“It’s like, what are you doing here?”: The complicated intersection of race and outdoor recreation

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Exploring the Great Outdoors has long provided adventure, discovery, peace and wonderment. And the recent pandemic has sparked an explosion of outdoor enthusiasts — from bikers to hikers — seeking an escape from our four walls. But for years, outdoor spaces, the wilderness, and conservation have remained predominantly white spaces, with some of the most influential environmental voices belonging to white men. 

Black people have been historically underrepresented when it comes to outdoor recreation and an interest in nature. The legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped the collective understanding of who should have access to the “Great Outdoors,” where even the simple act of bird watching in an urban park can be met with suspicion if you’re Black.

Jonathan Bastian talks with Jacqueline Scott, a PhD Student in social justice education at the University of Toronto, who says something just “clicked in her soul” after taking her first canoe trip. Scott, who writes the “Black Outdoors” blog and is an avid bird watcher, talks about the complicated relationship Black people have with nature and outdoor recreation, and how being Black in such spaces is often met with the response of, “What are you doing here?” 

Jacqueline L. Scott.  Photo courtesy of Jacqueline L. Scott




Andrea Brody