Does Race Determine Our Interests?
One of the first things I remember learning about the outdoors is that black people don’t do them. Black people don’t go outside, and go off into…the wilderness? No, sir. We don’t do the outdoors. We don’t do extreme sports. We don’t get in the water. We don’t not season our food. There were just things we did not do. Where did I learn this? Family, friends, TV, books, magazines, your aunt, your cousin…it was so ingrained in my mind, ingrained in black culture. I don’t even really know where I first happened upon these proclamations.
As a kid, I remember always feeling like I was on the outside of that “we”. Because, hell, I had hopes and dreams that included doing all of those things! I was (and still am) a tomboy that loved playing in the woods with the boys. I loved jumping from high places because the adrenaline rush excited me. Am I not black? Am I a special kind of black? No one else in my immediate family was really into the outdoors or adventure sports like I was. So where did I get this lust from?
Over the years, I was told by many of my black friends, “that I liked to do white people sh*t”. This is one of the reasons that I began traveling solo – it was hard to find anyone that wanted to do the things I wanted to do.
They were referring to my desires to go camping, skiing, skydiving, hiking, cliff jumping, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it doooes appear to be more common for white people to engage in some pretty “out there” pursuits that seemingly no other ethnicity would dare pursue…(that’s a stereotype)
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. White people have long been onto something about the outdoors that black and brown people need to get up on.
I know what you’re thinking, Black People: it’s more than just a saying or some random belief that we created.
For one, it’s rooted deep in our history – the ugly, hateful, and terrifying history of slavery and civil rights in the United States (in addition to similar injustices around the world). Black people don’t go into the woods because bad things happen to black people in the woods. The immediate imagery many black people get when they think of rural areas and the wilderness is, drumroll please: being lynched. It’s not a mental picture of waterfalls, gorgeous mountains, connecting with the Earth, and finding yourself. It’s not cozy camp fires. It’s burning crosses.
This may sound extreme to some of you but it is the harsh reality of the kind of fear some black people have of the outdoors. It used to be, and unfortunately still is in some rare cases, a very realistic fear. But for the most part, today it’s an irrational fear that’s holding black people back from experiencing some of the best things life has to offer. I had a black male friend tell me that he doesn’t “explore outside the city lines.” That’s crazy! We shouldn’t just hand ownership of the outdoors over to other groups of people. No one “owns” the wilderness and that is its beauty. There is something phenomenal beyond the woods.
Another factor affecting this belief simply stems from the economic inability to partake in many of these activities. I’ve got to say, as simple as it sounds to lay in a tent at the foot of a mountain in front of a river, it is not a poor man’s activity. These kinds of recreational endeavors are quite expensive. The equipment needed for them are costly. The fees, the permits, the TIME…these things were historically out of reach for the black community either because there was a lack of financial resources, a lack of access, or both. And it’s a problem that systemically still remains today.
Some black people don’t swim because they don’t know how to swim. Maybe they don’t know how because their grandparents were denied access to a community pool. Or, there was no community pool. So their grandparents never swam, which, for the sake of brevity, led to their parents never learning how to swim either. And so on.
Thankfully, my parents put my brother and I in swimming lessons when we were young so I don’t fear the water. I respect it. The above picture with my mom says that I was a little skeptical in the beginning as a baby. I wonder if I already knew then that “black people didn’t swim”.
In the past couple of years, I have seen a refreshing rise in the number of black people participating in so called “white activities,” like hiking, mountain climbing, and camping. More accurately, my exposure to it has increased – mostly on Instagram, a photo and video sharing application for social networking. Accounts like @BrownPeopleCamping, @UnlikelyHikers, and @MelaninBaseCamp, for example, enthusiastically highlight minorities in the outdoors. So, interest is growing!
Though, when I’m actually traveling on my outdoors-themed trips, many times I am the only black person (or one of very few) in a particular setting…for hundreds of miles. I don’t mind it. I don’t get uncomfortable. I’m cool with everybody – and my background has prepared me to hold my own in any situation. But it tells me there is still work to be done to encourage more black and brown people to get outside with nature.
Here I am, looking at some of the most beautiful sights on Earth wondering why more of my black people are not out here witnessing it for themselves, too. Why are they not enjoying this feeling of freedom and spirituality that is connected with being entrenched in nature? Why are they not laid out on this lake enjoying waterfall, glacial, and mountain views, too. I want it for them.
This is not to say that everyone should be an outdoorsy person. Some people, of all backgrounds, just don’t like being outside. I get it. I mean, I don’t get it but I get it. Those people would gladly pass up all things great about the outdoors so that they don’t have to endure it. My goal isn’t to change those people. What I want you to take away from this is that your skin color does not dictate what your tastes are. If you’re green and most green people love the color pink, but you like yellow, LIKE YELLOW! Be authentically and unapologetically you. If you’re black and you like to hike or camp or snowboard, you’re a black person that likes to hike, camp, or snowboard. Not a black person that likes to do “white people sh*t”.
I love the outdoors, and I think that everyone should get a regular dose of Mother Nature to help keep them grounded. Then again, I also dread the thought of an overcrowded wilderness so I’m glad I’m only part of a percentage of people who enjoy it. But get out there, Black People! There’s a whole Earth waiting for you to explore. There’s an entire universe waiting for you to connect.
There is something special about being immersed in nature. Something physically, mentally, and emotionally rewarding about hiking to the top of a mountain. Or drinking water straight from a natural source. The air is cleaner. The views are better. My head is clearer. It’s something spiritual.
Have you struggled with identifying what activities you like to do based on your race? Have you heard any of these contentions before? Are you outdoorsy? What are some ways we can encourage more black and brown people to get outside in nature?
Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Thanks for reading!