Progressive outdoors enthusiasts are campaigning to make nature more inclusive to people of color.
A report published by Outside Interactive this week lamented that America’s historically racist policies have had the lingering effect of contributing to “the nature gap,” resulting in black Americans having unequal enjoyment of the great outdoors.
But according to the article’s writer, Erin Key, there is hope for change. Through grant-making and advocacy work, black Americans can someday experience the same access to the great outdoors as white people do.
“Though many don’t like to speak about it, so many of our living relatives experienced racism when it was legal — directly affecting how they interacted with society and how society interacted with them — all based on the color of their skin,” Key wrote at the start of the article, adding that her family lived through a time “when many Black Americans were taught not to do things outside of their community areas, in an effort to keep them ‘safe.'”
Key argued that “these feelings have been passed down for generations” and have, among other things, “contributed to what is called ‘the nature gap,’ [or] unequal access to nature and its benefits.”
“The ads and marketing materials all say the outdoors are for everyone. Yet, it’s apparent that there are gaps in the spaces that were created to get people outside,” she explained.
She went on to note that the problem is deeply ingrained into America’s subculture through “systemic rungs that can make or break access to the outdoors” and “perceived threats of violence that have kept — and continue to discourage — Black people from enjoying our outdoor public spaces, from national parks to the forest lands on which ski resorts operate.”
Key referenced redlining — the discriminatory practice of denying financial services to someone because they live in an impoverished area — and pre-civil rights movement segregation laws as obvious factors that contributed to the nature gap. But she suggested that even though legal segregation has been dismantled, “there are still threats of violence that create barriers to entry.”
To prove the point, she evidenced discrimination carried out against Christian Cooper, the black bird watcher in Central Park who unnecessarily had the cops called on him, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while on a run in Georgia after walking through a home under construction.
All of these societal pressure points have resulted in a continued lack of access to the outdoors for people of color, Key argued. And apparently, there are many individuals and organizations that agree and that have been working to end this form of modern-day segregation.
One of those individuals is Courtney Lanctot of The Unpopular Black, who has been outspoken on social media about the need to get more black people outside. Her organization puts together adventure trips for black people as well as educates them on “how to access outdoor spaces … that have been white facing/focused for far too long.”
“One of the biggest reasons why I want to show Black folks nature and adventure is because it deeply heals,” Lanctot said. “Nature taught me how to love myself deeper than I had known. Through its depths, I found mine. As Black people have historically had a lack of access to nature, we synonymously had a lack of access to our own healing. We have inherited trauma that still needs to be healed as a collective. Healing is part of our freedom.”