Letters to the editor: Where are all the black RVers?

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Dear Chuck,
This past leap year weekend a nice black couple and their young daughter camped beside us in their diesel pusher. It brought to mind my question of many years ago, “Where are all the black RVers?”

As a Canadian, I wasn’t sure how to respectfully ask the question, but I did. “Gerome”, I’ll call him, said he didn’t know why I had not encountered them. He did not know why there were so few. Perhaps they are more in Texas and Louisiana. I refuted that as I have RVed through 48 states and 10 provinces, almost never encountering black RVers. 

Gerome referred me to NAARVA, the National African American RVers Association, of which he is a member. Their website has 1,500 members. Compare that to RVTravel.com’s database of 109,000, only one of many RV databases, and you will realize NAARVA’s membership is quite small. Gerome also subscribes to RVtravel.com.

One black RVer said it was commonplace to be the only black campers in a park. My estimate in about 250 parks (I move frequently) is about 2%. I almost never see them. Perhaps as a Western Canadian, I am not colour/color conscious. 

So why no African American campers? Is it just that they appreciate bricks and mortar? The diesel pusher Gerome parked beside me had every comfort far beyond my own. 

I’m delighted that NAARVA is promoting to its members the RV lifestyle. Perhaps we will see some cross-fertilization between NAARVA and RVTravel.com. 

So readers, tell me why there are not more African American RVers. It would be nice to share experiences. Hmm? Maybe Asians too! 

— Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC

##RVT938

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Gene Bjerke

As a long-time sailor, I also often wondered why there were so few black sailors (outside of the Caribbean). Is it a cultural thing, since skill and money don’t appear to be the reasons?

Ann

You’ve read the comments section in this blog, right? If you were African American, would you want to go camping alongside some of the people here? I mean, we’re white, be we get shade thrown at us from time to time just for having California plates.

JBC Cripps

Enough already – this subject has been studied for years – it started with recreation area studies and expanded into ‘camping’ and finally motorhome/RV use, campground design, etc. The reasons are many regarding the low number of minorities not ‘camping’/Rving. Cultural, economic, opportunity, etc. Cultural – they did not grow up with the awareness of or opportunity for camping. There are many, many additional reasons per culture. Economic – their economic resources were not spent on camping as they had no money or little money to even make it a consideration. Remember that each ‘group’ has its own percentage of the population. If you were to breakdown by population the number of caucasian RVers you would find it a very small number/percentage and it would be linked in large part to economics – you may not think of yourself as ‘rich’ but you are and that’s just a fact. Opportunity – traveling is about going distances and often (often) the RV parks/camping are not readily accessible. Consider yourself lucky if you live near available, wonderful campgrounds. Differences – yes, it is difficult and sometimes unnerving not finding people like yourself at campgrounds. There are reasons people of like backgrounds ‘group’ – this is not a phenomenon only experienced by ‘others’ – we all do it. That behavior is another subject that has been studied and has little to do with ‘better than or lesser than’. I for one find the idea of RVing in the southeast potentially uncomfortable due to racism, etc. I know it’s not everywhere/everyone, but I know it exists and I choose to avoid its potential and the heartache associated with it.
That said – think about the issues we are dealing with now that make us want to give up RVing. Struggling for reservations, good/great location, good neighbors, well maintained campgrounds, etc. We are not all the same and never will be. Now, take anyone in the minority as we are discussing here – assume they are now finally discovering the world of camping/RVing and imagine what has been offered to them – what has been taken away from us all (quiet, courtesy, quality, etc.). Anyone – anyone coming late to the party is getting shortchanged.
I am glad that we are seeing more diversity at campgrounds but remember – you are traveling – in most cases they are camping (just engaged for a few days).
This is a massive broad-brush stroke but – the biggest reason is often economics but by no means the only or most important reason. As with ‘us’ their reasons are all over the board. Most important, it has nothing to do with ‘grits’.
Oh, and the elephant in the room – racism is real, discrimination is real. I deal with it every day. It takes a lot of effort, faith, energy and desire to step into challenging environments, circumstances, etc. with a positive, caring attitude – often well outside one’s comfort zone. Fortunately, I can find great camping in many areas that provide me the option of never go to the southeast, if that matters to me.

Most important – I can offer some insight as my response is based on my observations, my ‘other’ friends’ feedback (and it’s fierce regarding these kinds of subjects) and from years of being immersed in recreational studies and rural planning.

However, the real answer can only be provided by Blacks, Black RVers and other minorities. I’m sure they have a lot to say on this subject if someone just cared enough to ask and to listen. But that latter part is going to be the biggest barrier —–

littleleftie

Steve—-Thank you for voicing your question. I think it has opened up a line of discussion that we have all thought about, perhaps chatted about with our close friends but previously been hesitant to say “out loud”.
Last summer, on our way west, we stayed in a provincial park in Ontario and we were thrilled to see that there were many, many campers of East Indian origin. That was so wonderful, to see how these immigrants had learned to enjoy and love camping. They all had their own respective sites, all over the park, but gathered together on one or 2 sites that they had reserved simply to be food/cooking and gathering sites. What a terrific experience for us, to watch them cook and eat together, often 20 people or more, then clean up and pack their stuff away, leaving the site bare until the next meal. The kids were having a ball, parents able to mingle, drink tea and relax together. And they were all tent camping. No RVs.
I learned from an older gentleman, perhaps the grandfather of the group, that they had all attended Parks Canada’s “learn to camp” program….offered free, to allow anyone to experience the great outdoors as campers.
While we didn’t specifically notice black campers, we did see some Asians as well. They, too, were immigrants who had no prior camping experience but who took the same free course. Camping isn’t in everyone’s background. Like grits, it’s an acquired “taste” and skill.

I appreciate the honesty of Jay and Woody. I had not ever considered the fear of isolation to be related to one’s skin colour—-I, too, am not comfortable being isolated, regardless of my colour. Nor had I factored in the discriminatory practices at some campground offices when seeking a site.
Thank you for enlightening me.

agesilaus

It’s obviously just a culture preference, we’ve noted the same thing over the years. Usually when we encounter the rare Black couple in an RV park or even on a trail or in a park. It seems like that in the last year or so we have encountered more, maybe that RV group is having some success.

Diane Mc

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia (Ginni), are RV’ers. We were always hoping our paths would cross while traveling. Small window, though. He’s busy 9 months out of the year.

Fred

I’m sure glad you wrote about this in this week’s edition. Just 2 weeks ago, I was mulling this exact question as we sit here in the desert north of Yuma, AZ for the winter with 1,000-1,500 rvs spread out in the Imperial Dam LTVA. I travel around this area each day & I’ve only seen one black rver in the 3 months we’ve been here. There could be more, but I haven’t seen them. I was wondering if it was a cultural, lifestyle or economics issue that 10% of the rvers aren’t blacks. We’ve traveled fulltime for the last 10 years to every state & Alaska twice & black rvers have been rare wherever we’ve gone.

Jay

Interesting question, to say the least. I have been retired for 5 years, and my wife and I have been RV’ing now for just over 3 of those years. In that time, we have not yet encountered any black RV’ers in the many campgrounds we have stayed, excepting the times we look at each other or a mirror. We know of one other black RV’ing couple, but have not yet camped together, and we know of other black couples with a growing interest due to our interaction. I am aware of NAARVA, but am not yet a part.

My take on answering your question is this: There is among “us” a collective mistrust/suspicion of isolation/remoteness. As Woody pointed out, we as a nation are not far removed from a time (and perhaps not yet completely) when isolation meant danger for those of our skin tone, strictly because of it. For me, that sense of isolation mistrust has been reduced by the mere fact that my career since graduation from college (as 2 of 2000) has left me as “the only one” of thousands or even tens of thousands for a large share of my forty years with a multi-national corporation. My wife however, has not know that inoculation to the extent that I have, and our travels are very selective, in order to minimize her anxiety. However, our 3 years as RV’ers has helped her, so, we might make it to the Southwest to boondock or even Yellowstone, someday.

I had more to say, but, I forgot it by the time I typed to this point, but, perhaps you get my picture. Kindest Regards

William Wooden (Woody)

I spent a great majority of my life in the military (21yrs) and was able to travel worldwide while starting, and bringing up a family of five. We traveled extensively throughout the US & Europe by car seeing many wonders of the world. After retiring from the military, we purchased our first RV in the year of 1983 because we wanted to continue our journey of seeing the rest of the US, raising our siblings to enjoy this great country of ours, all the while educating the kids about everything of the outdoors.
Times back then were not pleasant for a black RV’er, especially in the south. We would encounter a lot of “sorry we don’t have a vacancy for you” at many campgrounds, even though signs informs there are vacancies. Then again, when we did find a campground that would accept us, there were many incidents where our kids would go out to play only to return back to our site crying, because of being called a you know what. So we just limited our stay at COE, military, state and county campgrounds. We continued RVing up to the last child was grown, then our camping only lasted to just a few trips a year with our grand kids. We sold our second RV and life just went on from there. Well as faith would have it and so I completely retired again in 2012 and bought our third RV, (a dp) so we can just enjoy ourselves again, just the two of us. In 2017, while at a outing, I met a black couple who informed me about a black RV group out of Denver. We joined and went on several outings with the group. The group also introduced us to NAARVA, which we also joined, thus going to our first big region rally in Minnesota last June, and we had a ball. Never seen so many black RV’ers in my lifetime at that event, we were very amazed, because when we started there were no blacks with rv’s, at least we never seen any. I guess you can say, blacks just don’t go where they are not welcome, and stay clear of noise that enter fears with their lifestyle. Case in point, this happened in 1985. I, remember pulling in a gas station in Georgia to fill up, and while doing so, I was approached by two gentlemen asking questions about how could I afford such a rig when they couldn’t. I thought, wow! I’d better hurry this up and leave because these guys were up to no good. Did not finish filling up because the questions were steady coming from these guys, so we left. Further down the road, we were pulled over by a state trooper, detaining us for one hour giving me demands for a search of our rv. I informed him I will not let that happen without a search warrant. He let us go. Thought, I let my guard down by stopping at that place to get gas.
The rv’er of today is a totally different brand of people, it seems your race, creed or color does not matter, they’re older, wiser and so much friendlier. However, you should see the looks we get while traveling as a group.

Joe Allen

We have met several while on the road and all have been super nice and friendly. I never let color or size of their RV to dictate how I approach another RVer. You meet the nicest people this way! Try it!

Tom Rastall

Maybe it’s because blacks only make up 12 % of the population.

Roll’n in Kevin

I think the answer might be easier to find than most think. Being an RV ‘er, motorcyclist, and black, traveling the lower 48 for years, the question is not surprising to me. I commonly see blacks (and other people of color) most places we travel. Yes there are times I’m the only black person I may see on a given day in the campground. Blacks make up a small percentage of the population (10-12% I believe). As popular as Rving is today, only a percentage of the general population joins us on the road (FT or vacationing/weekends). Take whatever number you like of people Rving at any given moment, then say only 10 or 12% of those will be black, you get a small number. A case can also be made that Rving, hiking, bicycling, or mountain climbing have a smaller percentage of blacks participating vs the general population. Not that blacks don’t enjoy all of those things, because we do enjoy many outdoor activities. I’ve observed a similar feeling riding a motorcycle, yet there are many blacks riding.

Traveling in the southwest at the moment, we see a much higher percentage of Hispanics Rving than when we traveled through New Hampshire and Maine. Many of the destination spots RV’ers enjoy do not have large black populations nearby. We have seen blacks Rving in every state we’ve visited.

Bottomline, I think the percentages are about the same, maybe a little lower, blacks are just a small piece of the Rving pie. No deep reason to explain why.

Captain Spellchek

Of course, here’s an obvious thing… Many RVers are white Trump supporters. That alone will keep many minorities feel unwelcome. Like it or not, it’s truth. Go ahead and rage against my comment now.

Captain Spellchek

If your going to call him something, spell it right. “Jerome”.

Wolfe

Steve, I doubt the answer is that Blacks enjoy camping or RVing any less than whites.   You also shouldn’t feel it’s somehow wrong to wonder or actually ask the rare black camper at campsites.   You just have to be careful to ask the “Why…?” without unintentionally asserting they shouldn’t be there either.

Because I lack a working social filter, I’ve done just that…  and it’s actually kind of eye opening. Like breakfast…

Imagine a Northerner hears about a breakfast food called “grits” and thinks it sounds interesting.   They’d like to cook some up themself to try it.

…but, where do they find grits?  They’ve never seen grits in stores before.   They didn’t grow up with their family cooking grits, so maybe they are just nasty (side note:  yes).  Their friends don’t cook grits and probably think they are crazy for wanting them – “Just eat a nice bagel!”

Since no one they know cooks grits, no one familiar can tell them if they are even cooking them right.   Good or bad, is what they end up with a good example of what grits are supposed to taste like?

And to really make good grits, they hear they need a whole new set of cookware; even if equipment’s in the budget if successful, do they really want to buy extra equipment before they know they like grits?

They bite the bullet and buy the stuff and research how to do it right…  and then none of their friends want to try it with them because no one they know does that…well, except this one weird guy asking them to try it.

… and although they don’t think it’s happened in a while, some people have been injured while eating grits.

Suddenly grits doesn’t sound very appealing, anymore, does it?

Now imagine you (white guy) go to a campground and EVERYBODY is black…  never mind any actual racism, everyone is quite lovely to you.  It would probably still feel weird, wouldn’t it? With absolutely no measurable reason, it would just feel surreal and make you uneasy, right?  Despite diversity claims, humans universally like mirrors.

So, that’s my simplified answer…  the barrier to entry is self reinforcing…  they often won’t because they haven’t.  Blacks have markedly lower swimming proficiency because public pools were once heavily racist, and that lack of inherited skills still hasn’t recovered. Groups like the one mentioned will overcome social and generational voids eventually I expect, but I don’t think new cliques are the answer…  assuming you have black friends, simply invite them to join you camping like you would anyone else.

But leave the grits at home.   Yech.