Thoughts on the killing of George Floyd

Systemic racism is everywhere. Even in the great outdoors.
chad brown - soul river
Photo: Chad Brown

Editor's note: A version of this essay was originally self-published by the author, Chad Brown, through Adobe's Spark project. In partnership with Chad, we are republishing it here in Hatch Magazine.

Wait before you judge. Take a deep breath. Because you can.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I’ve seen countless people on social media expressing their rage — not about George’s death or about the underlying problem of inequality in our country — but about looting and physical damage to property.

I don’t support property destruction, but when there is a riot, there is no rule book.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A riot is nothing but the voice of the unheard.”

The death of George Floyd is a horrific loss that has shined a spotlight on the systemic racism present not just in our nation’s police departments, but in our day-to-day lives, in our schools, offices, court systems, and elsewhere. It has highlighted the tension between white and non-white people in the United States. It has offered us a moment to pause and listen to the unheard voices of America — the voices of indigenous women missing and murdered on their own land, indigenous tribes fighting for their water rights (and losing), Hispanics facing the challenges of maintaining their identity and making a living through low-paid jobs, African Americans asking for equality and justice while seeing black boys and girls getting killed by merciless cops.

The reality of being black in America is being born with a target on you. You can’t separate from this target. It follows you wherever you go. Every time you step outside, your target is visible. You’re judged, spat on, called “nigger” time after time. You walk into a store or office and are falsely accused of a crime. You’re subject to traffic stops simply for being in the “wrong” neighborhood, and then you get harassed by the cops.

Once, when I was pulled over, the cop asked me if I was a U.S. citizen even though my driver’s license clearly indicates that I’m a United States veteran. My car tires have been slashed while fly fishing. Once, while I was fishing on Veteran’s Day, my brake lines were ripped out of my truck.

On social media, I have been publicly accused of “taking” fly fishing from white people. I’ve been told “This is our sport not yours!” and “You need to ask permission to fish my river!” I have received threatening phone calls where I was told I will be drowned the next time I try to fly fish.

We all love the outdoors and, as Americans, nature is free for us to enjoy. But nature is not free for me the same way it is for white people. I wish I could feel completely at ease when I’m outdoors. I wish I could simply enjoy nature and find healing instead of worrying about my safety—especially when I’m outdoors alone. I still feel I have to earn my right to enjoy the outdoors and struggle to find access that doesn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable in wild spaces.

facebook racial harassment
Screenshots of online racial harassment levied at Brown by a white member of the fly fishing community.

When I served my country in the U.S. Navy, in countries like Kuwait, Somalia and Cuba, I had to live my life in a flak jacket, my weapon close to my body at all times. I learned to sleep with one eye open. Every veteran knows this wartime mentality, it allows us to function under stressful situations and protect ourselves and our fellow soldiers from the enemy.

George was publicly lynched—the worst fear of any black person. Lynching is historical and has been embedded into black lives. It could happen to any black boy, man, girl, or woman. The death of George Floyd makes the already present fear that I am living one degree away of what George had to face even more real. I could be George Floyd. Any black male could be George Floyd. This reality fills me with rage, and leaves me sad and heartbroken.

But this is where we are today.

This is why I have to don my flack jacket and holster my weapon to go to a beautiful place on public lands that nature has provided for all of us—for every soul, young, old, black, brown and white. I fought for freedom alongside others who gave their lives but, sadly, as a black man, I have to protect myself when I go to the river to find my own freedom, joy, solitude and healing.

chad brown - soul river
Photos of the author during his time as a soldier with the U.S. Navy (photos: Chad Brown).

Systemic racism is everywhere, even in the outdoor industry. Even though there are many non-white experts of the outdoors, they aren’t often identified by the media and overlooked by outdoor companies and conservation groups. People of color are rarely invited to be part of these organizations other than, perhaps, being invited to a panel discussion or being mentioned in blog posts. These gestures to include brown and black folks too often just serve the purpose of checking off the box of political correctness. Indigenous communities and all people of color need to be heard and listened to when it comes to outdoor recreation, policy making, and nature conservancy. We should not be told what sports are suitable for us, how we are supposed to function or what we are supposed to wear or eat when we are outdoors.

George Floyd’s death has provided us an opportunity to step back and really look at why all of this is happening. It is our opportunity to create alliances and new friends and to learn from one another to build better and safer communities—both in the urban and the outdoor worlds. This is our opportunity to dismantle racism and lean into creating communities with strength that will support our youth for tomorrow.

chad brown - soul river
Photo: Chad Brown

We are all now bearing witness to a relic of the old world. Racism is the foundation on which our nation was built and it has never left us. When will we break the cycle of generational poison? When? We are all humans, but we will be all only when we have accepted all races as human.

Right now we do not. Right now blacks are separated. Right now blacks are being murdered and there is no justice.

White folks have the choice to not participate. White privilege provides one option to not fight for what is right. But white people also have the choice to lean into their privilege and use it to build a bridge to stronger communities, to make all humans a race of one.

Our nation is crippled. Our leaders are not leading the nation but dividing it. Voices diverse in races and gender are not being heard. We are facing darkness together and the one light we have is our love. Where is our love for one another? It is easy to point the finger and charge by forward with hate. But loving takes a deeper strength and maturity.

Our long-established system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt to fit today. Yesterday does not work.

We need equality. We need justice. We need a leader who hears the voices of pain.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

The author will be hosting a discussion titled "Systemic Racism in Urban and Outdoor Spaces. How Do We Move Forward?" on June 17 at 9:00 PM EDT. To RSVP to join the discussion, head here.

Comments

Being outraged about the looting of property is evidence humans no longer value life.

If the comment is supposed to be sarcasm I just don't get it.

As a white man, as a longtime fly fisher, and as an American citizen, I stand with Chad Brown. There is no place for racism or bigotry in our culture.

So sorry Chad had these uncalled for experiences! I wish it were not so!!
I judge people by their behaviour not the colour of their skin or where they come from!We are all human beings and deserve fair and equal treatment from others!
Perhaps we can all learn to get along some day! It cannot happen too quickly!
I cannot imagine being treated as Chad has been!

Thanks, Chad Brown, for your service. And, thanks for this enlightening article. I had no idea you face this kind of outrage. God Bless You.

Chad Brown you have spoken some powerful words. Your words resonate with me very clearly. I have fly fished nearly all my life and it has puzzled me how so many of my fly fishing "friends" are outright bigots. I'd even say that the majority of the people (not all of them) in this industry are bigots. I have been a regional business manager for a giant fly tackle manufacturer, a guide on fresh and saltwater for at least 20 years, and a former police commissioner. I am too crippled to guide anymore, but I still ply my local waters with both push-pole and trolling motor. I don't invite people to fish with me much anymore because it is simply too much work. However, if you are ever near Apalachicola, FL after this Covid-19 situation cools-down, and you want to fish with this broke-down pescador, you may fish with me, stay in my comfortable home, and eat and drink from my table and my cup all gratis. Doggie welcome too, in my pet-free house!

what a wonderful expression of your feelings. thanks for sharing something so personal. as a fly fisher, you are welcome to share the water with me any time because it belongs to all of us including myself a naturalized citizen. and thanks for your service to this country

I wasn't going to comment, but I have a thought. You should consider contacting a Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program and they exist in all 50 states, primarily at VA medical centers (projecthealingwaters.org) This is a national organization that supports veterans, active duty, guard, and reserve members regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, and so on. You could, depending on whether or not you are in treatment at a VA, but have a disability rating, be either a participant or a volunteer. Here in Albuquerque, we are primarily a Hispanic group with at least 70% of our participants being Hispanic. We have men and women, LGBT, Native Americans, Hispanic, Asian, and black participants. However, your article gives me a new perspective on perhaps why we don't see as many black participants as I feel we should. Your participation in the program would likely be a draw for black service personnel to join the program and that is sorely needed. Our first VA point of contact was a black woman, whose name is Michelle. I mentioned to her about 10 years ago that we had very few black participants, but we didn't have success in finding many people to join us although we had a couple of notable black participants. PHWFF is open to anyone that qualifies and that is how we do it here although I will work harder at seeking out black participants because, as you know, fly fishing is a healthy thing, mentally and physically. Thank you for your article.

Chad, from one combat vet(RVN) to another, I would be honored to have you in my foxhole. I got your six!

Chad's narrative is long overdue - not only in our society as a whole, but within the confines of the environment and outdoor sports we love. Thank you - now we need to act and support action. I can't tell you how troubled I was by that racist message included in this story; I hope we don't see that kind of incendiary garbage in our fishing community again.

I'v dealt with shit, not to this extreme, but I have!

I had naively believed that fishers and hunters were a community, welcoming others who shared the same love of the outdoors. Racism is everywhere but I had hoped that people could find respite from the regular assaults by spending time on a river or in the field. It greatly saddens me that there is no refuge. I still believe that most people are good and welcoming. I need to believe that in order to have hope we can overcome this. As long as most people want things to be different for you and others there is a chance.

I am sickened to learn of the racist bs that Mr Brown has had to endure during his fly fishing journey. Thanks for the essay Chad...would be a blessing to spend a day on the river with you.0

It was shocking reading Chad's story. That in this day the hate and crap he lives with. The fact he and others have to live with that day to day absolutely disgusting. Yes, this country needs to change. Like the Sam Cooke song-A Change Is Gonna Come.

Really...in one of the only arenas we could count on to get away from these lies? There is NO systemic racism in the United States. I suggest you research in the future before publishing lies.

As a subscriber, I'm appalled at this decision and will no longer do so.

Are you not embodying the very spirit of systemic racism in your own comment? How can a man share his own personal experience, only for you to say that it isn't true?

There's that privilege peeking through...you get the chance to interact and participate where you want free from judgement by others. How nice for you. The fact that you can move freely from group to group and not experience racism/hate/bigotry/etc. is an example of the systemic racism in our culture. Guess what, Chad and countless others don't get that luxury.

Go ahead and unsubscribe...remember, this isn't an airport, you don't need to announce your departure.

Have a happy life and go be "less appalled" elsewhere.

you won't be missed

I'm an old, white, navy veteran who would be honored to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on any battlefield, any river .... anywhere.

Thank you for sharing this Chad.

It took going to war for me to understand racism. I had to touch the wound myself.

I’m not sure I got it before; I was always disgusted by small minded overtly racist people, but I never really acknowledged the existence of the more systemic racism that exists at all levels in our nation. Again, I had to put my finger in that wound, in Iraq, to truly understand. I hope it doesn’t require that sort of experience for others.

What you do and your voice greatly helps. Its an honor to know you Chad.

And it’s a small world, by the way… I know you from Posies, and from our short conversations there. Nice to see this article.

Peace

Thank you for your insight and Thank you for your service!

Thank you for your service and continued courage.

It saddens me that people of color that served this country have to endure the racist element in this country. I thank you for your service and for calling out the racism that exists in the outdoors. In this day and age maybe we can continue to illuminate more of this sickness that plagues this country.

Hi Chad. Normally I don't post comments but your piece rings so true ... My grandfather was a tank commander in one of the regiments that broke Rommel's nose in North Africa and yet after the war he was officially denied the opportunity set foot, let alone settle his family in South Africa because of his mixed heritage. We have come far since then but still have such a long way to go. In the meantime you are welcome on my water any day mate.

I don't feel that people of color should be excluded from the outdoors in any way. I am often perplexed how few POC there are in the mountains, backpacking, fishing etc. This is something for all people to enjoy. I actually think seeing greater diversity in the outdoors would help the country.

And if I saw you wading a stream with a holstered weapon, while that would make me feel sad that you would have to, but I in no way would feel threatened. In fact, it would be nice to chat with you to hear your perspective.

Thank you for your military service and your comments on this issue.

Excellent piece.......Our country is looking for leadership to begin a discussion to address bigotry, sexism, racism......Trump is not that person or that leader.....Secondly legislation may be a secondary answer in my opinion. You can't legislate a person's opinion, attitude, or beliefs......We have to begin with education.......educating our children at their earliest years......people aren't born as bigots......that evil is a taught/learned .....I have and will continue do my small part to make our country a better place for all......because Black, Brown, Indigenous, Yellow, and White lives can live together.

Wonderfully written,
Thank you for your service, thank you for your bravery, thank you for your courage.

I am so very sorry. I allowed my white privilege not to see, not to ask, not to listen. I will FOREVER be sorry for that. I'm a falconer. PLEASE join me in the field one day. I'll welcome you and your dog!

Chad thank you for addressing this issue. I‘ve been following your work in Portland trying to figure out how to bring fly fishing to inner city kids in Minneapolis. I look forward to the webinar.

I appreciate this eloquent expression of oppression. I just wish the understanding spread from the personal across species. Fish are the most oppressed animals on the planet. Is torturing a fish really the best way for black kids to experience wildlife?

That is a thoughtful and relevant question, albeit rather trivial during this discussion. But I will address it nevertheless. Our species has developed as omnivores. We eat everything possible. Fish are one of the food classifications we eat. I stopped fishing for 3 years early in my life because I thought, as you do, why am I torturing fish for my delight. The philosophical problem was solved by me when I realized I needed to kill fish and eat them to justify my sport. I release most fish that I catch though. What justifies the act of catching and releasing is that I am practicing my killing skills for the time when I intentionally kill that fish to eat. Now I ask you, would you kill a fly or mosquito that is trying to bite you? How about a colony of bacterium or viruses that invades your body, intent on feeding upon your organs. Will you pull-up a beautiful healthy carrot from the soil, which kills it, just so you can enjoy eating it? As I said in my first sentence, your question is rather trivial at this point in time.

Shelley's question is very thoughtful and relevant, and not at all trivial. Yes, humans are omnivores but as such we can thrive on a diet free of animals/animal products. Many people do, including some of the world's top athletes.

There is nothing sporting about fishing. The fish are victims not willing participants. Science has shown that they suffer fear and pain. All of the nutrients derived from them can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources. Needlessly harming animals for food or 'fun' or anything else is animal abuse.

Catch-and-release is not harmless. The caught fishes suffer from being impaled, fought, suffocated and manhandled. Many perish from it, and all are harmed by it.

Killing a mosquito who is trying to bite you is a matter of self defense. That is not the case with fishing.

Unlike animals, there is no valid scientific evidence that carrots or other plants consciously suffer fear or pain or anything else. Even if you think they might, we kill far fewer of them by opting for a vegan diet than by eating animals due to the inefficiency of converting plants to flesh.

Like racism or sexism, harming animals merely because they are a different species is wrong and irrational. I hope you will give this due consideration and again cease fishing, this time permanently.

It is appalling that that you have had to endure the experiences you've had while fishing. If you's like to fish in the Adirondacks of NY, come on up. It would be a pleasure to spend a couple of days with you.

Noting you took offense for being asked by LEO if you're a US citizen. You stated your DL indicates you're a US veteran, so naturally a citizen? You're incorrect as non-citizens also serve or have served.
Semper Fi

If you are white, let me ask you: have you EVER been asked by the police after you got pulled over if you were a US citizen?????????? That is the point here, not whether or not non-citizens serve in the military.

...seems like you missed the point...

Chad: thank you for your service....and this article....I look forward to seeing you on the water....

Chad: Thank you so much for writing about this issue and helping build awareness about it. I am so sorry for the negative experiences you have had as a result of racism. If you ever visit Vermont, I would be glad to take you out for a day of fishing.

Chad, you are welcome to fly fish with me anytime. I’ve always admired you and admired what you are doing.

Is it completely wrong for me comment on that completely badass quiver you are carying....
And.. you are spot on. I have zero idea what you go through on a daily basis just to enjoy the things I also enjoy. I am so sorry we (white America) make that so difficult. That will never be acceptable. Tight lines.

As an Ex-Navy man myself I salute you Chad, I also experienced racism. I too suffer from PTSD. To bad we as humans have evolved so mush in so many aspects of our lives but not in the one that really counts which is the love and respect of our fellow human being. I hope and pray that I see this change in my life time.

Chad:

A couple of thoughts -

I wouldn’t wish the obstacles you have faced enjoying and helping others enjoy the outdoors on my worst enemy...just isn’t right. I stand with you and want you to know I’ll row the boat for you anytime.

Second, and perhaps more important, your writing is exceptional. You got your point across very well.

As the executive director of the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association, I invite you to join our group and write more about the outdoors from your perspective...that of a fishing guide, avid outdoorsman and, yes, a man of color who loves every moment spent outside.

Call me. We would love to have you join us...we want to learn from you.

Tony Dolle
615-870-7700

Thank you for writing this!

Chad — thank you for your message.

Thanks HATCH Magazine for publishing this important piece!

Thank you Sir for such a finely written piece. Big ups to Hatch as well. I am a 22 year full time fly-fishing guide in NY (Salt) I am constantly saddened by the lack of diversity in our sport and overtly furious at the outright racism of guides and clients. I have lost/rejected many guide friends and clients over this issue over the years. Fuck them and good riddance. The fact that I am white and a full time guide seems to make people think it’s ok to say whatever they want in my presence. They learn quick around me. Anyway, this is hardly important to the greater issue here and I am grateful that you brought it to our sport. Thanks so much and tight lines to you
Brendan McCarthy
Brooklyn, MontAuk, Northfork

I haven't spoken to anyone who wasn't sickened an enraged by the death of George Floyd. Most of us aren't going to be public about what we'd like to do to the evil bastard that killed him. God Bless, may the rivers bring you peace.

Laura Bougeois Domingue
I still cannot believe what I saw in that clip of an officer kneeling on Georges neck!!!! what the hell was wrong with that man/cop? why didn't another person STOP him from doing that? It was horrible to see and it keeps playing over and over in my mind.....I wish I could have been there to rip that officer off of George!!!!
I hear what you are saying about ongoing racism...the white man has no shame! But sexism is as alive and well as racism...and even black men are at fault of sexism!!!!! ANY kind of feeling or expression of "power over" another human is WRONG! It needs to be wiped out...stomped off the face of the earth ...peacefully!

This literally sickens me that you have had to endure these things. Im so sorry.
Thank you for your service to our country Chad and thank you for your message and putting it out there.

Chad I'm sorry for the hateful experiences you have faced as a Hispanic I have faced racism, but I don't endorse the actual BLM organization that condones the killing or hurting of law enforcement. My father came from Mexico legally went to college became an engineer became an American citizen paid his taxes and I never heard him say he got the short end of the stick. I think life is what you make it. I hope your life is filled with joy and thank you for supporting The great outdoors keep up the good work.

I love seeing people from all ethnic backgrounds enjoying the outdoors to hike, camp, fish, hunt, climb, etc. This is the only way we all can form a deep connection with wild places and have the broad support to conserve these lands for the people; NOT the mining industries. Plus it’s good for our physical and mental health.

Chad, as a former Army serviceman I thank you for your service and would be proud to meet you anywhere on the water fishing. While I cannot imagine what it is like being discriminated against for being different. I also believe we have more in common with each other than some think.

It's tragic that racial strife continues in the country and in the world, and it's admirable for Hatch to use its forum to discuss it. It is also ironic, however, that a magazine about torturing/killing calls out another form of oppression.

Science has shown that fishes suffer fear and pain, and they have a strong will to live. Fishing, including catch-and-release, causes them immense pain and distress. Many who are released end up perishing from the injury and trauma, and they are all harmed by it.

Fishing isn't sport, the fish are victims not willing participants. All of the nutrients derived from fish can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources. Needlessly harming animals for food or 'fun' or anything else is animals abuse. Society has recognized that dogfighting and cockfighting are not sport but instead are animal abuse. We need to realize the same is true of non-subsistence fishing.

Like racism or sexism, harming others on the basis of their species is wrong and unjustifiable. All sentient beings deserve respect and compassion not gratuitous cruelty.

Chad, I've always been the kid that loves the outdoors. Now as an educator and a black woman who still loves the outdoors, its amazing! Everyone else who doesn't are seriously missing out!

A few days ago I googled black outdoor presenters and I somehow stumbled across you. I was annoyed because racism reached you before I did. Nonetheless, I'm so glad I found you! I don't know about you but we've got some work to do -knocking racism out of the environment its not fit for.

Thank for all you have done as you continue to serve your country.

If you ever meet a white supremacist, go buy a lottery ticket. I'm white and have never known anyone who was a white supremacist or even a racist. Not in school, not anywhere. Recently I watched several online videos of black men saying they've never experienced racism. How is that possible in a country of "systemic racism?"

If you're black in America, and will work hard in school, this country will roll out a red carpet for you. You all know that's true. That doesn't happen in a racist country. Ben Carson and Jerome Adams are two of the best men in our government--I'm proud that they are leaders.

I couldn't care less what color you are--if you're fun, I'll hang out with you.

Oh, and to my black friends--stop giving the Democrats your vote--they need a permanent underclass to survive as a party. They've never done anything for you, just kept you down. Anyhow, Democrats have been mad at us Republicans ever since we freed their slaves.

guys

I have never met a white supremacist, but after reading your comment I believe you are a racist. Your remark about a black person working hard and having the red carpet rolled out for them is absurd. You are saying that as long as blacks stay in line and don't make waves they are ok, but if you step out of line expect to be put back in your place. Have you watched the documentary about the 13th amendment, you should check it out and then rethink your comment about not being a racist. If any party has kept the blacks down it is the republicans.

As far as I know I have not met a white supremacist, but in my opinion you are a racist.
Your remark about a black person working hard will get the red carpet rolled out is absurd. Have you seen the videos of George Floyds arrest? Have you watched the documentary about the 13 amendment? I have and it changed my views on racism. I am sorry for what Chad has had to suffer while pursuing his love of the outdoors and fly fishing just because of the color of his skin. I was not born when all this started, but I can try to change what's happening now!

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