More Than Just An Ad~ This Means Everything

More Than Just An Ad~ This Means Everything

This morning I woke up feeling a bit depleted. With a lengthy reporting project turned in yesterday for first round editing and a presentation last night at our local climbing gym I couldn’t seem to shed the weight of heavy thoughts. When you spend your days trying to parse out the disparities of social justice and to engage an emerging population of black and brown folks on the values of environmental conservation it can get to be little overwhelming. 

At 5AM with temperatures hovering just a few degrees above zero it’s easier to stay in bed and let the world go on with out you, at least for a little while. But it’s garbage day and I had to wrestle the cans out to curb. I convinced myself that even with studded tires and arctic gear it’s way too cold to ride to the gym.  I opted instead for a session of yoga in the living room, followed by 12 miles of interval training on my stationary bike. It wasn’t until I checked my email and Facebook updates that my spirits finally lifted. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that what pulled me out of this horrible funk was an ad for the new Subaru Forester.

Though still a dedicated Volkswagon Jetta driver I was delighted to see this short video on YouTube featuring a black couple with dogs taking their new car out for a series of outdoor adventures. With no glaring references to poverty, racial oppression or the statistically sparse numbers of people of color who spend time in nature, the ad was a beautiful representation of an ordinary couple venturing into the world outside who just happens to be black. This means everything.

“They weren’t the “token” black friends of a white couple who were the main focus of the commercial in the background like you normally see,” wrote Chelsey Rae in the comments section. “This spoke to me because being a black woman who loves to be out in nature and hike, you don’t see that a whole lot in commercials which saddens me. Black people can love the outdoors, black people can love folk music, black people can love country music, black people can love hiking/camping/road trips.  Commercials that show things like this are what help ignorant stereotypes end.”

There is remarkable power in representation. I have often said that the only thing worse than being abused is being ignored. For decades now the general media has left people of color out of the narrative that depicts those who love and appreciate the outdoors. Popular magazines, movies, and advertisements so seldom illustrate the joy of adventure with black and brown faces. But in recent years I have noticed that’s starting to change. 

“I love this commercial! Finally a car that markets to me!” wrote Ku Who on YouTube. “I’m a black woman who loves makeup, weaves, and pretty clothes but I also love going camping with my boyfriend. We are a black couple who enjoy the smell of nature, hiking boots, canoeing , and tent camping. This commercial spoke to me.”

It is my hope that the outdoor recreation industry will follow this excellent example of inclusivity. Representation, to be truly seen as part of the stories that define our lives, shows that we have value, that these black and brown lives truly matter. Though the most synical among us will scoff at the insignificance of a commercial, what is more profound than the faces that model persuasion? These are the images that suggest who we want to be.  This ad shows that black people belong.

The agency that created this video deserves a lot of credit for presenting an objective vision of a natural experience that includes people of color. Similar ads can be created to market everything from hiking boots to technical outerwear and adventure travel excursions. It’s really not all that complicated. With a growing number of black and brown folks finding their way into our wild and scenic places across America you need not look far to find authentic characters and storylines to truly illustrate a cultural reality I have known for my entire life, the outdoors is for everyone. And to see people in the world who look like me, joyful in their lives outside, affirms my belief that everyone can be made to feel safe and welcome in nature. That makes me very happy.