Systematic racism is everywhere, even in the outdoor industry! White folks love the outdoors and nature is free for them to enjoy, but nature is not free for me the same way as it is for white people. I still have to earn my freedom in nature and have to find access without having to feel uncomfortable in wild spaces. I wish I could feel completely carefree when I’m outdoors. I wish I could just enjoy nature and find healing instead of worrying about my safety especially when I’m outdoors alone.
When I served my country, I had to live my life wearing a flak jacket and had to keep my weapon close to my body at all times. I learned to sleep with one eye open and always with readiness. Every veteran knows this war mentality and how we had to function under stressful situations and protect ourselves from the enemy. The biggest strand we have as veterans as we also come from many backgrounds is the strand of community, tribe, respect and honor as we wore that uniform and served our country. Later in my life, like many other veterans out there, I had to fight many challenges and also had to deal with generational racial fear especially exploring the outdoors to find my healing on public lands. The death of George Floyd makes my fear even more real that I am one degree away of what George had to face. George was publicly lynched: the worst fear of any black person. It could happen to any black boy, man, girl, or woman! Lynching is historical and has been embedded into black lives. It makes me enraged, sad and heartbroken. I could be George Floyd. Any black male could be George Floyd. There have been so many blacks who died already by police to this day!
I never thought I would feel I have to don my flack jacket and holster my weapon to go to a beautiful place that nature has provided for everyone, for every soul, young, old, black, brown and white on public land that is for everyone. I fought for freedom alongside others who have given their lives but sadly, as a black man I can only enjoy this place by donning my flak jacket and carry my weapon to protect myself. I have to protect myself to go fly fishing on a river that promotes freedom, joy, solitude and healing. But this is where we are today! Finding access, acceptance, and safety is just as frustrating in nature as in urban spaces. Even though there are many non-white experts of the outdoors, they often aren’t identified by the media and are overlooked by outdoor companies and conservation groups. People of color are rarely invited to be part of these organizations other than perhaps being invited to a panel discussion or being mentioned in a blog posts. These gestures to include brown and black folks too often just serve the purpose of checking off the box of political correctness. Indigenous communities and all people of color need to be heard and listened to when it comes to outdoor recreation, policy making, and nature conservancy. We should not be told what sports are suitable for us, how we are supposed to function or what we are supposed to wear or eat when we are outdoors.