11 Apr 2017

Face It, The Red Gods Hate Minorities

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Writing in Everyday Feminism, “Raging Bisexual” Emily Zak explains that Googles and Yahoos do not recreate themselves in the out-of-doors as much as white folks, and it’s all your fault!

Ambreen Tariq runs Brown People Camping, an Instagram account that promotes diversity in public lands. She says she can feel like an outsider hiking and camping as a Muslim woman of color and immigrant.

“I felt like I had to establish myself – ‘Yeah, I’m a camper, I’m a hiker’ – that other people don’t do as much because they don’t have to question their belonging in that space,” Tariq tells Outside.

“Not only did I not have an authentic background doing activities in the outdoors, but my family didn’t do it, and I don’t have the legacy of being connected to a piece of land because we were always moving.”

We need to acknowledge outdoor recreation’s lack of diversity and inclusion.

Without understanding what’s keeping folks home, we blame oppressed individuals for “not taking initiative,” rather than addressing what may be preventing them from participating in certain activities.

To encourage people to take their own adventures, we might say well-meaning things like, “Anybody can do this if they’re motivated enough.”

This can be inspirational to someone who has the resources and leisurely time to explore the outdoors and needs a kick in the butt to do so. However, the message can be draining for folks who are raring to explore, but can’t.

We forget that society’s hierarchies of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, body size, and economic class don’t magically disappear in the forest. We deny that society actively discourages millions from playing outside, possibly stopping budding conservation activists.

As Tariq notes, “The more of us who can connect to it, the more we can protect it together.”

Here are a few barriers that marginalize people have to overcome to experience nature.

1. You Need Equipment

Our society treats nature as something we can enjoy independent of capitalism.

Theoretically, we go there to escape, and all we need are some sturdy shoes and maybe a sleeping bag.

The reality is more complicated. In the United States, outdoor recreation is a $646 billion industry. Open the pages of outdoor magazines, and you’ll find $150 trail running shoes, $500 tents and $4,000 mountain bikes.

We’ve created a culture of elitism around the outdoors, led by wealthy gear heads.

The Minnesota Land Trust’s Hansi Johnson, who’s white, recalls how he used to see people wearing jeans and flannel cross-country skiing growing up – a rare sight today.

Even if folks push past mainstream narratives and seek more affordable gear, cost is still a factor for low-income people.

If deals on used equipment or borrowing from a friend aren’t feasible in someone’s area, gear for a no-frills camping trip can still cost $500. Forget the cost of a car and gas to get to the campsite.

While do-it-yourself fixes for gear do exist – anybody else try cooking on a beer can camp stove? – they’re not universally known outside of backpacking circles. Ditto on cheap gear websites.

Those who make outdoor activities cheap often have a support system behind them.

As a freelancer with a college education, I’m perpetually broke, not poor. I couldn’t camp comfortably if I didn’t have the gear my parents gifted me back in high school.

No wonder 40% of participants in outdoor activities make $75,000-plus salaries a year.

The paradox that being poor is expensive is true: If you want to participate in a no-cost outdoor activity, you need to have money to invest in the gear initially.

This system reveals deeply entrenched classism. Ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.

2. Outdoor Gear Doesn’t Fit Everyone

Cost is just one hurdle. Outdoor gear needs to fit.

Fitness culture overall reeks of fat-shaming, for one, which is reflected in workout clothing offerings.

Ultra-marathoner and cross-country coach Mirna Valerio says on Fat Girl Running that she struggles to find functional, flattering outfits that don’t pinch or cost a lot. In fact, most sportswear goes up to just a size twelve.

For those who’d prefer cycling: Only last year did anyone think to build a bike for someone who’s heavier than 300 pounds.

As with disability access, if the equipment isn’t readily available, people aren’t as likely to think that the outdoors are theirs to explore.

If we truly believe that everyone should be outside, we need to hold companies accountable for their limited views on body size.

3. Access to Natural Spaces Is Tangled in Historic Privilege and Oppression

In principle, public lands belong to all of us. In reality, select people get to enjoy it.

Carolyn Finney, geographer and author of Black Faces, White Spaces, explains about how national parks contribute to a larger story about who we are as a country, which historically excludes Black folks.

On Tavis Smiley, a PBS show hosted by Tavis Smiley, Finney reminds us that people of color do have a connection to natural spaces, but some of that land was stolen from them:

    ” …whether it’s the 400,000 acres of land that were originally given to freed enslaved Africans and then taken away, whether it’s all the native people that had to be removed from land in order for the Homestead Act to make sense, and then give it to European immigrants so that they could have their own plot of land.”

Finney continues, “This is part of the legacy of who we are and our issues of land and ownership and connection.”

Today, 80% of communities of color live “in areas where the proportion of remaining natural area is lower than the state average.” According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, low-income neighborhoods are four and a half times less likely to have recreation facilities like parks in some states.

Furthermore, what we consider “untouched wilderness” is anything but.

As Kimberly Fanshier notes for Everyday Feminism, this concept centers around white people’s perspective and erases Indigenous populations who lived there for centuries before.

Many national parks and public lands were built on colonized lands. Even US National Parks reflect colonialism, where white leaders ignored Indigenous people in the area to establish.

Our society leverages natural spaces as a tool for capitalism and colonialism, while at the same time touted them as apolitical, free, and pure.

It goes on.

Personally I thought urban minorities do a pretty good job of stealing other people’s bicycles, so why wouldn’t they be adequately equipped for mountain biking?

4 Feedbacks on "Face It, The Red Gods Hate Minorities"


OMG what a whiner. It’s a choice. Like everything in life there are costs; economic and personal costs to the choices we make. I am leaving for my yearly Spring trip to Zion and Grand Canyon soon and there are indeed costs and planning associated with it. Interestingly about 1/4 to 1/2 of the people who visit these parks are tourists from another country. They all find a way to do it in spite of the “barriers”.

One thing that I have found to be true is that until you have actually been to a specific venue you don’t really know what to do or how to prepare. So many people visit Yellowstone or Grand Canyon once and they do the same things every other first time visitor does. But when you go twice a year for a week at a time you discover so much more and planning becomes easier. It is a simple fact of life that there are barriers seen and unseen and that it is the individuals responsibility to put in the time to overcome these. I make it a point to find something new, a new trail a new “sight” each time we go to the usual places. Incredible how much more there is beneath the surface of popular “wilderness” attractions.

The Summer is just too busy to visit the National Parks so we find those quiet out of the way places. Often the costs are next to nothing. But again you have to find the places to go and actually get out there and see what is available and what can be discovered. A lot of the places I go won’t be in the Outside magazine and I like it that way. One of life’s great pleasures is to find a remote camping spot near a spring or a stream with a little meadow where you can sit and watch the deer come to feed as the sun goes down.


“Anybody can do this if they’re motivated enough.” What, write extremely misguided, misinformed articles?


Oh The BS, It hurts. Long time backpacker and Hiker, and guess what, a map of New Hampshire’s white mountains can be downloaded from the web, everyone has at least a book bag backpack and plenty of water bottles. It really is a very accessible pastime. Unless you spend all your time whining.

JK Brown

“…and I don’t have the legacy of being connected to a piece of land because we were always moving.”

Uhm, not being connected to a piece of land is often the biggest cause of “camping.” Once you’ve title and deed, the tradition is to build a house so you don’t have to camp anymore.

And if you are worried about camping, cross country skiing, etc. fashion, then you aren’t going far enough away from other people. Granted, fashion on the ski slopes is a problem as everyone is tangled up on the same gravity slides. But sometimes you just got to ignore other people, if you don’t you’ll never be that adult on the bunny slope falling down…a lot.


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