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Nature is a Right: Ensuring Safety in the Outdoors for Non-White Travelers

For many of us, nature has become our chosen place of solace to reset and escape so much of the craziness in our world. 

In fact, I have loved seeing this recent movement of self care and and encouragement of Black people to embrace the great outdoors and outdoor recreation.

Unfortunately, even in this modern society, there are those who fundamentally feel a sense of entitlement, ownership, and control over who the great outdoors belongs to. 

Nature is a right and no one has the authority to decide that any particular group doesn’t deserve access to publicly accessible locations or doesn’t belong there.  

Yet it happens way more often than we would like think it does. As a Black female camper, there are unique considerations and precautions that have to be taken to ensure safety.

What a travesty it is that I can’t merely research a place I would like to explore, pack my gear, and be on my way.  Instead, I have to mitigate and minimize the potential fears of other people first.

Allow me to give you an inside track into my thought process when I decided I would venture out to explore waterfalls in Texas Hill Country with my son:

  • Will we feel safe here?
  • Is this location in a known sundown town? Sundown towns are known to be relatively safe during the day, but after the sun goes down there is a high chance for an unpleasant race-fueled encounter.
  • Is this known Klan country?
  • Will we see an abundance of confederate flags? 
  • What is our escape plan?
  • Is law enforcement in this area friendly?
  • What if we don’t make it home?

You would think this list is something straight out of the 1950s, but alas, these are real concerns that non-white travelers think about during domestic travels that take us into rural areas of the country. 

In fact, a young man by the name of Ahmaud Arbery lost his life earlier this year while jogging through a Georgia neighborhood because two armed citizens suspected he had committed a crime and ended his life.  

If this could happen in broad daylight, what could happen on a trail? I explored this topic in-depth on podcast episode 30 and the impact it can have on the ability for Black citizens to feel safe in outdoor spaces.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Gay

As we embark on this shared journey to unite by nature, what can we do to ensure that nature truly is a right?

  1. As Black people and people of other non-white ethnicities, we must continue to go and be seen in these outdoor spaces. When we aren’t seen as anomalies on the trails, it normalizes the idea that nature is not just a “white thing.”
  2. Allies, when you see a Black kayaker or a Latinx camper, a simple friendly wave or nod or hello is sufficient and welcomed.
  3. Allies, resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice. Oftentimes I have been in my kayak and passed other white paddlers who felt inclined to shower me with unsolicited advice. The assumption is that it’s my first time and I don’t know what I’m doing. I repeat, resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice, unless you see the person doing something that could cause them harm. 
  4. Invite your friends of color with you to experience one of your favorite outdoor activities.  Many people have a desire to try something new, but due to lack of experience or exposure, they never try. If you don’t have a diverse group of friends in order to actually do this, well that’s another problem within itself.    
  5. Outdoor recreation brands need to be intentional about showing racial diversity in their marketing campaigns. When we see it, it normalizes it for everyone and it also subtly invites and sparks interest when people see other people that look like themselves doing these outdoor activities. 
  6. Allies, if you see something, say something. If you see a family being mistreated at a campground or any type of harassment when you’re out, speak up. If it’s not safe to do so, then get help from a park ranger or anyone who can assist and offer to stay with the family or the individual, or offer to get them to a safe area. 

With a little more intentional effort and lots of love we can all do our small parts to ensure that nature is a right for us all. 

Photo by Lauren Gay

Header photo: Courtesy of Lauren Gay

Lauren Gay is the creator of The Misadventures of an Outdoorsy Diva blog and the Outdoorsy Diva podcast, where she provides a unique perspective on all things adventure, travel, and being outdoors as a black millennial woman.

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