It is time for the uncomfortable conversation. The summer’s protests have brought public attention to racism in America, including in outdoor and recreational activities. There have been hashtags on social media for #birdingwhileblack, #joggingwhileblack, #racedrivingwhileblack, #golfingwhileblack, and #hikingwhileblack. The hashtags have worked well to bring awareness to the challenges that Black people face while exercising their right to enjoy the outdoors, and serve as a great tool to share stories and frustrations. The time is now for parks, recreation, conservation, and outdoor enthusiasts to work together to change the landscape by adopting new policies and practices to make open space, conservation areas, and parks welcoming and inviting to people of color—Blacks in particular. By doing so, these agencies and organizations can play a vital role in racial and socio-economic equity.
Why is there a need to adopt new policies and practices that change the landscape? Because until White administrators accept the truth that people of color, Blacks in particular, have the right to open space, trails, and parkland, the hashtags will continue to increase, as well as the protest of frustration. Because Black lives are no longer front page news, does not mean the problems have been solved. There must be a shift in urban design, access to parks and hiring practices, and the elimination of racialized policies and the promotion from within the “good ole boy network.” Failure to recognize the value of changing the culture and creating an organization that is reflective of the community will only breed insidious and intentional behaviors in regards to ensuring that people of color, Blacks in particular, are not welcomed in nature. Greening communities for equity and sustainability starts inside and will eventually filter out.
On January 12, 2017 President Obama, just before he left office, set in motion a memorandum titled “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in our National Parks, National Forest and Other Public Lands and Waters,” directed at the heads of executive departments and agencies. In that memo he clearly states that “promoting diversity and inclusion is not the sole responsibility of one office within a Federal agency, but a joint effort that requires engagement by senior leadership and the entire workforce.” But according to the 2019 Green 2.0 Transparency Report, a report with data collected from non-government organizations (NGOs) and foundations nationwide about the number of women and people of color that are full-time staff, senior staff, and or board members, there’s a long way to go.
The report offers data on the top 40 NGOs and funders over three years, showing an increase in the recruitment of people of color in self-reporting NGOs. However, that is nothing to celebrate, especially for Blacks in particular. Note that a few of these organizations are headquartered here in the Bay Area and/or have regional branch offices here. Truth be told some of the organizations are yours. If you are one of the few organizations that took heart in what President Obama put in motion-and have made headway changing the culture and removing the barriers, I say thank you. But if nothing has changed in your organization, you are continuing to perpetuate a system of institutional, structural and culture racism, thereby continuing to allow racialized policies to shape the future of your organization. Intentional or not the outcome results in disparities by race.
A racialized policy, for example, could be if I were seeking employment in your organization and the employee handbooks or part of the hiring practices contained a clause that non-citizens would be required to file a declaration of intent to become a citizen to be eligible for employment. I would have to think twice if that was an organization that I would want to work for, even when taking into consideration that I already possess all the requirements to work in the United States. Policies must change. When organizations are entrenched with the good ole boy culture and the recruitment for management positions is only available through in-house promotions, and training to become a senior level manager is only offered to a mid-management level employees within the organization, and none of the employees eligible are people of color Blacks in particular, that is structural and institutionalized racism.
by Audree V. Jones-Taylor