In recent years, the push to get children back out and reconnected to nature has grown considerably. Families are starting to see how tied nature exposure is to physical health, mental health and overall well being. But these spaces and their benefits are not equally accessible to every child. Black and other families of color have been systematically excluded from natural-based spaces, experiences and communities.
Bad Things Happen in the Woods
Most white parents take for granted their relative expectation of safety, comfort and access in nature.
When my children go birding, I don’t have to fear that someone like Amy Cooper will police and weaponize their Blackness (Christian Cooper).
While my children are exercising outside, I don’t have to fear they will be followed and attacked (Arbery Ahmaud).
When my children are swimming at a local pool, I don't have to fear they will be forced out, hit and told they "don't belong"(Darshaun RocQuemore Simmons).
When my children are camping, I don't have to worry about them being harmed in their sleep (Family of Kanisha Allen).
While my children play with a toy at a park, I don’t have to fear they will be shot (Tamir Rice).
When my children arrive at a state park or wild space, forest or neighborhood they are greeted along the trail by friendly faces who look like theirs.
We feel safe. We feel welcomed.
And all families deserve to feel as safe and free in nature.
Our shock and horror is not enough, we must wake up from this collective systemic slumber and delusion. Now is the time for white parents to help to form REAL paths on which Black families can walk safely and equally beside us in the wild.
So what can we do?
Here are 10 Ways that White Parents Can Help Black Families Feel Safe and Invited in Nature:
1. Recognize Your Role In Perpetuating Racism
Racism isn’t always as visible as four officers' knees pushing into George Floyd’s neck, it’s often small, insidiously weaved into our everyday thoughts, actions and experience. Dig deep, acknowledge your prejudice and start listening.
START HERE - General list of anti-racism resources
AND HERE - Scaffolded list of anti-racism resources
2. Cultivate an Anti-Racist Family Culture
Racism and white supremacy are mindsets that are taught. A recent study found that gender and racial bias starts as early as preschool. It takes a conscious effort to recognize, unlearn and not pass down these dangerous beliefs, microaggressions and inherent bias onto our children.
From the books, toys, and curriculum you choose to the groups, lands and spaces you occupy, you can make conscious choices that impact your child’s perception and relation to race.
START HERE - List of anti-racism resources specifically for parents and educators.
START HERE - List of anti-racism resources specifically for nature-loving parents and educators.
3. Be Welcoming
This seems so basic, but I see it all the time. A family of color will come to a park, trail or outdoor activity, and the energy will shift. Remove the burden that IBPOC have had to carry forever of making white people feel comfortable. Roll out the welcome wagon for their family in that moment - smile, make introductions and if it’s your event, give them the lay of the land. This doesn’t mean you should encroach on their personal space or experience, it simply means be aware of how they may be feeling.
4. Expand Your Outdoor Adventures
Get out of your neighborhood and go to places where people don’t all look like you. If our children are only frequenting the same, predominantly white parks and places, it can foster unconscious feelings of ownership, setting Black families up as "outsiders" to that space. Decenter your whiteness and experience by examining what your family considers "nature" - get acquainted with more urban green spaces and nature-based opportunities. Normalizing encounters with a diversity of people in a wide variety of wild spaces helps keep those families seen and safe.
5. Diversify Your Friend Group
Who are people you work, play and commune with? Do they all look like you? We carry our whiteness as a message wherever we go, and whether we mean it or not, it carries an implicit signal to families of color. Once you start visiting a variety of outdoor places, you will hopefully, authentically diversify your friend group as well. Make it a habit of hiking, playing, camping and exploring together as a diverse group. It signals to other families of color that you value inclusivity.
6. Have Difficult Conversations
Gated communities often have no physical gates. It takes direct, sometimes hard conversations to unbar those doors. Talk to other parents. Be vocal with the nature-based organizations you are involved with about representation, participation and access. These conversations don’t have to be approached with blame and anger. Instead dialogue around social justice can be introduced as an opportunity to increase equitable, culturally-rich, varied experiences and relationships for our children and communities. And most importantly those conversations create pathways to a safer, more inclusive world for all.
7. Teach Your Children Real History
Most children currently receive a white-washed, colonized version of history. Throw out the textbook and find updated, culturally-rich books and resources. In terms of outdoor-related education, there are deeper, more complex narratives about the land on which our children play and live. Listen to these stories directly from First Nations elders and memory keepers in your community. Learn about the places, heroes, and monuments our society centers and celebrates in relation to the great outdoors.
8. Get Involved in Food Sovereignty
There is a long, dark history of agricultural land and livelihood being taken from Black and First Nations people. Help heal this disparity and wound by getting involved with a local community garden as a family. Although well-meaning, white-led food sovereignty initiatives can unconsciously exclude the marginalized people and places they hope to serve. When choosing, consider volunteering with a minority-led food-based organization - not to mention that these leaders are often best equipped to represent the neighborhoods and communities within which they have personal experience and knowledge.
9. Support Equity-Based, Diverse Organizations and Initiatives
There are thousands of organizations emerging in an effort to build diversity and inclusivity in the outdoors. Use your time, resources and social currency to support these movements. Local, biome based organizations led by people of color are a great place to inquire, donate and volunteer. Here are a few lists to get you started:
10. Find a Way
These ideas are just a starting point. This journey is unique to each family let it reflect your local biome, community and unique relationship as a family. It doesn't have to be perfect, but we have to start today.
Let’s put in the work to create a reality in which all families feel safe and welcome in the wild.
Yours Woman Gone Wild,