This week Backpacker Magazine posted an article about diversity in the outdoors. In "How Do We Make The National Parks More Diverse?", author Ted Alvarez presented four perspectives from experts discussing ways in which we can help break down barriers and increase non-white participation in the outdoors.
To me, the article was fantastic, and representative of the conversations happening on a national level across the outdoor industry. The future of the industry depends on greater participation from people of color. America is going to look very different in 30 years, with white people becoming the minority for the first time. If diverse, multicultural populations don't feel comfortable getting outside - be it due to lack of opportunities, lack of resources, lack of an outdoor culture, lack of role models - then the future of our outdoor playgrounds is at risk.
Doing what we can to close the "adventure gap" seems like the logical next step to me, both from a practical sense and an emotional one. I love getting outside. I know how much spending time in nature makes me feel personally inspired and rejuvenated, and I think all people should have the same opportunities to experience that magic. I thought everyone would feel the same way.
I was wrong.
When Backpacker posted their article to Facebook, negative comments came flooding in. Things like, "I think there are far more important things to concern ourselves with than the fact that minorities seem to not like hiking and camping as much as white people do" and, "Oh brother. What a silly concept. Anyone can go to a national park. Nothing holding them back except the desire to go. Quit inventing imaginary problems."
I was really shocked to read, "They're national parks. They're not social band aids."
The vitriol of these posts surprised me. Are we as a society incapable of trying to understand the experience of someone else? Do we think our own experiences are the only things that can possibly be true? If your child came home from school and said they were being picked on would you say, "I don't believe you because I was never picked on."? No! You would believe your kid and get the Principal on the phone!
As a white female, I've faced my fair share of frustrations with the outdoor community, but I've more or less always felt accepted in the outdoors. That said, I can understand other people have faced more hurdles than me. Privilege means you had to take six steps and I only had to take three to go the same distance, AND it means I had no idea you had to work harder than I did to reach the same destination.
Until recently, I was pretty ignorant about this inequality. I'm working to be better by listening and reading and trying to understand. I'm not an expert on White Privilege - hell, this is not a topic I feel like I'm at ALL qualified to talk about and I'm sure I've already screwed something up - but I'm doing what I can to learn from and support others with less privilege than me. I have to recognize that because of my privilege I am inherently in a better position than others to speak up about outdoor access inequality. I'm going to do all I can to support efforts to create opportunities to get ALL people outside. I hope you'll join me.
Listen. Read. Learn. Advocate.Listen to Code Switch, a podcast hosted by journalists of color discussing race and whiteness. The Can We Talk About Whiteness episode really blew my mind. For example - I never think about the fact that I am white. People of color think about the fact that aren't white all the time, and they sit around talking about what it means. The closest experience I've had to this is walking into a room full of men and being suddenly (and sometimes painfully) aware of being a woman. When is the last time you thought about what it meant to be white?
Read more about the coalition of groups looking to increase diversity in the outdoors. If one inspires you, get involved.
Get a local perspective as it relates to Mt. Rainier or try to understand the history of racism in the outdoors and why someone might say "I don't belong here."
Celebrate and spread the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, all African American Army infantry who went on to be some of the West's first National Park Rangers.
Watch author and advocate James Edward Mills share his ideas about how racial justice in America intersects with the history of the National Park Service. Then read his book The Adventure Gap, in which he shares a story of the first all African-American attempt on Denali interspersed with stories of influential people of color in the outdoors, including the Buffalo Soldiers and Dr. Charles Crenchaw.
Have another resource I should know about? Please share it in the comments.