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Hanging Out: Diversity in the Outdoors

Our natural heritage is just that, our natual heritage, but as a country the outdoors are seen as a typically white and often times male domain.
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On Feb. 27, the Sierra Club hosted a frank conversation about diversity in the outdoors hosted by Sierra Club President Allison Chin. Our natural heritage is just that, our natual heritage, but as a country the outdoors are seen as a typically white and often times male domain. The conversation we had last week was a step in the continual journey to ensure all people, regardless of race, religion, heritage, or background will feel comfortable in the outdoors.

Allison was joined by: Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro; Audrey Peterman, author of Our True Nature: Finding A Zest for Life in the National Park System (2012) and Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care (2009); Rusty White, competitive and traveling surfer who was profiled in the documentary film White Wash, a documentary about the history of black surfing in America; Juan Martinez, the director of leadership development and natural leaders network for the Children and Nature Network; and Javier Sierra, a bilingual media strategist for the club.

For me, there were a few key takeaways that the various organizations and brands trying to get people outside, or purchase their goods to use outside, should pay attention to if we are serious about increasing not just diversity, but visible diversity in the outdoors:

  • Change the set of assumptions used in addressing the challenge. Instead of saying that population X (Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) doesn't get outside, find where people are getting outside and build on the work already being done.

  • Different cultures engage with the outdoors in different ways. A traditional Latino family may bring multiple generations out for a party vs. two hikers seeking adventure on a rock face.
  • Eliminate the hierarchy of outdoor activities and experiences. Activity in a back yard, city park, or sidewalk is equal and more accessible, than national parks.
  • Ensure that people can visualize themselves in the outdoors. That means changing the visual representation of the outdoors: There are not enough black or Latino or Asian faces in catalogs. Inspire and engage youth!
  • Juan Martinez may have summed it up best for the group when he stated that, "I'm not in it to save the trees, save the glaciers ... I am in to save my people!" Getting outside can have a transformative effect on people from a physical, social, and mental health perspective. And by focusing on people first, the people will come to take care of the trees and glaciers as required.

    Most exciting to me about the conversation was that this is not a new topic, but its finally a topic that is beginning to make some headway in the national discourse. At the Sierra Club, through our work in Mission Outdoors and Clubwide, we will work to build relationships and trust with communities to continue the discussion started in the Hangout and move forward in starting, or continuing to work on addressing the specific points laid out during the conversation.

    Thank you so much to all of the participants and those who listened in and commented during the conversation. We look forward to the next hangout and drilling down to focus in on one or two of the specific steps uncovered in this conversation.

    You can listen to the whole conversation here.

    Looking forward to your thoughts and comments!