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By Nanci Dixon
My husband and I are full-time RVers. We are also an interracial couple with black kids and black grandkids and have noticed that the other black campers are few and far between. Where are they? Why aren’t more black families camping? Where are all the black RVers?
While thinking about this, speaking with my husband, and talking with other black RVers, I’ve come up with a few reasons (and debunked a few myths) as to why we see so few black families at the campground with us.
Danger in the woods
A dark reason can be found in the historically horrific things that happened to black folks in the woods. My husband grew up in Mississippi when lynchings were rampant and going into the woods at night was strictly forbidden. “The boogie man will get you” was code for “The KKK will get you.”
For a lot of people, the outdoors are a refreshing, meditative place to recharge and relax. For many black people, though, it can be a place to be on guard and watch out. In other words, do anything but relax. A black couple who recently camped near us said that while they really enjoy camping, they just don’t walk around the campground at night.
“The industry has not been welcoming”
Outdoor adventures have been in what are traditionally considered white spaces. National Parks, State Parks, County Parks, particularly in the Southeast, have restricted access or been blatantly not welcoming to blacks. Even our beloved father of the National Park system, John Muir, called blacks “lazy sambos” and native people “dirty, suspicious and dangerous.” Within the Sierra Club, founded by Muir, was a call-out for white supremacy and eugenics by its first leaders.
Even without taking the dubious history of the National Parks into account, the programs and interpretive exhibits of today are generally slanted toward white history and bias. It is a subtle form of “This is about us and not about you.”
In her article “Why Black People Don’t Go Camping,” Nikki Brueggeman writes: “Black people do not have a natural aversion to camping or the great outdoors; we have a natural aversion to racism and abuse. We don’t go camping because we hate mosquitoes, need heated rooms, or hate campfires, we don’t go camping because the industry has not been welcoming.”
Earl B. Hunter Jr. founded a marketing and consulting company to address the business opportunity to help equip blacks with camping equipment, provide information on how to camp and places to go. It’s called Black Folks Camp Too.
The National Parks in particular are taking a strong stand to be inclusive, examine its history, hire more blacks in leadership roles, revamp educational programs and address the low percentage of use (7%) by African Americans. They are sponsoring things like “Black in National Parks Week,” Find Your Park and highlighting Soul Trak Outdoors, a nonprofit seeking to connect people of color to the outdoors, The Trail Posse, and the Facebook page African American Nature and Parks Experience.
Camping for 30 years with our family and now being full-time RVers, we have traveled all over the United States and seldom see other black campers. We have encountered overt racism that was bad enough that we packed up and left a campground in the middle of the night. Another time an RVer called the campground office demanding that they get rid of the n@#*%*s in their campground. To the campground’s credit, they did not.
We are careful where we camp, particularly down South. One RVer I talked to said that as they were leaving the campground in their RV this year, a white man held up his finger to “shoot” her husband. This is not the first time I have heard that.
More often than not we encounter other campers that are friendly. Sometimes, however, there are hard stares, refusal to even respond “Hi” when spoken to and the underlying silent question of “Why are you here?” We are here because we are full-time RVers and we live all over this nation. We love this lifestyle and we hope to see more and more black and brown people making s’mores around a campfire and enjoying camping too.
Related article: Black Lives Matter as RVers too