Racial Diversity Among Cavers

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Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby GroundquestMSA » Aug 18, 2014 9:06 pm

Another thread's comments about Missouri's racially exacerbated tensions remind me of a recent realization. As far as I can remember, I have seen all of one photo, or perhaps it was a video, by Stephen Brewer, of a black US caver. In most of the cave-rich areas in the eastern US, African-Americans or other Blacks are a very small minority, but their minority among the ranks of organized cavers seems to be even more dramatic. It may be that there are even well-known black cavers that I know only by name, and not appearance; I recognize the names of many cavers I've never seen. If my perceptions of the situation are accurate though, what do you think could be the reasons? I certainly don't feel that cavers or organized caving have done anything to intentionally hinder racial diversity, but I can't say exactly what has.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby firemedic1015 » Aug 18, 2014 9:33 pm

Tiger Woods is a cave diver. I would guess that's about as well known as it gets...

http://www.cavediver.net/forum/showthread.php/16155-Tiger-woods-cave-diver?highlight=tiger+woods
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Caving Guru » Aug 19, 2014 4:09 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Another thread's comments about Missouri's racially exacerbated tensions remind me of a recent realization. As far as I can remember, I have seen all of one photo, or perhaps it was a video, by Stephen Brewer, of a black US caver. In most of the cave-rich areas in the eastern US, African-Americans or other Blacks are a very small minority, but their minority among the ranks of organized cavers seems to be even more dramatic. It may be that there are even well-known black cavers that I know only by name, and not appearance; I recognize the names of many cavers I've never seen. If my perceptions of the situation are accurate though, what do you think could be the reasons? I certainly don't feel that cavers or organized caving have done anything to intentionally hinder racial diversity, but I can't say exactly what has.


Lol, I believe that this is the third time that you have created another topic in response to a topic that I have created. So I believe that part of the reason why there aren't a lot of cavers in the United States that aren't white is because they don't have as much free time and enough money to keep up actively caving. Caving can potentially take up a large portion of time and can potentially cost a large amount of money.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Phil Winkler » Aug 19, 2014 8:13 am

Someone presented a paper on this topic at the 1974 Convention in Iowa. It may have been John Wilson, but his conclusions were similar about economic restrictions as well as cultural. Another reason supplied was that caving is not a spectator sport nor does it require a special uniform. Finally, no one else usually cares if you are a caver as opposed to you being a football or basketball star. All in all a very interesting paper.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby trogman » Aug 19, 2014 9:35 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Another thread's comments about Missouri's racially exacerbated tensions remind me of a recent realization. As far as I can remember, I have seen all of one photo, or perhaps it was a video, by Stephen Brewer, of a black US caver. In most of the cave-rich areas in the eastern US, African-Americans or other Blacks are a very small minority, but their minority among the ranks of organized cavers seems to be even more dramatic. It may be that there are even well-known black cavers that I know only by name, and not appearance; I recognize the names of many cavers I've never seen. If my perceptions of the situation are accurate though, what do you think could be the reasons? I certainly don't feel that cavers or organized caving have done anything to intentionally hinder racial diversity, but I can't say exactly what has.



LOL I had to re-read that three times before I realized that I was not the black caver you were referring to. :laughing: If it's the video I think it was, that was a fellow who was a part of our grotto for a while, but has for some reason dropped out. I would describe him as more of a mixed race / half black, half white. I hope he starts caving with us again soon, because he was a good guy to be around.
As far as the question you are posing, I think you are correct in suggesting we are primarily a "whites only" club. Not for any nefarious reasons, and I don't believe because of anything to do with socio-economics. My theory is that it is cultural, although I can't explain exactly why. I just know that the vast majority of blacks that I invite to go caving, or even talk to about it, give me very similar reactions. It's usually something along the lines of "you won't ever catch me in one of those caves." I used to joke with my co-worker at my previous job about it, and he agreed with me concerning my theory. I really wish it weren't so, because I for one would welcome a little more racial diversity among our ranks. One of the most prolific cave explorers ever known (in my opinion) was a black man named Stephen Bishop. But there again, like my friend from the grotto, he was actually mixed race.

I'm glad you brought this topic up, but I'm not sure if we'll be able to come up with any answers. It can be a touchy subject, given the hyper racial sensitivity some folks have these days. I hope nothing I have written has offended anyone, as that certainly wasn't my intent.

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*Edited to change Stephen Douglas to Stephen Bishop.
Last edited by trogman on Aug 22, 2014 12:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Aug 19, 2014 9:40 am

trogman wrote:One of the most prolific cave explorers ever known (in my opinion) was a black man named Stephen Douglas. But there again, like my friend from the grotto, he was actually mixed race.


I think you mean Stephen Bishop. Stephen Douglas was white and I'm not sure he ever went caving.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby trogman » Aug 19, 2014 10:05 am

Anonymous_Coward wrote:
trogman wrote:One of the most prolific cave explorers ever known (in my opinion) was a black man named Stephen Douglas. But there again, like my friend from the grotto, he was actually mixed race.


I think you mean Stephen Bishop. Stephen Douglas was white and I'm not sure he ever went caving.


Yes, you are right. My mistake. :doh:

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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby LukeM » Aug 19, 2014 10:19 am

As someone who led lots of beginner trips in college, I've been caving with people from all sorts of ethnic and racial backgrounds. The vast majority of those who stick with it for the long haul are of European descent, but also some Asian folks, a few Latinos, and some from the Middle East here and there. I would say it's almost entirely cultural/environmental thing and it applies across the board to other outdoor pursuits such as hiking. If you aren't raised among a community who does these things you won't foster an appreciation for them. Add being raised in an urban setting to that and you really don't have the opportunity to discover the outdoors. As someone said, the economic factors are real, but I don't think that's the main reason.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby GroundquestMSA » Aug 19, 2014 11:19 am

Thanks for responding guys. It seems to me too that the main reasons are cultural, and hard to understand. In my area, there are so few black families that I know nearly all of their names, where they live, where they work. My rare personal interaction with people of various races leaves me in no position to comment on their culture. However, the one black couple I've been friends with over the last few years have similar reactions to those Stephen described. When I told the guy about a vertical cave and asked him if he would like to learn to rappel he laughed, "I'm a black man. I don't want anything to do with ropes." When I tried to get him to come along for the tamest of cave trips the answer was always an emphatic, "No way." Now, that'll be the same reaction you'll get from a lot of white people too, but are these responses proportionate to the populations of various communities?
LukeM wrote:Add being raised in an urban setting to that and you really don't have the opportunity to discover the outdoors.
I think this is a valid point.

When I mentioned this to my sister a while back, she too immediately mentioned Stephen Bishop. While the story of his life and exploration is absolutely fascinating, his example doesn't really relate to the current state of caving, except maybe to unweight any ridiculous stereotypes that could pop up regarding certain race's "inherent" fears and preferences.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby trogman » Aug 19, 2014 12:46 pm

I also think Luke has a very valid point; most other sports, such as hiking, rock climbing, etc., do not have much participation from blacks. Yet I do get the feeling that there is a fear, or at least a very strong dislike of underground places by a disproportionately large percentage of the black population. I don't know if I'd call it "inherent," nor would I call it a stereotype. I think it is some sort of cultural thing that has been learned, either through spoken words or by some other method. But where there is a "rule," there is always an exception.

There is a local sacrificial cave in my area that was purchased a few years ago by a black minister. His reason? He stated that he thought the cave was a very special place that God had sanctified, and he wanted to create a Christian retreat, so that people could come and spend time in the cave environment and draw close to God. I happen to agree with a lot of his thinking, but unfortunately for him, he hasn't been successful in raising much money to support his project. So this gentleman is certainly an exception to the "rule."

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Last edited by trogman on Aug 20, 2014 7:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Phil Winkler » Aug 19, 2014 4:08 pm

The NSS has never captured Race in its membership database. But, I distinctly recall in 1974 there being a single black member and he lived in McAllen, TX (go figure) and came to the convention in Iowa in an awesome, high-rise 4 wheel drive truck, not his, but he was with it. Like others have mentioned I have heard many black friends over the years disavow any interest whatsoever in going underground to a cave. It seemed cultural and, perhaps, a superstitious belief, too. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby pmgcaver » Sep 17, 2014 1:18 pm

I've caved with several African American cavers, including one of my fellow Pine Mountain Grotto charter members. I've also led many college caving trips that included African American students. I agree African Americans are underrepresented in the caving community, for some of the cultural and economic reasons that have been mentioned, but this isn't a whites-only community, either in intent or in fact.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Squirrel Girl » Sep 17, 2014 1:38 pm

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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Squirrel Girl » Sep 17, 2014 1:46 pm

I had a friend/co-worker (MS in Electrical Engineering) who is African-American. I commented how when I went on a business trip to San Diego, I stayed longer and went to Joshua Tree National Park. He used to live in San Diego and he never even considered going to Joshua Tree. He grew up in NYC and knew all about the Classics and music--stuff I'm very limited in. Just how you grow up, I think. Actually, come to think of it, I have another African American co-worker with a PhD in chemistry who is into music and cleaning his house.

For many people, I think it's like my mom. She grew up on a farm with an outhouse. She wanted luxury. She would never go camping with me. I suspect many minorities want to get what has, historically, been denied them (by law, culture, or finances). The out of doors just doesn't appeal to them that much.
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Re: Racial Diversity Among Cavers

Postby Phil Winkler » Sep 17, 2014 1:53 pm

Good points, Barbara. Our parents provided us with many different adventures, boating, camping, scouts, libraries, music, museums, etc. Dad took me to Crystal Cave PA for my 13th birthday and also a plane ride the same day.
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