“Oh, YOU like hiking and camping? I didn’t think that you would be into that?”
The comment came from a friend after hearing about one of my latest camping trips. It was around the time that I had joined a club for adventure seekers in college. There were no other black people in the group, and there were fewer women in the club than there were men. The club was a reflection of what I commonly saw when I laced up my boots and went hiking. Unless I was in the mountains of the diverse multi-cultural melting pot that was Los Angeles, California, I was almost always the only black female hiking in a sea of paler faces out in the woods.
My friend who had commented on my interest in the outdoors didn’t mean anything by it, but her tone had implied that she didn’t expect to see anyone of color outside enjoying nature. The word, “you,” was said with such surprise because she hadn’t seen very many people of color enjoying camping.
According to one National Parks Survey conducted within the last ten years just 7% of people visiting our nation’s national parks were black, while 78% of the visitors were white. However, the lopsided figures are mostly due in part to years of segregation when black people were not allowed to enter into the majority of America’s National Parks, public swimming pools, or participate in anything stereotypically deemed as “white.” Without a historical connection to things, such as the recreational enjoyment of the outdoors, it can be tough for one to jump head first into the unknown
I’ve seen in recent years a game of catch up. Many black people are creating their own groups, such as Black Girls Trekkin’, a group that I have recently become a part of which aims to help bridge the divide and encourage black women especially to come together and step foot in the outdoors. We’re using these groups figure out how to break down the streak of exclusion that is sometimes found even in many of the mainstream clubs and organizations of today, and fit the outdoors and exciting new adventures into our busy lives.
What I, and what I’m assuming many other people of color who enjoy nature, hope for are for other non-people of color to help break the history of marginalization and encourage their fellow nature lovers to join them. Encouraging all children when they are young to visit our nation’s national parks through different educational programs and teaching them about the importance of nature when they are young is also a huge and very positive step towards equality in parks and green spaces. I’ve seen a lot of success so far, and although change’s steady pace has been slow, I am optimistic about the growth of the outdoor community toward equality as a whole.