Washington state is where I call home. The state changes drastically venturing from west to east. For out of state folks, the best way to describe the difference is city and country. The west side is a concrete jungle and the east side holds farmlands, orchards, vineyards and the Cascade Range. Some call the west side the “wet” side due to the year-round precipitation it receives versus the abundance of sunshine in the east. Hints all of the Seattle jokes and movies that portray the torrential downpour all year round, a bit dramatic but not far off! The west side is culturally rich and diverse the east side...not so much. I spent most of my adolescence on the west side, and now call the east side home; countryside, sunny skies, mountains, and not culturally diverse. I would love to see more people of color venturing more into my neck of the woods!
Growing up in a very diverse part of Washington state turned my mind to the importance of diversity in all aspects of my life. Diversity helps to keep things bright and interesting, no two people are ever the same. I am a woman of color who loves the outdoors and all that it offers. Although growing up on the west side of the state, there were many constraints which kept me from enjoying the outdoors on a regular basis. Another woman of color from the west side may not want anything to do with nature and the great outdoors, she is content with city living. That same woman may have already convinced herself and many others nature is not for her or any other person of color. There is a stereotype that hits me hard every time I hear it: black people don’t enjoy nature like white people do.
Huh? Where does that put me?
There are a few major issues I have with that stereotype, and it's mostly because of who I am and my natural love for the outdoors. Black people have every right to be in outdoor spaces, it's silly to say or believe we don’t. Black people with the thirst for adventure, should adventure! Black people who grew up enjoying the outdoors with their family should continue that passion despite what their peers think. Black people who didn’t grow up outdoorsy but are curious and want to try it, should try it, fearlessly. Stereotypes suck. They hold back races, genders and cultures from growing and widening their abilities. Any person of color who has the means and desire to venture outdoors should, despite the voice inside reminding you of the stereotype.
Why does hiking, biking, climbing and camping have to be activities exclusive to white people? Why is it that white people get to have all the fun, unapologetically? When a black person is out in nature, they are out of place and constantly questioning their belonging. Personally, for me, I don’t feel out of place, I feel more natural on the trail than I do in the middle of a city shopping mall. I am at ease in nature, I can think clearly, see clearly, and I always return a better human. In my personal experiences, I have not yet experienced racism or trauma on trail, but I know my experience doesn't mirror other's. I know my background has allowed me to feel comfortable in any situation, among all races and genders. For this reason, I want to continue my endeavors in diversifying the outdoor space. I want other black women, men and children to feel the same high I get when adventuring around my beautiful state.
There are enough limitations placed on black people without the heavy and false stereotype that black people aren’t lovers of the outdoors. If you're living in the city, you may have financial constraints, limited resources to get started, and invisible cultural boundaries. These three things are enough to stop anyone from doing something they love or are curious to try, add in the stigma, and it’s a recipe for less outdoorsy people of color.
I am still learning about how we got to this point in time. How did we get to this place where even black people are convincing other black people they don’t belong in the outdoors? I am definitely not that girl. I will give you ten reasons why you can, buy you a pair of thrifty sneakers and offer to carpool on my way to the trail head before you are given the chance to say "no thank you". The benefits of nature are for everyone. Hiking trails and summiting mountains knows no racial boundaries.
Some days I feel like my efforts to diversify the outdoors, specifically my side of Washington state, is too high of a peak to climb. I understand it's a journey, and not something that will happen overnight or even in my lifetime. I also know it's important for a racial group to be able to identify with others like them. Other than my love for the outdoors, that is why I am here.
I want to be a tangible representation of a black woman in the outdoor space. Thriving.
Representation matters so much.
Follow along with me and many others on the journey to diversify our outdoor spaces. Together, we can make it normal and achievable for unlikely people of color, sizes, genders and LGBTQ communities to get outside and reap all the same benefits. Nature’s beauty is diverse, the population occupying it should be as well.
Chelsea is an avid hiker and trail runner from WA out to diversify the outdoor space. She is a mama to two rad girls out to encourage a love for nature in them so they will continue to pay it forward. You can follow Chelsea on Instagram at @she_colorsnature
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