Although minorities are represented in mass media campaigns for outdoor activities such as BBQs, athletic events, and fishing and hunting, they are noticeably underrepresented in public land spaces like national parks and forests. Let’s explore the historic prejudice that led to this and how to gain a more inclusive approach.
In recent months, the racial climate in the United States has exposed the far-reaching roots of prejudice in spaces more common than the typical institutions we may associate with discriminatory behavior. While a long history of racial oppression is a factor leading to the diversity gap in outdoor spaces, more specifically, employment discrimination, a lack of sufficient housing, unequal access to quality education, and racialized policies have historically been denied to communities of color; making typical activities such as hiking, camping or other comparable recreations inaccessible.
With historic racial discrimination being a substantial factor, recent research from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has shown that while minorities makeup 40% of the total United States population, around 70% of individuals who frequent national parks, forests and spend time outdoors are white. These critical statistics have also underscored Black individuals as the most underrepresented group of the minorities polled.
But the diversity issue doesn’t just meet its mark in the physical outdoor space, minorities in the outdoor workforce face extreme underrepresentation. Of the 13.4% of Black or American Americans in the national population, only 7% make up the National Park Service’s workforce. Hispanic and Asian employees face a larger disparity with 5.6% of Hispanics and 2.3% of Asians included in the Park Service general workforce
The argument is often made that everyone has the same access to the outdoor arena, but this is a hugely overstated generalization. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this argument’s rebuttal to the forefront revealing the great inequality in housing situations. Among racial demographics, 73% of Americans owning a home are white in contrast to their minority counterparts who have a 31% point difference in their homeownership. Not only is this gap at the largest it has been since 1994, but the homes mostly owned by minorities are located in low-income, inner-city areas where a lack of green space is supremely evident.
Paving a New Way
Now that we have the facts, how can we shift the visual and physical sectors of the great outdoors to become more inclusive for the minority population? At the top of the list should be the inclusion of minority advisors working throughout the entire outdoor recreation ecosystem. If minorities aren’t involved in the conversation, it can be difficult to voice their concerns in an authentic manner. Next, we should urge our legislators to help create more policies for affordable housing located in greener spaces. Finally, we can encourage our federal outdoor institutions to create flexible rules to allow visitors to feel more comfortable with being outdoors.
And even if you don’t see yourself lobbying your local legislators or joining a national outdoor organization, there’s still a job for you too. I encourage us all to use our everyday advantages such as social media to expand the definition of the outdoors to include urban parks and recreation activities too!
Diversity in the outdoor space shouldn’t be summed up as a simple marketing strategy to be used by establishments in the outdoor and environment sector. We should make it our goal to reinvent what it means to be a hiker, kayaker, and overall outdoor recreationist. It’s time to revamp and explore the traditional narrative of what it means to be a part of the great outdoors to lead to a more inclusive picture of the outdoor space in the United States.