Most mountaineering heroes were white, which makes us wonder if mountains are racist. Have giant peaks been allowed to discriminate?
Mount Everest, Nepal-Tibet border
Everyone knows that Sir Edmund Hillary moonlighted as a right-wing thug, but who knew the famous mountain he conquered also held disdain for people of color? When in 1953 Hillary and his Nepalese guide Tenzing Norgay — both equally skilled — neared the top of Mount Everest, who did that racist ol’ mountain allow to summit first? You guessed it. Ol’ Eddie “White As Artificial Vanilla” Hillary.
When in 1952 an expedition of fair-skinned Europeans and their darker Pakistani counterparts took a stab at the notoriously difficult K2, who got a wink and nod to make it first? That’s right. That peak-in-a-pointy-white-cap waved in two white fellows (with Italian names too comic to print), telling the others to wait down in second class — all the more reason K2 should be renamed K3 — for the KKK.
You might not think the tallest mountain in Africa would be racist, but it most certainly is, leading some scholars to give credence to tribal legends that Mount Kilimanjaro was actually constructed by proto-Nazi German explorers. It wasn’t until 1912 that the mountain allowed two pink-faced Aryans named Edward Oehler and Fritz Klute to pass through those pearly gates to the top. To this day, the flat-topped hill is known to prefer white faces, leading many critics to call for its demolition. If we can destroy mountains in the search for minerals, why can’t we take one down to “eracism”?
Why would a mountain native to North America have an Anglo-Celtic name? You guessed it: that dumb pile of rocks and ice might not have much gold, but it was still a token for the greedy Caucasians who flooded Alaska in search of precious metals. Although the native Koyukon people lived under its shadow for thousands of years, who do you suppose the mountain let up first? If you intuit it wasn’t an inuit, right you are. In 1910, that self-loathing slob let itself be mounted by four men whose names are so white you couldn’t dream them up: Tom, Peter, Billy and Charles.
Don’t think that a mountain can’t be racist just because it’s made of steel and paint. Walt Disney, a man best known for animating a princess so pure her last name was White, decided his Orlando theme park wouldn’t be complete without a modernist temple honoring his own race. That’s why he started dreaming up Space Mountain at Disney World, which his successors finished building in 1975. What other roller coaster makes a frightening diversion out of thrusting you into blackness, only to “save you” by bringing you back into the sanctity and security of white lights? It’s no coincidence that Space Mountain was built in a section of the park called Tomorrowland. Say it quickly, and it sounds like Vaterland: another way to talk about Hitler’s Third Reich.