I came across an article about a Sacramento family that had a horrific experience at a campground in Nevada. According to news reports, they were verbally assaulted with racial slurs and harassed by a group of white campers that did not like their presence there. Things escalated and it is alleged that one of the white campers threatened the staff of the campground when they tried to intervene. Allegedly, he then threatened the family, brandishing a shovel! It sounds like scenes from a movie set in the Jim Crow days right? Surely something like this wouldn’t occur to a black family camping in 2015. It can and it did. You can read about it for yourself: Black Family Victims of Hate Crime.
As a black woman who is an avid supporter and advocate for encouraging African-Americans to experience the great outdoors, this one hits home for me. My frustration, anger, outrage, and hurt abounds. Having someone attack me or assault my family is a very real fear that weighs on me every single time I decide to go for a hike, or plan a camping trip with my son, or travel. As a woman, I’m often fearful about doing certain things alone and I take as many precautions as I can. However, as a black woman I have yet another set of circumstances to consider. I have to reconcile that as much as I love being in nature, there are those who whole heartedly believe someone like me has no right to be there — simply because I am black.
Fortunately I have never had an instance of mistreatment or racism at all when “camping while black”. We have gotten the occasional stare that may have lasted a bit longer than necessary but nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing that made me fearful or uncomfortable. For the most part my interactions with the outdoor community have been friendly and helpful. However, I’m always cautious and I do take measures to protect myself and my family as much as possible.
An incident like this makes it very hard to persuade people to step out of their comfort zones to try a new outdoor activity, especially during this time where we are fighting to have black lives valued like everyone elses. Even the circumstances of this event caused me to immediately question why the Nevada County Sheriff officers that responded to the distressed calls of the family found that brandishing a shovel as a weapon at women and children was not cause for an immediate arrest. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t pretend to know every law, however I’ve seen others be arrested for far less than that. I can’t help but ask, if the roles had been reversed and this was a white family being harassed, would an arrest have been made? We can’t say for sure. However, I am happy to know that after further investigation criminal charges will be brought against the alleged perpetrator.
The effects of an incident like this can be even more far-reaching and damaging than just the immediate damage done to this family. One of the most disappointing things I read on the various online articles about the incident were comments that overwhelmingly questioned why this family would go camping in the first place. This sentiment was expressed from readers of all races, including other black people. People said things like, “See that’s why we don’t do outdoor stuff” or “Black people don’t camp anyway”. This negative stereotype that certain activities are not for us or off-limits to us is the very thing I’m fighting against. Camping while black shouldn’t be this anolomy or weird ocurrence.
I have found that a main reason for this lack of diversity in outdoor recreation is simply fear. We fear being the only one that looks like us and in my experience we usually are when it comes to outdoor recreation. We fear how we will be treated by others who may think we don’t belong. We fear trying something when we don’t have friends to do it with. We fear trying an activity or a sport where we have no experience. Those fears plagued me through all of my adult years until very recently. I decided that I would not miss out on doing things that interest me simply because it’s not common for someone like me to do them.
However, since starting the Misadventures of an Outdoorsy Diva blog almost 2 years ago I have found that the interest in the great outdoors exist in our community after all. The more I shared, the more people expressed an interest in experiencing these activities with me. I started to plan group outings with my local Facebook group, Adventure Is A Lifestyle or offer suggestions for others trying to plan an activity. I also joined other like-minded communities like Outdoor Afro, Bucket List Beast, and Black Adventuristas and found African-Americans of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds that share my love of the outdoors.
I would hate to see more black families deterred from experiencing outdoor recreation because of the fear of racism. In fact, I hope it has the opposite effect. An ugly incident like the one that occurred in Nevada should be an impetuous for more of us to get out there and show everyone that we belong in this space too. There isn’t a monopoly on the great outdoors. It is for all of us to enjoy. I hope the family that had to endure this night of terror will not let this keep them from doing something they genuinely love and enjoy. I pray they find the courage to press on anyway. If hate and bigotry prevents people from experiencing all of the beauty and serenity and amazing experiences that nature offers, that would indeed be a travesty.
For those of you that frequent the outdoors, have you ever experienced discrimination because of your race, sexuality, or religion? Does an incident like this deter you or frighten you from continuing to go into those places where you are the only one that looks like you?
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”