Sailing and Racism

Published on June 21st, 2020

As protesters shine a spotlight on racial injustice in America, Scuttlebutt joined the conversation with such reports as America’s Cup, Sailing, and Social Responsibility and Look to the Water which touch on how sailing exists in an unbalanced society.

Nate Fast, who describes himself as “28, white, and from Newport, RI”, sees this as a long overdue dialogue in our sport and one in which we need to continue.

“I firmly believe that our community has the resources, access, and prescription to reason to make a difference in our larger society,” says Fast. “I’m hoping Scuttlebutt does too and will continue to help stimulate the discussion about how we use our privileged position to work for a better society.”

To that end, Fast wrote a letter addressed to the larger sailing community that we share …

Dear Sailing in America,
As we listen to those facing racism and perpetual inequality in our country, we need to get ready to talk.

Our community, brought together by the sport and pastime of sailing, exists in a larger society and its history – of its boats, institutions, and people – is part of this country’s shared history.

We need to be frank that most of the money, opportunity, and resources utilized to establish and perpetuate our community came from success in a system based on white supremacy and still flawed with inequality, exclusion, and disparity.

That the privilege to spend time on the water comes to many from the privilege of being white in America. While we all use sailing to escape the stresses of life, if we let our community, in vain attempts at politeness, be silent about the struggles of other citizens we are perpetuating racism in this country.

This is more than our need to continue to listen, be open to others’ experiences, and educate ourselves. It is about our responsibility to do the difficult, uncomfortable work to understand the reality of our privilege, implicit bias, and the role we play in upholding systems of white supremacy. It is about understanding how racism is currently used to manipulate us into thinking people are the problem instead of our broken society.

Our goodness does not disqualify us from being active participants in and contributing to a racist system. We’ll need to face harsh truths about the current, unequal state of our society and for us to have uncomfortable conversations about how we have benefited from being white.

We should evaluate how we perpetuate racist notions of Black vilification and inferiority; consider how we put our dollars to work in our businesses, donations, and governments; elevate rational, factual debate; and vote but also hold our leaders accountable, demand accurate representation, and normalize the discussion of these awkward, political issues that require awkward, political answers.

If we stand against injustice on the race course, ask for equality on our waterways, and advocate to protect our rights to a clean planet are we brave enough to uphold those values on land? For the incessant talk about growing our sport, where is the talk of growing the number of people and families who are secure, can afford, and have the time to go sailing?

This is about much more than sailing’s access or our demographics. It is about how our community, existing in a country founded on the ideals of equality, liberty, and an individual’s inalienable rights, chooses to use its position of privilege and power to fight inequality, injustice, and racism.

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