Pushing for diversity and growing our community of outdoors lovers
By Ambreen Tariq // @brownpeoplecamping
In my city life, I see my reflection in train windows, computer monitors, glass doors, and bathroom mirrors. I am always visually evaluating my body image and social appearance. In the wilderness, I see my reflection through my abilities, my primal limitations, my fear of darkness, and the involuntary alertness my body feels when a twig snaps in the distance. I see my reflection in my most essential failures and accomplishments. For me, being outdoors is not an escape from city life. It is a recalibration of how I see myself and my natural values.
As an immigrant kid I viewed myself as an outsider in America, so it was acceptable to me to be the only family of color around on the campground or on the trail. But now, having grown up in this great country, I refuse to accept that feeling of isolation and I refuse to accept that status of “minority” in our public lands. I know now what it means to be American: I feel entitled to progress, and I feel we should all be empowered to push for it. I feel diversity enriches our lives and the American experience and I feel empowered to push for it.
I am not the only one, but I am the only me. I don’t speak for all immigrants, or Indians, or South Asians, or Muslims, or women, or people of color, or city folk. I speak only for me. But I do identify with all those groups, as they are all a part of how I define myself. So I’ll rep them as I tell my stories and make sure those experiences are a part of our “outdoors” conversation. And then I’ll turn to you to hear your stories;— to hear where you’ve been and where you’re going;— and I’ll be a little bit richer for knowing you. And the outdoors will be a little bit richer for us knowing each other and connecting as a community.
Robert Moore put it brilliantly: “... every step a hiker takes is a vote for the continued existence of a trail.” If folks stopped hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or the numerous other historic trails all cross our country, they would be swallowed up by the environment around them and disappear from our landscapes. Trails are forged first by trailblazers, but more importantly they are reforged and maintained by the rest of us. Our steps are assertions about the importance of our access to and relationship with wilderness. So let’s try harder to introduce new and diverse feet to the trails. Let’s be ambassadors and recruiters for the outdoors. As our country grows more diverse, we face an imperative to include people of color in the narrative of blazing and keeping ablaze our trails. If the faces of our hikers and campers don’t reflect the faces of our increasingly diversifying American population, our public lands, parks, and trails will surely suffer. These places exist by the power and stewardship of their users. So let’s grow our community of “users” and let’s diversify our outdoors.