According to a professor at North Carolina State University, Mother Nature just doesn’t like minorities. KangJae “Jerry” Lee is a professor at the school’s College of Natural Resources, so nature would seem like it’s a topic right up his alley. Yet in his conversation with Wichita’s KAKE (a local CBS affiliate), it would appear as though he really has little to say about the topic that comes from a factual place.
“If we start connecting the dots, the issue becomes excruciatingly clear that historical institutional racism has banished people of color from the great outdoors… (Some White elites saw) the urban environment as dirty, unhealthy, filled with lots of immigrants and people of color, whereas green spaces were clean, quiet and for white people. They had no interest in serving people of color. Some of them even viewed parks and outdoor recreation as a tool for maintaining white supremacy, and believed white Americans could cultivate tough and boisterous characteristics in the outdoor environment.”
What this professor fails to do is to look at the situations that created these ‘views.’ People fled the city because they wanted a weekend away from people. They wanted to assert dominance over Mother Nature and catch a fish or split some wood, or just wear a plaid shirt that makes no sense in the city. There was no tool for white supremacy there, it was just being outside in the clean air.
Per Lee’s ‘research,’ the first head of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, believed in eugenics and saw these parks as a way to ensure the Nordics remained the superior race. He also asserts that former President Teddy Roosevelt oversaw the establishment of many of our national parks out of fear that, without them, the white man would become too soft. Never mind the fact that there is no actual evidence to these claims besides poorly ties together ideas…
Segregation and the Jim Crow laws may play a role here, though. Those periods did keep minorities out of or segregated to specific sections of the parks. By keeping people away, there is a level of ‘not good enough’ or ‘not able to learn’ barriers that go up, and those can exist for generations. Nowadays, that excuse doesn’t have a very long or effective range.
For decades now, parks have been open to all. There are all-inclusive and minority-only groups and clubs. Women and men. Young and old. All are welcome, and for many of us who enjoy the outdoors as it is, we are happy to take new people with us and educate them. Race is unimportant, just take advice, and ask questions. It’s a great way to introduce people to limiting the stress in their lives, as well as learning how to survive should things collapse and they find themselves in the woods.
People like Eddie Taylor are looking to change these ideas completely. As a climber with Full Circle Everest Expedition, he and his group look to be the first all-black team to summit Everest in 2022. To them, they look to represent change as black people are not who many think of when hiking is the topic in Nepal and the US. This expedition has the potential to set records, and it would be a huge achievement for them just as it is for everyone who is successful in this endeavor. For now, we can only hope Mother Nature will stop being racist and accept everyone deep inside her wooded paradise.