by Kelsey Marie Harris
One of the books I’ve read recently, which I’ve referenced in previous blog posts, is “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer. I enjoyed it, for what it was. I have to say, I get the appeal. The idea of escaping the poison of society. The intention of getting lost in God’s woods with no map and a 10 lb bag of rice. Convincing yourself the ground you trod is uncharted land. The challenge of self sufficiency deeply resonates with my soul.
However, as I read about the perilous adventures of the self proclaimed “Alexander Supertramp” there was a recurring thought that bit at my ass like flies. Even knowing he died in those woods on that bus alone. Knowing it was the same nature and seclusion he romanticized, that took him out. The fact that he even made it that far, can only be attributed to white male privilege.
A black man or black woman, or a woman of any race for that matter, would have been facing a whole different kind of danger than bears or rapids, or poison plants.
The recurring theme in the book is the hospitality of strangers. A hospitality that I cannot be convinced would have been extended had Chris McCandless been black and/or a woman. Had I been tramping those same roads I probably would have been found raped, left for dead in a ditch, way before I had the chance to starve on an abandoned bus.
I have serious doubts any of the people he met along the way would have pulled over or offered a job to a black kid who wandered into their town. Especially if he showed up dirty and unshaven, the way McCandless did.
It’s very unlikely they would have looked at this black kid and felt a soft spot in their heart (or seen him as a kid at all). He wouldn’t have reminded them of their dead son (though he wears the eyes and skin of many dead sons). They wouldn’t have compared him to the likes of Thoreau or Tolstoy. They wouldn’t think to themselves, he looks like he comes from a “good family”. They certainly wouldn’t have offered their credit card number and address in hopes of hearing from him upon his return.
The truth is, if Chis McCandless had been black, it’s likely he would have been arrested or shot just for being out there, and no one would have written a book about it.
It is a privilege for the bane of your existence to be your rich daddy’s infidelity. It is a privilege for your only regret to be the mountain you couldn’t quite scale. It is a privilege for your only concern to be your capacity to preserve meat. It is an overwhelming privilege to feel alien in society and have the opportunity to escape.
Black folks, especially dark skinned black folks, especially dark skinned black women, only get to escape mentally. Black folks can only dream of becoming lost in the woods. The gag is, everytime we walk out our front door, we go into the wild.