Monday, August 29, 2016

What's missing when you hike the California backcountry? People of color


But as the days passed, I grew increasingly troubled by the people we didn’t meet. There were a few Asian hikers, including a couple of hapas like me (I’m half Japanese and half Polish) and one of my friends was half-Iranian, but not a single backpacker who was Latino or African American.

This near-total absence of people of color — which I’ve noticed on past trips as well — was particularly striking because it was such a contrast to my everyday life. I live and work in Los Angeles. The majority of people in my working life are Latino, African American or Asian, and the people in my personal life, including my Mexican American spouse, are reflective of the city’s population. And yet, a few hours’ drive from Los Angeles, there was hardly a person of color to be found. We were on public lands — including Kings Canyon National Park — but the people enjoying them weren’t representative of the public.

This month, as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, it is publicizing efforts to increase the diversity of its visitors — who according to its own survey are nearly 80% white — as well as its staff. Mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which recently hired its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, are trying to counter the impression that the outdoors is a privileged domain for white people. One take on this problem is the biting video short “Black Hiker,” in which Blair Underwood’s nature-loving character is tracked and photographed by whites who are stunned, delighted and a little confused to find a black man in their midst.

...Connecting people of color with nature matters because the very existence of the nation's public lands is threatened if they aren’t enjoyed by a broad cross-section of our population...

As the number of minorities increase in the general population, and as more minority Congressmen are elected, membership in enviro orgs will decline and funding for their favorite programs will be jeopardized.  That is what really has them concerned.                                       

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