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Black People in the Outdoors: The Racism Gap to Adventuring in the Wild

Shining light on Black History month in hopes of making the outdoor space more inclusive to all

By: Kristen Fuller + Save to a List

“Black people do not have a natural aversion to camping or the great outdoors; we have a natural aversion to racism and abuse. We don’t go camping because we hate mosquitoes, need heated rooms, or hate campfires, we don’t go camping because the industry has not been welcoming”

Nature and the outdoors are racialized

Nature and the environment are racialized in America. When you step outside, into the great outdoors, whether it is to go camping, skiing, climbing, fishing, running, hiking, backpacking or any other grand adventure; notice the lack of black people compared to the amount of white people. Spending time in the great outdoors is a privilege. It takes free time, a disposable income, and reliable transportation, creating barriers for many individuals, in particular, people of color.

I myself, a straight white woman, does not feel that I have the place to discuss as to why black people are underrepresented and misrepresented in the outdoors. I am a white, athletic, attractive female with a disposable income and ample paid time off, but I despise racism and the racist barriers that exist in the outdoors.

Every. Single. Human. Being. Should. Be. Able. To. Recreate. Safely. Outside. However, this not reality.


Black people and other people of color have to think really hard about being in outdoor spaces and being seen as out of place because the white majority can perceive people of color to be out of place in outdoor spaces. Two very well-known incidents that demonstrate this cause for concern include the killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the racial targeting of Christian Cooper in Central Park. These incidents involving two Black men provide clear examples of the not-so-subtle discrimination that continues to pervade minorities in outdoor spaces across the U.S.

Let’s not forget to mention institutionalized racism and its longstanding history with the National Park System.

The Adventure Gap by James Mills

A few years ago, I read the book The Adventure Gap and although I was very aware that black people are underrepresented in the outdoor space and I equated it to lack of free time and financial means in conjunction with institutionalized racism, this book opened my eyes, ears and heart to many other barriers that black people face when trying to adventure outside. The book was a pivotal point for me in my relationship with the outdoor industry and the huge gap between race barriers and adventuring into the wild. The author talks about the relationships between slavery and the outdoors, the racist history of the National Parks System, mentorship and the outdoors, the privilege of having free time, a reliable income and transportation in order to get into the outdoors. For anyone who believes that “getting into the outdoors” is free, I strongly encourage you to give this book a read. Adventuring in the outdoors comes with a huge price tag and a large amount of privilege.


“In 2013, the first all-African American team of climbers, sponsored by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), challenged themselves on North America’s highest point, the dangerous and forbidding Denali, in Alaska. Mills uses Expedition Denali and its team members’ adventures as a jumping-off point to explore how minority populations view their place in wild environments and to share the stories of those who have already achieved significant accomplishments in outdoor adventures―from Mathew Henson, a Black explorer who stood with Peary at the North Pole, to Kai Lightner, a teenage sport climber currently winning national competitions. The goal of the expedition, and now the book, is to inspire minority communities to look outdoors for experiences that will enrich their lives, and to encourage them toward greater environmental stewardship.”


The importance of increasing representation in the outdoors cannot be overstated. A shift in the narrative is needed—and long overdue.

I want to highlight the stories of black people and their personal experiences in the outdoors. My goal for this blog post, that is purposely written during Black History Month, is to increase awareness about racism in the outdoors and to highlight the works of some incredible black writers. If you are reading this, I strongly encourage you to give these a read, it will not only enlighten you but hopefully it will help you become a greater advocate for equal opportunities in outdoor spaces.



Highly recommended reading material that explains the marginalization of black people in the outdoors


Inspiring black leaders in the outdoor space who have changed and are continually changing our world for the better

  • Leah Penniman, co-founder, co-director and farm manager at Soul Fire Farm and author of “Farming While Black,” which champions regenerative agriculture to end inequity and injustice in the food system.
  • Rob Horton, founder of Trap Garden, a non-profit devoted to growing fresh food to improve Americans’ health
  • Teresa Baker, founder of The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, which encourages leaders of the outdoor industry to increase representation and inclusion of people of color
  • Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating African American connections with nature
  • Tyrhee Moore, founder and executive director of Soul Trak Outdoors, a non-profit that welcomes underrepresented youth to explore our planet’s green spaces
  • Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek, a movement to mobilize Black women to reclaim their health
  • Mirna Valerio, ultrarunner, author, and speaker who is actively redefining what an outdoor athlete looks like.
  • Scott Briscoe, founder and executive director, We Got Next, a non-profit dedicated to amplifying stories of adventure and activism from underrepresented communities
  • Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad, followed the stars and freed 70 people from slavery

Thanks for reading

Xx

Kristen

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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