Latria Graham: On Being Black in the Outdoors
November 24, 2020 3:28 PM   Subscribe

In May of 2018, journalist and avid explorer of the outdoors Latria Graham wrote an essay for Outside Magazine, We're Here. You Just Don't See Us. "We are doing it. We are out there. We always have been. My Instagram feed is filled with people of color tackling V12 climbs, ascending mountains, teaching their children how to read the sky," she wrote. Responses to her essay overwhelmed her, and readers wanted to know how they could be safe in spaces that aren't always welcoming to people of color. In September of 2020, Graham answered: "The unraveling of this country in the summer of 2020 has forced me to reckon with my actions, my place in the natural world, and the fact that as a Black woman writer in America, I am tasked with telling you a terrible truth: I am so sorry. I have nothing of merit to offer you as protection." Out There, Nobody Can Hear You Scream.

Found via Think, from KERA; November 23, 2020 episode, She Escaped To Nature — But Racism Followed (downloadable podcast).
posted by MonkeyToes (22 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
This is incredible and devastating and I've shared it around - thank you for posting it. I can't think of anything else to say except: fuck.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:08 PM on November 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

So many racist assholes in America...

posted by Windopaene at 5:41 PM on November 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

This, from the Out There, Nobody Can Hear You Scream link, gave me shivers: "I have no talisman that can shield you from the white imagination."

I've had a few too many In Real Life interactions lately with white folks I thought were ok-enough, only to discover that, eg, one vociferously lefty guy accused me of racism for mentioning, too many times for his taste, racially-ignorant assumptions that white men have placed upon me or made in my hearing. Or that one skier and climate activist acquaintance who just admitted that he thinks Black Lives Matter is a cult. I'd assumed when he started sending me questionable videos after the covid shutdowns that he was just newly susceptible to conspiracy theories from not knowing how to think critically. But now, after hearing his answers to questions like "Where are you getting your information from?" and "So your mind's made up then? No new information would change your mind?" I'm realizing that he's sending me links because he thinks he's a "born skeptic" and I'm the gullible one. Links like the video featuring a Black guy, titled "How Antiracism Hurts Black People." I haven't been in a mental space to watch that one yet.

I'm trying to figure out, via my usual gaming out various ways a whiteness-steeped headspace might go, if it's too dangerous for me to explain to him that what he thinks is his objectivity, is actually his uninformed (or propaganda-informed) whiteness. (I finished Queen's Gambit last week. I just realized that for this gaming out white folks' headspace in racially-challenging convos... chess is a good analogy, calculating variables for sequences of moves through to endgame. Except that in hobby chess, if my analysis is flawed, my livelihood and literal life isn't at risk.)

I go to mountain film festivals and have talked to too many white men and women who say that 1 or at most 2 films featuring PoC is enough to Achieve Diversity, and the festival organizers shouldn't be politically correct. Some white film fest attendees are more enlightened, of course. Maybe they're the norm but it's hard to tell. I worry about me and my sibs and my BIPOC friends as we go camping, fishing, skiing, climbing, kayaking etc in the great outdoors. All I got for what we can do is, we keep on having these conversations with other BIPOC and white folks, and build up a Trusted People Posse to do things with and, if doing solos, do the usual "I'm going to X trail, I'll be back home by Y time." And support BIPOC-led outdoors organizations.

Yeah. That line of Graham's about the white imagination is on point. Thank you for this post.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:53 PM on November 24, 2020 [55 favorites]

I've camped about 30 nights this summer and fall in VA and NC. I think I've seen 2 or 3 older African American couples with large RVs camping. I don't remember seeing any younger folks or families. Hell, I saw more Trump flags in campgrounds than I did POC. Those are probably not unrelated facts.
posted by COD at 6:05 PM on November 24, 2020 [15 favorites]

Read this 2h ago and I'm still thinking about it.
posted by esoteric things at 8:49 PM on November 24, 2020

That was powerful. Thank you.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:43 PM on November 24, 2020

I want to tell you to make sure you know what it means not to need, to be so prepared that you never have to ask for a shred, scrap, or ribbon of compassion from anybody.

But that is misanthropic—maybe, at its core, inhumane.

It is nearly impossible to explain to the socially comfortable why the less fortunate can be so taciturn, unforthcoming, edgy. The socially comfortable tend to not understand the life-preserving tenets of shutting up, not showing interest, not giving yourself away. They have others do their fighting for them. It's completely abstract to them that they themselves might be a nuisance or a threat.
posted by dmh at 2:58 AM on November 25, 2020 [17 favorites]

We're seeing more and more publications emerge on traveling while African from the continent (of Africa). These issues are now part of the global discourse, ironically thanks to the spilling out over the interwebz of "White America Culture" and its attendant culture shocks when the realization hits that the rest of the world isn't designed to protect your fragilities.
posted by infini at 4:50 AM on November 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Someone I worked with founded this organization. From what I see on the Facebook posts, it seems to bring a lot of joy.
posted by gt2 at 5:40 AM on November 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

My (white) student veteran brought his inclusive mentality to the three rivers area near Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. With fishing and swimming, if it was a mixed race group, the “locals” would scare them off by flashing a gun and telling them they don’t belong here. This was ~6 years ago. Pre-45. This is dangerous for all people, especially BIPOC. White people have a lot of work to do.
posted by childofTethys at 6:08 AM on November 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Great article. As a very outdoorsy white person, it has me doing some thinking. The NSS just recently started a Diversity and Inclusion committee, and I’m anxious to see the results of that because caving has always been so... white.

It’s also very male. I recently did an unscientific survey of all the cave maps so have access to (several hundred) and 4/5ths of the surveyors were male & 99/100’s of the map drafters were male. Pretty disheartening stats.

I just posted this article to Facebook, (& tagged the chair of the diversity committee), which is mainly where I electronically communicate with other cavers - I hope they all read it & do some thinking too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:26 AM on November 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Great essays - thank you for posting them.

I've been an outdoors-person my whole life. And I'm ashamed to say that until this past year, I carried a naive belief that outdoors-people cared. Cared about the outdoors, cared about the environment, cared about other people's experiences and access to it, cared about other people.

I was so wrong.

Outdoors-people are just another slice across the population. As we keep re-learning, the US population is about 50% white supremacists or enablers, who rushed out in force this fall to vote for their Mad King. Outdoors-people are a random subset of that. A good number of them, when they get outdoors, play out a Land Rover commercial -- they park thoughtlessly across three spaces in the 12-car pullout, leave trash everywhere like they're Linus, yell and scream at will, bring fucking speakers with them everywhere, trample though a field of delicate ferns, leave TP where they drop it, build a huge bonfire above treeline, it's THEIR DAY and they're finally free of having to think about "rules" or other people, they can leave that all behind and be FREE. Because MUH FREEDOM. MEMEMEMEMEME.

Until this summer, I had a leadership role in a national org. for my outdoors specialty, where I'd invested a lot of volunteer work for over 15 years. This summer, a movement germinated to make a very small change that would -begin- to address a specific but broad and historical aspect of our specialty, that makes it unwelcoming to people who aren't white straight men. The amount of entitled, unrecognized-privileged kickback from the community was ... vast and deep rooted and loud and as you can guess, centered around the white and male experience, and the white and male history. I was targeted for abuse in the stale and stereotyped ways you are familiar with. The leadership is very both-sides "welcoming", and unwilling to confront and eject bigotry, they just want to keep some veneer of everything's-fine.

I left the org over this issue. It's been a painful and not small loss in my life, as this specialty is one my life kinda revolves around. But there's no room for me there. It's shattered my perception of "the (specialty) community". These are not people who care about other people.

I feel in no small part that's what 2020 has done: it has revealed who will wear a mask, to consider and empathize with and protect other people, and who won't.

Here's my favorite org to support:
posted by Dashy at 7:33 AM on November 25, 2020 [26 favorites]

This is so timely for me.

For the past several years, my family and our closest group of friends have spent part of Thanksgiving week (and Spring Break) going on camping and hiking trips. We live in Austin, and we've been to places all over the western and northern parts of the state: Big Bend, Palo Alto, Guadalupe Mountains, Fort Davis and so on. We've also been to the various parks near Austin and out just east of Austin.

This year, one of the group suggested a park way out in east Texas. (Can't remember which one, but in proximity to Vidor.)

For the first time in all our years of doing this, I flat out said "Nope, my family and I will not be going."

The roads leading to all the parks we've visited previously have all been full of homes flying Confederate flags, and in recent years, Trump flags. I've been full of anxiety and dread on each drive, and I'm always ill at ease if our camp site is anywhere near those of people with gun racks and rebel flag/Trump decals on them; when we go primitive/backcountry camping, while my son often contends with a deep fear of bears running up on our tent at night, I'm always fearful that some racist who saw the biracial family come into "his" territory will decide to start trouble while we're sleeping.

I've definitely been given some cold/short service by white park hosts and other personnel in the parks we've visited previously.

So when the idea of heading out to east Texas came up, I decided that was a bridge too far. I don't want to drive past the legions of Trump flags, especially since the people flying them are particularly agitated right now, to put myself and my family out in an isolated situation.

Several years ago, I was out that way with some white friends -- native Texans who were born and raised out in that part of the state -- on our way to New Orleans, and when we pulled into a gas station in the Vidor area, they cautioned me and another black friend in the group that it'd probably be best if we stayed in the car and kept a low profile while they went inside. That has stuck with me. And, again, I don't think a wave of enlightenment has swept the area since that moment, quite the opposite.

And I no longer feel like I owe it to moderates and centrists and "compassionate" conservatives to put my life on the line to "prove" that things aren't as bad as all that. I still enjoy the outdoors with my family, and I look forward to some other trips we have in the works, but like Latria Graham, I'm done taking risks in the current context we find ourselves in.

Thanks for sharing this, MonkeyToes.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:49 AM on November 25, 2020 [30 favorites]

I have been in that part of Texas lord_wolf and I have had literal "walk in the gas station and everyone stops talking and stares you down in ominous silence until you buy your stuff and leave" moments. I feel you 100%.

After that story out of Forks about the local good ol' boys/militia/3%era mobilizing to chase a mixed race family in a bus out because ANTIFA LOOTERS i give the side eye to any small rural areas full of white people.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:24 PM on November 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

leave trash everywhere like they're Linus

You mean Pigpen, right? Because Linus is a philosopher and he'd never strew trash.

And now back to important conversations...

posted by jokeefe at 1:38 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

And: thank you for posting this beautifully written article. I read it, and the first piece she references, and she is a wonderful, thoughtful writer and I have learned from her.
posted by jokeefe at 1:40 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am a white environmental science and biology professor teaching mostly Black and brown students. Some of my students have lifelong experience with the outdoors thanks to their families, but many are curious, even enthusiastic, but have never gotten to go camping or even longer distance hiking than in a county park. And, unfortunately, most of the best state parks in Georgia are in mostly white areas with those long roads of confederate and Trump flags. It's so frustrating.

The first day in waders doing field work each semester, everyone gets such a kick out of just being outside and having fun. I want them to be able to find that same joy in the outdoors all the time.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:47 PM on November 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

Forgot to say that the COVID budget cuts included the firing of all staff in our Outdoor Adventures program, which provided our students opportunities like hiking, camping, kayaking, rockclimbing, and skiing that many had never had before. It was hugely popular and also provided good campus jobs for students who wanted to become experts. I try to remain hopeful that it will come back when state funding is restored--we still have the vans, canoes, kayaks, climbing gear, etc.--but this may have just been the excuse the administration needed to eliminate a program whose importance they didn't understand.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:05 AM on November 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have so often said, and often written here on MetaFilter, I have often spoken of my love for Texas, said that if I'm going to live in the US it's going to be in Texas, and hopefully in Austin, a city that I had pegged as such a fine city, a blue dot in a sea of red. I thought that until Trump came onto the scene. And then this summer, the insanity of the police action against people standing still,not fighting, not burning anything, just being out in support of change. I now see Austin as a deep purple, at best. And if Austin is the best that the US has to offer -- which I still believe that it is -- what now? Where now?

I don't see the US as being able to change at the depth it needs to change for all of us to be an equal part of this whole. At least I don't see it inside my lifetime, Is it chickenshit to just say "Fuck it. It's not going to happen. Fuck. It." and try to find another place, where all are judged on their abilities and actions, and not on the color of their skin. Human beings are predictable, always there is racism, always inequities. I doubt that there is a place of true equality.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:38 PM on November 26, 2020

Here's a national news story on the issue I mentioned above (trigger warning - be prepared if you click).

Of note, it is published in the "women's issues" section, not the "sports" which is where it should be, if we lived in a world where people cared about equality.

There are a few bigoted route names mentioned in there. The ones in the article were those fit for print; they are mild in comparison to the longer list I've seen, which, honestly, made me vomit in the totality of it.

It's a truly awful peek into the 'white man's imagination'.
posted by Dashy at 9:58 AM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

One Lake Tahoe ski resort, with the pejorative "s---w" in their name, has finally determined to change it (new name to be announced sometime in 2021). Their page about it is geared towards making the case to outraged white folks that You're Out Of Date, Uninformed, And It Never Was Okay, Actually. The How It's Viewed Today section features quotes from their Washoe Tribe neighbors, as well as other Indigenous folks whose ancestors have been in these lands for thousands of years. It's easily searchable if you want to take a look. I'm sending the link to my people in Canada so they can send it to white outdoorsy Canadians who think it's no biggie for maps to keep enshrining bigotry.

Hey, dancestoblue, I agree that there isn't a place of true equality. But some places, some people, are getting better. Not as fast as I would like, but it's not nothing. Personally I find it helpful to look to Black and Indigenous women, trans, and non-binary folks about What Now and Where Now.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:01 AM on December 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

"The British countryside being the preserve of the white middle classes is a perception that is backed by stark figures, with ethnic minorities often deterred from heading into the outdoors due to deep-rooted, complex barriers." Guardian, 12/2/20: The BAME women making the outdoors more inclusive
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:56 AM on December 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

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