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Know the West

The West protests

‘Dominator culture’ and the injustices of climate change, COVID-19 and racism.


We are currently experiencing the full brunt of what the writer bell hooks calls the “dominator culture.” Those who did not previously understand this must surely grapple with it now. “Throughout our nation,” hooks writes in belonging: a culture of place, “the dehumanization of poor people, the destruction of nature for capitalist development, the disenfranchisement of people of color, especially African-Americans, the resurgence of white supremacy … has become an accepted way of life.”

Skye Woods, photographed outside Los Angeles City Hall, where daily protests have been part of the international response to police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.

This acceptance has created severe injustices, from the police killings of Black people and others, to the rising death toll from COVID-19, to the suffering that climate change has already wrought throughout much of the world. These issues are inseparable, because they are all the product of this culture of domination — a culture finding renewed strength in the current political environment.

How does High Country News fit into all this? hooks can help, as she offers a counter to dominator culture: the promotion of “a culture of belonging, a sense of the meaning and vitality of geographical place.” One of HCN’s roles, I think, is to help readers understand the Western United States as a place. It is my hope that this will help readers bring meaning and vitality, equity and justice, to this place, to create for all who live here a culture of belonging. We can do this by examining the West as a whole.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief
Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

In this issue, for example, we cover Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the West, while highlighting solutions to heavy-handed policing. And we offer a data-driven look at disproportionate police militarization and violence across the region. But we also explore the climate adaptations forced onto the Inupiat of the Arctic, as well as the coastal cities of California. We follow efforts to save a vanishing species of catfish along the U.S.-Mexico border. And we describe the rise of labor organizing among fruit packers and ski patrollers alike. The issue also features an interview with a founder of #BlackBirdersWeek; an argument for full-time wildland firefighters; and a former insider’s warning of a compromised Bureau of Land Management.

To view any of these stories separately is to overlook the hidden connections between them. Read together, they expose the obvious: Dominator culture has pushed the West — the world — to the brink. It appears that people are now pushing back, and that much of the West has joined them. The question, then, is: What comes next?

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.