Cori Schumacher, doing the right thing

31 March 2011

Here’s what’s been on my mind: it’s really damn hard to do the right thing when it hurts your income or standard of living, or even when you just fear it might. I’d like to say that academics are an especially fearful bunch, but I’m not sure we’re any more so that anyone else. So let’s toast to Cori Schumacher.She’s the reigning world champion longboard surfer, but she has foregone sponsorship so she works at the Naked Cafe in Solana Beach, CA (yay Solana Beach!). She has refused to participate in the only two events in this year’s Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour for women longboarders for political reasons. She speaks out about the sexism and homophobia endemic to the sport. In short, Cori Schumacher is doing the right thing. Yet if you read the NY Times‘ coverage of Schumacher, “For Female Surfers, the Challenges are Out of the Water,” you finish it a little confused. The author is oddly coy about those “challenges,” making brief references to low pay for female surfers and subtle punishments of outspoken women; but the most germane story, which the NYT skims over, has to do with clear political commitments.

When the ASP announced it would hold its championship in Hainan Island, China, Schumacher composed a long, thoughtful public letter announcing she would not attend, reprinted here. She decried the ASP’s choice to hold the event in a country so well known to have committed human rights violations, including gendercide, sexual slavery, forced sterilization and forced abortions, as she explained in her letter. The ASP’s CEO Brodie Carr responded with an email that begged her to reconsider, saying, “I believe you can do so much more good by going there and inspiring the people of this country than by protesting.” To which Schumacher replied:

I think that what I, and other female longboarders, are being asked here to be are “goodwill ambassadors” of the most naive kind. The kind that allows business to overlay their desires, branding and business ethics atop their own individuality and ethics…. I understand the ASP is just as much in peril of economic disruption as the rest of us. We are all struggling to make our bills, pay our rent and feed our families. But if it is at the cost of someone else’s human rights, I would rather go without.

I find this humbling and deeply admirable — both her act of withdrawing and the fact that she’s truly going without by refusing to take sponsorship. And I feel ashamed for my instrumentalist views and actions of the past year. Here’s to a renewed commitment to saying and doing the right thing, even when it might hurt us.

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