Today's Stamp: Black Folks don't camp? -- Addressing the stereotype
Being Brown at Burningman and camping across the Northern USA: Part 1
All Images/video shot by Samantha Isom
To see more images/video of these excursions, click here = IMAGE GALLERY
The Fresh air, green grass, wind blowing through trees, birds chirping, blue skies are a great invitation to sleep out among the stars, listening to a cacophony of (the) night orchestra far enough away from an über urban area to pollute the pureness of that music. This, is a far cry from what I would know years ago as a kid or even young adult. The idea of sleeping outside in a tent away from an urban area, where animals, or heaven forbid bugs (especially crickets & spiders) reside, was just short of a nightmare. Not only that, but who is to be found out there among those woods; entering in my mind movie clips from Deliverance.
For some, camping is pure heaven, but for many it's just the opposite. That can hold true for any (race/ethnic) 'group', however when looking at the *percentage of blacks visiting (in the U.S.A.) National parks, let alone camping in them, the numbers are far below that of caucasians (and the number of Asian's represented in this demographic are even lower). In a 2005 article of the Seattle Times, a former ranger (of Deception Pass State Park) stated out of approximately 400,000 visitors a year, reported seeing about 50 black people over a 10 year period. Granted, this park is extremely remote and not quite the popularity of Yellowstone or Yosemite. As well, not very many blacks living up in the far Pacific Northwest, as compared to other areas of the United States, but still......that is a HUGE gap.
I have been trying to find accurate statistics of campers (in the United States) among ethnic groups and have not yet found anything I'm overly confident in sharing, however, if you have ever gone camping, think about it, how many blacks have you seen out there as compared to 'whites', Asians or other (ethnic) groups? When in Yellowstone, I was so excited to see two black women at the rest area near my campsite!! But upon investigation, I found out they were staying in a hotel (not camping) just passing through :/
I am only one person with my own experience and don't pretend to have the answers. I can provide some speculation as to why the percentages are so much lower among blacks in the activity of camping as compared to caucasians. The jury is still out regarding other ethnic groups though. Where are the other minorities at the campsites in such a diverse country (as the USA)? Honestly, even when camping in Peru or hiking in Indonesia, the only even brown (let alone 'black) people I saw out there were the (hired) guides. Come to think of it, I saw no Asians (referring to northern Asians----Korea,Japan,China etc) with the exception of the base of a the trail all getting on or off a tour bus (together in a LARGE group), but not on the actual trail or in the campground.
Now, I know 'we out here', but I have to say 'we' (other brown folks) in the world of camping have a 'lot of room for growth' (as quoted by Ron Redwell regarding blacks in another field of recreation). Look, I know there are plenty of individuals of all creeds who don't camp, but I'm pointing out the obvious regarding the percentages of folks as compared to the percentage of the same folks in population, and we can not deny facts*.
My speculations as to why we may see less blacks at the campground. Once again, these are MY speculations, though based on *these interviews showcased in the National Black Programing Consortium, many of my speculations (to follow) seem to carry truth. #1, I would think many blacks (from the states) did not grow up with parents taking them camping, and this is NOT to say 'all'. In fact I've noticed (it seems) more black families from the west (Cali for example) tend to be a bit more 'outdoorsy' than blacks from the Southern or Eastern States. I think we can agree, it's safe to say that if you didn't grow up camping, it's a lot less likely this activity will be on the top of your list. As well, it seems the idea of being around bugs and not knowing how to camp may be somewhat of a deterrent. #2 (or maybe this is actually #1) for many, the idea of being in a remote forest as a black person does not paint a picture of safety and comfort (insert these graphic & disturbing clips from Deliverance and the miniseries/film ROOTS). Once again, this does not mean 'all' blacks or even all of anyone, and it doesn't mean that those of solely european descent aren't ever afraid of the woods. We are talking 'most/many' majorities here, so when you can say "I've camped with a black person', or "I'm white and I don't camp", that is not what we are talking about. This is referring to the fact of seeing 1% or even less than 1% of campers being brown minorities as compared to what percentage that group represents in population.
Challenging the stereotype: let's go camping
In middle of a dust storm (at night) in the Black Rock desert on a Thursday night before 'they burn the man' (Burningman 1999), was my 1st time setting up a tent. After I woke, I rode my bike around stopping to help people build their art and camps. After several hours and at least 10+ miles cruising around on my bike, I saw NO black, not even slightly brown people*. I thought, huh, 'didn't the crux of this event start in San Francisco?' 'don't a lot of these folks come from Oakland?' Last I checked (census 1999-2000), 35% of Oakland was black (only 31% white). I thought "Where are all the black people?"
There is an article in the online ethos with commentary from Burningman cofounder Larry Harvey saying he didn't' think (overall) black people liked to camp. He took a lot of heat for that but from whom?....because he's to be honest, he's right. Once again, I am not talking about the less than 2% of black americans who actually love camping, I'm talking overall. Less than 2% is way too low a number, and I have personally be trying to 'recruit' more black americans into tents and on hiking trails (part of the point of this blog).
After a week in the desert (my first time) in 1999, I finally saw one black person among a city of 28,000. Over the years of going out there (BM--from 99-2015 non stop) I have seen that demographic change, but honestly not so much in percentage as in numbers since the event has tripled since my first going. I would say it went from less than 1% to about 2 or if I'm generous 3% now black (or blackish, like me I suppose). Each time I ran into other poc's (people of color, but primarily black or at least half black) we would give each other a head nod, or just stop in the street exchange names and say hello. One afternoon I walked into a saloon with not one but 2 (TWO) biracial females who stopped everything and pointed at me "Hey, you there....yeah we 'know' you get in here!"...I didn't actually know them but they knew that I am also half black and made sure they acknowledged how nice it was not to be 'alone'.
Sixteen burns (16 times participating in burningman) later, my now 6th time driving across the USA, it was my first time slowly meandering back from the burn, a first for me taking the time to camp in several of America's beautiful national parks along the way back to the East coast.
stories from this cross country adventure to be continued (in part 2)
"Where are You From?....I didn't know you could swim.."
From the 'window seat'
Adrian Alston shares his experience as a minority in the world of surfing