Conspicuous presence



This video came across my desk this morning. Here is another wonderful example of modern media that would be hilarious if not for its painfully tragic truth.

Blair Underwood does an amazing job of illustrating a social phenomenon that I’ve experience through much of my personal and professional life. Anyone who spends time recreating outdoors will likely notice the conspicuous absences of minorities, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders take your pick. People of color are seldom seen hiking, climbing, skiing,  bird watching, whatever. The reasons why are numerous, but among them sometimes is the conspicuousness of our presence.

It’s not uncommon to feel as if everyone we encounter is watching our every move. There always seems to be a question as to how we find ourselves in these wild and scenic places as if to say, “You clearly don’t belong here.” No matter how benign or well intended the curiosity, these  gawking stares are intrusive, making the observed feel self-conscious to the point of distraction. When it happens too frequently one might find themselves asking “Why do I even bother. I am not welcome here.”

Apart from the common challenges of outdoor recreation, the altitude, the weather, rugged terrain, stinging insects and the like, people of color must also face the uncertainty of those they might encounter. There’s always this underlying fear of what the people we meet in the wild might do or say to make us feel uncomfortable, even more vulnerable than circumstances warrant. With no true belief that we will be treated equally, minorities may well be inclined to stay away from the beautiful wilderness areas that bring joy, health and vitality to so many.

But despite what we perceive in the behavior of others, we have to get past it. This psychological burier we erect in our minds is just one more thing in outdoor recreation we have to get over. Just as we must get over a fear of heights, a fear of fast moving water, a fear of wild animals. We must also get over our fear of white folks. Although our fears and apprehensions may have been forged legitimately in the racially motivated violence and segregation of the not so distant past, the modern world now affords people of color the opportunity to venture out and explore nature with a new sense of freedom and self-ascribed confidence. The mountains we have yet to climb are not only the granite peaks of the Sierras, the Rockies or even the Himalayas. Our greatest adventures lie in our aspirations to defeat our fears and claim our human right to live our lives to their fullest.

Special thanks to Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro for bringing this video to my attention

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.