A recent op-ed in a student-run newspaper, The Student Life (TSL), claims that white-supremacy keeps non-white people from participating in outdoor activities.

Malcolm McCann, a student at Claremont Colleges in California, wrote, “Due to the predominance of whiteness in the outdoors, people of color have been denied access to the outdoors.”

McCann says that feeling comfortable in a space is a privilege, and that people claim ownership over spaces they are comfortable in. Referencing outdoor programs at Claremont, a conglomerate of five colleges known as the “5Cs,” McCann says that most campus-funded outdoor programs are steeped in white supremacy.

While they are admittedly open for all people, McCann says not all people are comfortable in participating, noting that their discomfort stems from “existing racial boundaries.”

McCann wrote:

Historically, white people in imperialist conquests have appropriated land as their own. North America rightfully belongs to indigenous communities, yet it has been taken away from them by force. Consequently, a false sense of ownership of nature permeates white America.

Similarly, the image of a modern outdoor enthusiasts is white, as is the historical image of a naturalist. The great icons of nature – John Muir, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau – are all white men. At present, most famous rock climbers are also disproportionately white.

This whiteness manifests in the term “outdoorsy” – a descriptor for those who spend a significant time in the outdoors, who are equipped with the necessary gear, and who feel connected to nature. The image of the “outdoorsy individual” is an exclusive classification that gives white people the authority to venture into the outdoors freely, leaving people of color behind.

McCann notes that after getting beyond the perception that the outdoors is for white people, other races also face financial barriers. People with “economic privilege” are typically able to participate in outdoor activities, and therefore are more familiar with “obscure outdoor lingo.”

McCann feels that the prominent outdoor programs in the 5Cs, Pitzer Outdoor Adventure (POA) and On the Loose (OTL), and white nature enthusiasts, should address the problem in the following ways:

  • Affirm that nature belongs to everyone, not just white people.
  • Hold discussions about race and inclusivity.
  •  White individuals should exert caution as to not dominate ownership of the word “outdoorsy.”
  • Instead of declaring prerequisites, trips should proclaim their ability to accommodate everyone, regardless of experience.
  • POA and OTL should organize more entry-level workshops and trips. POA and OTL should organize more accessible, entry-level workshops and trips that do not require advanced technical skills. Trips should advertise the skills you will learn, not the skills you will need.
  •  OTL and POA should challenge their members to personally encourage those with no outdoors experience, and those who have been systematically excluded, to join a trip. Friendship can act as a portal to the wilderness for those who have historically been denied the privilege of comfort.