Posted on February 20 2021
Photo by Ali Harford
By Ali Harford
The map and geography community largely adore exploring outside. So we need to be aware that Black Americans remain significantly underrepresented in outdoor recreation.
The conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association, found that Black Americans represent 12.4% of the U.S. population, but made up only 9.4% of outdoor participants in 2019. When asked “Were you less active outdoors versus the year prior,” 27.7% of Black participants answered yes—the highest of any group.
It’s no secret that some people of color don’t feel comfortable in the outdoors. The industry is largely white, from retailers to the National Park Service (79% of full-time permanent employees in the NPS are Caucasian; 62% are male). James Edward Mills, a professional in the outdoor industry, wrote for National Geographic last June about how National Parks are attempting to make themselves anti-racist; he wrote that “Embarking on outdoor adventures has far less to do with discretionary income and vacation days. The real problem is that there is a perception among Black people that they don’t belong outdoors … the great outdoors in the U.S. has never truly been a welcoming place for people of color.” He reports that when President Woodrow Wilson signed the creation of the National Park Service into law, the policies of Jim Crow segregation were well established, and “those restrictive codes would remain in place at parks across the country until the end of World War II.” While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did help the parks become less segregated from a law standpoint, the fact remains that the Act was only established 57 years ago.
There is still immense work to be done in the #DiversifyOutdoors movement. Seven years after Orion Magazine published the comical, but poignant, piece, “9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” Amy Cooper called the police on a Black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, in Central Park (and recently had her charge dismissed). Only one year ago, on February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was killed while on a jog in Georgia. There is obvious work to be done, and there are also organizations dedicated to making it happen. In their own words, read about a few of these organizations dedicated to making the outdoors a more inclusive and safe space.
“We are a coalition of social media influencers—bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs—who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have been historically marginalized and silenced … Our goal is to disrupt traditional narratives of who is active in the outdoors in favor of more inclusive, richer snapshots of outdoor recreation in the US.”
“Black Girls Trekkin’ is a group, created by co-founders Tiffany and Michelle, for women of color who choose to opt outside. Through our passion, we’re inspiring and empowering Black women to spend time outdoors, appreciate nature, and protect it. We hope to build a community that will show the world that women of color are a strong and present force in the outdoors.”
“Black Outside, Inc has one simple mission: Reconnect Black/African American youth to the outdoors through culturally relevant outdoor experiences … Through culturally relevant programming, inspired volunteers, and passion for connecting youth to the powerful history of Black people in the outdoors, we seek to move the needle on diversity in the outdoors and ensure our youth have safe and equitable spaces outside.”
4. Outdoor Afro
“Outdoor Afro has become the leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature … Outdoor Afro supports and promotes policies in the following areas: Connecting Black people to the Outdoors: ensuring Black people have access, representation, meaningful participation, and quality nature-based experiences; Reimagining Blackness in the Outdoors: uncovering and amplifying the historical and ongoing contributions of Black people in the outdoors; and Protecting the Outdoors: protecting and enhancing our lands, wildlife, and waterways for long term sustainability.”
“Melanin Base Camp is our story. We are strong, empowered, and resilient. We care about our communities and we care about conserving public land. We’re passing on our love of the outdoors to the next generation and we realize that representation matters. So here’s our new goal–to increase the visibility of outdoorsy Black, Indigenous, People of Color, to increase our representation in the media, advertising and in the stories we tell ourselves about the Outdoors.”
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