Why I’m no longer talking to outdoor retailers about creating change within the Black outdoor community.
Q. How do I feel the outdoors is doing on inclusion and racial equity?
I have left meetings feeling like I want to throw in the towel. I have also left feeling rejuvenated and hopeful! Racial equity is hard to measure amongst the outdoor community. Would scaling back mean no longer engaging with the outdoors and adventure sports?
My connection to the outdoors extends beyond what you see on my Instagram. I will always be a Black woman who loves to engage with nature. My family and I would continue to interact with the outdoor community in Leavenworth. I would pivot more to minding my business and having better boundaries. Sounds pleasant, right?
Unfortunately (or fortunately) depending on how you look at my current situation – I opened Pandora’s Box. I have seen and heard things pouring out of the mouth of the white outdoor community that I cannot un-hear. Many Black outdoor community members confirm I validate their experience and inspire their own outdoor advocacy! Blissfully unaware is no longer on the table for me.
Outdoor community issue.
In the outdoor community there is denial and unwillingness to change. I continue to hear things like: there are no barriers to access in the outdoors. All people can just go outside! My personal favorite: why do Black people have to bring racism into the outdoors? (insert major side eye here).
Y’all better get your people!
This language invalidates my entire childhood. The verbiage disrespects the lived experiences from the Black and Indigenous community. This way of thinking does not acknowledge our countries history of brutalizing Black and Indigenous bodies in the backcountry. It lays out the white outdoor experience as the only one, or the one most accurate. From my experience there are barriers to access in the outdoors. We could not always just go outside – my parents couldn’t afford it. I simply speak about my experience and lack of racial equity in the outdoors, I am not being racist. I am drawing awareness to how our country’s true history makes “Our Great Outdoors” (stolen Native Lands) a terrifying space for some Black and Indigenous people.
In 2020 white people around the outdoor community began to have conversations around the lack of diversity in the outdoors. The disparities were always right in front of our faces. Yet most were shocked! Some brands stepped up and signed a pledge or took an oath to make change and be more inclusive. Outdoor organizations tried to engage with communities they have completely left out and underserved for centuries. Awkward!
The fruit of the labor of so many Black and Indigenous outdoor leaders, including myself, has been slow going. Rome wasn’t built in a day; we are quickly finding out – the outdoors cannot be diversified in a year. If only!
What are we really asking?
Q. How do I feel the outdoors is doing on inclusion and racial equity?
Breaking this question down into three parts is important. First ask: how are outdoor retailers not tokenizing historically underserved communities? Are retailers finally seeing us as customers? Hello – WE OUT HERE!
Then ask: how are for-profit organizations and nonprofits that perpetuate outdoor culture doing in providing opportunities? Giving grants and scholarships, breaking down barriers, and building up leaders that support a more inclusive outdoors? Centering equity in every step and goal going forward.
Last ask: has the outdoor community that upholds and works well within these racist systems actually made any progress? Then proceed to the following reflection quetions:
- Has the outdoor-loving individual stepped up to weave anti-racism practices into everyday life demanding a more inclusive outdoors?
- Have you committed to be the voice in the room where Black, Indigenous and people of color have not been invited?
- Are white outdoor film makers telling diverse stories and bringing on creatives of color behind the camera?
As my girls would say on a terribly long road trip… A R E W E T H E R E Y E T?
THE MANY FACES OF CHANGE
Outdoor lovers hold the power to change the culture of outdoor community. In this paragraph I will describe some ways I am seeing individuals change the systems. First, a family comes together to continuously make monthly donations to organizations that recognize the problem – a difference is made there. Next, an individual employed at a large outdoor corporation pitches an equitable line of affordable gear – conversations are started. Followed by a white outdoor influencer creating content around uplifting Black outdoorists and shares the mic – there is impact in that! A series of scholarships extend to the Black community to safely experience the outdoors together. Most importantly, a positive conversation happens around a campfire about why there are no brown friends present – our hearts and minds are moved. These are the actions that ignite lasting change.
Similar to the importance of white people stepping up and speaking out over the injustice we see in Black and brown communities – the same goes for the outdoors. The load should not be on the backs of Black and brown outdoor lovers and adventurers. You must move past the guilt and shame phase into true and authentic allyship.
WHERE TO NOW?
I have come to the overwhelming conclusion that individuals are the main ones who can change a culture. People are the voice of racial equity. Backcountry visitors need to be uncomfortable with the overwhelming presence of whiteness. Uncomfortable with the stark lack of diversity making silence no longer an option. Community that decides to answer this call in to action. People who refuse to exist joyfully outdoors and be willfully silent about the inequity that exists within the culture. All power to the people.
Small change from brands and organizations can allow for minor strides to racial equity in the outdoors. Yet, in the eyes of the Black and brown communities – we are skeptical. We operate a capitalist society and understand gains, insights, profit and dollar signs inspire performative action. More Black people outdoors means more money in the pockets of white CEOs. I am no longer talking to outdoor retailers about creating change within the Black outdoor community. Simply put, this work is that of the white outdoor person – that’s where I will continue to focus my efforts.
In community, and the hearts and minds of the people.
This is for all who enjoy the outdoors. Organizations, brands, and educators complacent and content with whiteness being at the center of the outdoor culture. Protesters knocked and you decided to take a closer look. For everyone who leaned in and listened in 2020 and continue to pursue a path to anti-racism, thank you.
Join the movement.
How will you answer this ongoing call in to action? We hold the power.
Written on the ancestral homelands of the Wenatchi people. If you would like to make a monthly donation to land back efforts please visit and support Indigenous Roots & Reparations Foundation.
Want to support and learn more about the movement creating space and belonging for Black, Indigenous and women of color in the outdoors? Check out the film project Expedition Reclamation.