A Confirmation on Haile’s Rarely Discussed Observation
This story shocked me. I knew the American south and even the rural Mid-Atlantic was not understanding of diversity but some of her conversations and discoveries surprised me. Including the “Black face soap” and a man telling her she is not “Black-black”. While those interactions are telling of the struggles of being black in America, they are not the main aim of her article. She brings up a not often talked about struggle black people have which is their excitability to nature. Later in the article she mentions her connection to nature and the nostalgia and clarity it brings her. Yet, society does not cultivate a place or advertise the outdoors to black people so there is no encouragement to black communities to get out there, explore, and reap the benefits. She sums it up when she references Evelyn C. White and her essay “Black Women and the Wilderness”. She states,
“It says to the minority: Be in this place and someone might seize the opportunity to end you. Nature itself is the least of White’s concerns. Bear paws have harmed fewer black bodies in the wild than human hands. She does not wish to be the only one who looks like her in a place with history like this.”
Traversing nature and being outdoors is already uncomfortable and challenging, so one can imagine adding the discomfort of not belonging. And this discomfort proceeds the exciting comfort new experiences bring. In some cases it can be traumatizing. This trauma comes from the lost sense of belonging. Belonging is especially important, and that feeling is often a matter of perspective. As Pierre Bourdieu writes, “The relation to the world is a relation of presence in the world, of being in the world, in the sense of belonging to the world”. Haile is showing that there is a weak relationship between black communities and the outdoors. I never thought of this dilemma but it triggers my memories of black classmates not being able to swim and not having any outdoor experience at all. Haile also touches on the history of the outdoors for black people. For a long time being in the wilderness was a matter of survival not leisure, yet Harriet Tubman is rarely commemorated for being an important outdoor leader. In a way saying black people should just get out there and experience the air is also ignorant. It seems like the opportunity for black people to get outdoors has walls closing in at all sides. But there are ways around this. The way Haile ends her article is exceptionally beautiful. She pulls quotes from a book that discusses the reasons for hiking the AT trail. The last one she quotes being, “I want to be a role model to black women who are interested in the outdoors, including myself.” She then goes on to acknowledge the power this hiking can have. Not only does Haile highlight the struggles of being a black woman in the outdoors, but shows how important it is to cultivate a more comfortable space and more importantly to advertise the outdoors to black communities.