Racialization of the Great [White] Outdoors: What’s Up with Wilderness Recreation Being “White People S**t?”

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


A connection to nature is essential to our overall health and well-being, and the persistent inequalities in access to and participation in wilderness activities among particular groups today is extremely unfortunate. Recent history in the United States has shaped wilderness areas and activities done in them to be, as the young folks say, “White people s**t,” meaning that they are normalized and popularized as being for White people and not for people of color, especially African Americans. T­hese constructed norms stem from colonial systems of thought and are even internalized by communities of color themselves. The literature that exists, which has been extremely influential in government agency research for the past few decades, suggests that racial disparities in wilderness recreation is due to two main reasons: Socioeconomic Inequality and Subcultural Differences, but it is much more multi-faceted than that. There has been little to no research done to find young African Americans’ attitudes towards nature today, during this unprecedented era of communication and technology that has transformed our abilities to access information, people, and places. This project, through an online survey that includes two scales developed by F. S. Mayer and C. M. Frantz, along with my own updated scale, aims to capture those attitudes, with the ultimate goal of building tangible programs that can increase African Americans’ rates of positive experiences in and connections to nature. There were 54 participants, including Southern Californian college students and alumni, along with young African Americans from all over the U.S. contacted through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A key finding is that the vast majority of participants have a positive connection to nature, and even if they feel that they do not, they hope and wish to form one, contrary to what past literature claims. The results show that outdoor organizations and programs that cater to marginalized communities and/or African Americans specifically can have large, positive impacts on the rates of racial/ethnic diversity in wilderness areas and activities. Those that are seeking diversity, like the National Park Service and the recreational equipment industry, need to look to and support existing organizations and programs whose aims are to empower black and brown people to reclaim their spaces.


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