Open Letter on Diversity in Our Sport

Lucy Schram's picture

On Monday, June 8, US Ski and Snowboarde posted a letter from our CEO and President, Tiger Shaw, sharing how U.S. Ski & Snowboard was taking steps to develop a more inclusive and diverse community within the snowsports industry. 

Being open to different voices and taking the time to listen is our first step. One voice we’d like to share with you is African American Alpine Ski Coach Charles “Chuck” Harris. Chuck reached out to Tiger after reading the letter on our website, with his own letter. Chuck called us out, called Tiger out, and asked us to take a deep and critical look at ourselves. This lead to an extended conversation between Chuck and Tiger and will be the beginning of a productive, lasting relationship committed to affecting real change in creating more diversity in skiing and riding.

We recognize that as an organization we are not leaders on the subject of racial diversity. But our platform is large and so we are humbled and honored to share Chuck’s voice with our community and beyond. 


 

TItle: Open Letter on Diversity in Our Sport

Mr. Shaw,

First I am a African American Alpine Ski Coach. 

I read your post on the USSA website regarding diversity. I must say you have a lot of work to do. I have been in and around the sport of ski racing for a great many years. I wonder if you actually realize how hard it is going to be to change the culture of our sport and the cities and towns where it resides. It will NOT be easy and it will be resisted. A lot of that resistance will not be overt but it will be there.

First let me address what you and the leadership of USSA know or don’t know. Do you know how many athletes of color are members of USSA? Do you know how many coaches of color are in USSA? How many alpine officials of color are members of USSA? How many people of color are in leadership positions in member clubs? If you have to scramble to find the answer or call over to membership, that is part of the problem. If membership doesn’t know that is an even bigger problem. Because that means it wasn’t important for you to know. In the time I have been here in the Far West (since 1994) I never once have seen the CEO at a divisional race. I would hope at some time the leader of US Ski and Snowboard would head out and see what goes on in this sport. If you want to change things you and the leadership need to get out to where things are happening at the ground level and listen without reservation. Yes you (USSA) did do the survey regarding women in the sport and yes women in this sport get treated very poorly by many of the men. I have often told some of my female colleagues “female is the new black.” You can take most of the negative comments regarding black people from 40 years ago, remove the slur for black and insert female or other slur. It’s the same degrading comment. The only thing that changed was the gender. Yet that same survey left me feeling that I and people that look like me in this sport are not important.

My involvement in Alpine Ski racing and the ski industry has given me some of the greatest moments of my life. There is something magical about alpine racing. Something pure. Athlete, mountain, clock. No judges it is fair down to its core. No judges no opinion, fastest time wins. Skiing has taken me to Europe and South America. It has made me not only bi-lingual but given me an extended family outside the US. My Grandmother was born in S. Carolina in 1885. 20 years after the Civil War. A woman with more grace and dignity despite what she faced in the world than I will ever have. For her skiing was like travelling to the moon. It was not even in the realm of the possible. Black people simply did not ski. For me 3 generations later to be a professional alpine coach speaks to my family's journey. One of the greatest moments for my family my mom and my aunts and cousins was seeing me march in opening ceremonies at the Olympic games. For my mother that was the culmination of a dream that took over 100 years of hard work. I wish my dad had been still alive to see it. But then it leads to the other question why am I the only one? Why after all these years are there so few that look like me?

Skiing has also produced moments of blinding rage. Rage that I have to choke down because reacting would only have negative repercussions for me in the long run. I can’t afford to be mad. I can’t allow myself to react. I ask you this. Have you ever been afraid of travelling to any community for a ski event? I have. Have you ever worried that you might reserve a hotel room and when you arrive it suddenly magically wouldn’t be available? That has happened to me. There are places I have had to go to in this industry where I order take out and stay in my room because I don’t feel safe in that community. In many cases if I do go out I only go in groups of other coaches that I know. Getting into an altercation with the locals or the local police would only serve to damage myself, my program and my athletes. In order for me to be able to move forward in my career I cannot fight back. Have you ever been pulled over by the police, had your truck searched, emptied onto the sidewalk and then been left there? The phrase “I have rights” never comes out of my mouth.  That would in most cases result in a night in jail and me not being on the hill the next day to do my job. How do you think I felt when I purchased a hot chocolate and coffee at a ski resort during a FIS race and looked at my receipt and it said “Ghetto Mocha”. After getting the Olympic coaching job from the Argentine Federation I had a parent say to me ”How did you luck into that job?” I just bit my tongue and replied ”I did the work”. All the work, study and years I put in to be awarded no earn that level of trust, taken down to “He must be lucky” You have to wonder why it is that at times I have felt more respected and welcome in Argentina than in my birth country. The same feeling my father had upon returning from Europe after World War 2.

There are many challenges facing people of color in our sport. For most of us professional involvement means that we will not be living and working in a location where there are many people that look like us. In some cases the Resort or club can be a warm welcoming place but the community not so much. Add to that factor that most ski towns do not have large populations of color to draw employees from. We are also in an arms race in this and other sports. There are parents with the “Country Club” mentality who will spend large sums of money on their child. That gives the impression that someone of modest means cannot afford to compete and that drives away talent. Because talent and inclusion is not what they want in the sport.

I would suggest you first find out who, and where we people of color are in this sport. Maybe reach out to Forrest Kingshaw, Schone Malliot, Eric Smith, Andre Horton, or myself. You will never know or maybe even understand what it’s like to be us. But at least you might get some guidance and perspective. The change we need in our country, society, and our sport will not be brought about by people of color. It can’t. We have been waiting for that change after how many repeated injustices. It will only happen when the rest of you say enough, we will not do this, we will not allow this anymore.

We have come to a crossroads here in the US. A fire is raging, a fire that was started by over 200 years of kindling. A few years ago after another incident of a police stop gone horribly wrong, one of my athletes asked me a question. This child looked at me and said “Stuff like that doesn’t happen to you coach?” I could see the look in his eyes when I told him “yes it has happened to me.” It gave me hope for our futures. I could see that he saw the injustice in it.  I could see that that type of injustice just touched home for him. A child KNEW it was wrong. And it broke my heart that I had to be the one to reveal that fact of life to him.

Respectfully,

Charles A. Harris

Coach lvl 400, TD 4, Ref 4, CO 4, Instructor National de Argentina (4)

Head Mens Speed Coach Argentina Olympic Team 2002

USSA Clinic Leader

Photo by Max Hall
Photo Credit: Max Hall