Black And Green: Why Taking Up Space In The Natural World Is An Act Of Resistance
"We're everyday people who have to engage in revolutionary acts every day."
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Hiking is one of my favorite things to do. When I'm on a trail I breathe easier, feel more confident, walk lighter and everyday burdens evaporate. People I pass give genuine smiles and hellos, and Black hikers are especially animated when we cross paths. With so few of us on the trail, even quick head nods and waves are refreshing and affirming.
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I love exploring new trails but I can't help but feel bothered at how the number of white hikers eclipse those of Black hikers. Why is enjoying the natural environment dominated by white people? I think, like most racialized disparities, that lack of access is the primary reason. In the Bay Area the neighborhoods closest to even the most accessible hiking trails are in exclusively white areas: areas that look like a scene in Get Out, places Black people know are dangerous to us.
It's not that nature has an innate stigma, but I think spending time in nature is associated with white people because of their literal and figurative monopoly over the environment. Their constant presence in it signifies the extent to which they've colonized this land. The capital and leisure they get from the environment is meant for them exclusively. Black people's legacy to the land is solely tied to the labor we enact, labor associated with exploitation that the nation was built on. I think after generations of work, it's fair that we seek out peace and restoration from the environment.
We're everyday people who have to engage in revolutionary acts every day. The sense that we don't have the right to take up public space is subversive and powerful. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm still unlearning the habit of minimizing myself and my Blackness to be considered safe. I used to hope that making myself smaller and staying out of white people's line of sight might keep me safe. — of course I was wrong. Though I know my actions and attitudes don't equate to safety, leaving behind the survival techniques I inherited is scary. All that being said, it takes a lot nerve for Black people to engage in a natural setting.
Our relationship to nature should be contextualized by our relationships to urban spaces. Cities and towns have never granted us safety, but they offer a relative sense of predictability. The laws and social codes we follow don't serve to protect so much as guide us to the path of least possible resistance. Part of the appeal to so many about nature is the unpredictability it holds. That's something that Black people often have to minimize. Historically, we don't do well with surprises, they don't end in our favor well.
Being so divorced from nature isn't something to blame on Black people. The environment is under-appreciated and exploited globally, and we're merely following the trend. And let's be real, imagery of the woods is also triggering for Black people. Our history books that glazed over lynchings may serve less as a lesson from the past for our non-Black peers, but as beware signs for us — a reminder that we're not safe in the woods where white people run wild. Rule of law applies most when people are there to bear witness to it, and the anonymity that the woods give white people presents a risk for me and my skin folk.
Danger and social codes aside, I make it a point to regularly hike local trails and explore the vistas they hide. I'm aware I'm taking up space that was not always made to feel meant for me, but I deserve access to, affirming other Black people taking up the space they need. It's a small act of resistance that I can offer to make it safer for us. It's funny that my favorite self-care activity is my most accessible point of resistance.