up the Brecon Beacons instead? It might create habits of a lifetime for young people of all sorts. The outdoors is there for all comers: there’s nothing stopping us going there.

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist