TREND: Making Access to Green Nature Less White 

For complex, insidious reasons, people of color have been deprived of nature and the great outdoors—but now a record number of activist organizations are working to change that

Next Wednesday (April 22) is the 51st Earth Day, where we recognize the power of nature and commit to action against environmental disaster. One disaster that deserves more attention is the way that people of color have been systemically barred from one of the simplest things and the most powerful of medicines: nature.
In our 2021 trend “Adding Color to Wellness,” author Tonia Callender, a research fellow at the Global Wellness Institute and a Black woman living in the US, explains—through hard data and profound personal experience—the deep racial inequalities in access to green spaces and the hostile experiences that Black and brown people can face when they do head outdoors.
The problem is pernicious and deeply rooted in history. Black people, for centuries, were violently displaced from their native lands by European colonialism and slavery. Later, racial segregation and discriminatory housing policies ensured that people of color have radically less access to green space and parks. There is a mountain of stats. A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that Black people (68%) are almost three times more likely than whites to live in “nature deprived” areas; in the UK, only a quarter of Black people spend any time in the countryside and they make up only 1% of visitors to national parks.
In racism’s always insidious logic, somehow this is their problem: There’s been a long-standing myth that people of color just aren’t nature-lovers. And there’s the persistent myth that Black and brown people care less about environmental issues, when studies, like a recent one from Yale, show the opposite is true.
In 2020, we witnessed the tragedies that can happen when Black people decide to go outdoors: the killing of runner Ahmaud Arbery just for taking a jog in his neighborhood in Georgia and the threatening of Christian Cooper by a white woman just for being a Black birdwatcher in NYC’s Central Park. Callender, in her trend, brings it all painfully home, explaining how she sent her son to a local park to relieve his pandemic anxieties, but he immediately returned home after a ranger followed and harassed him, asking why he was there. She notes that what was so distressing was, “I didn’t sense any anger in my son’s voice, only sad resignation.” White people take for granted their access to—and feeling of safety in—natural spaces, unable to grasp just how scary something so human and simple can be for people who aren’t white.

Systemically depriving people of color access to nature means systemically depriving them of health and wellness. There is so much evidence that nature is medicine, including studies that show that natural spaces lower heart rates, reduce stress, and prevent depression. And living in urban, nature-free environments means Black and brown people experience a far greater “pollution burden.”
The seismic shocks of 2020 exposed the many ways that people of color are deprived of the most basic health and wellness. And now a new group of activists and organizations are tackling nature injustice, getting Black and brown people safely outdoors together—whether hiking or surfing. Outdoor Afro, in 42 US cities, is connecting thousands of Black people to nature experiences and conservation, while Steppers UK is just one UK group getting urban people of color hiking. There are suddenly so many examples (and more below), including Diversify Outdoors, Black Outdoors, Soul Trak Outdoors, Melanin Base Camp and Black Girls Run. After centuries of discrimination, they’re adding “color to nature.”
On Earth Day next week, we need to recommit to the environmental emergency, but we also need to ask hard questions about “whose Earth” is it every day. We need far more nature and outdoor opportunities for communities of color and more representative leaders among policymakers that could make that happen. And more wellness destinations, boasting amazing natural resources, need to interrogate their too-often tall, exclusionary gates—and rethink how their own (and new) communities and their workers could be included in all the “healing nature” that they sell.
This is from the “Adding Color to Wellness” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report.


Summit Trend in the News

Hiking has a diversity problem. These BIPOC groups are working to fix itLos Angeles Times

An ever-growing number of US organizations are introducing people of color to nature in creative ways, whether Latino Outdoors, Black Girls Trekkin’ or Outdoor Asian.
The environmental movement is very white. These leaders want to change thatNational Geographic

People of color have long been excluded from environmental policy and conservation—creating blind spots that perpetuate the intense inequality.

The BAME women making the outdoors more inclusiveGuardian

The British countryside remains a profoundly white and often intimidating place for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. This is an interview with three woman activists tackling this problem: Zahrah Mahmood, The Hillwalking Hijabi; Rhiane Fatinikun, founder of Black Girls Hike; and Omie Dale, bringing wild swimming to Black people through the Black Swimming Association.
How ‘nature deprived’ neighborhoods impact the health of people of colorNational Geographic
A good overview of the evidence for how green spaces make people healthier and happier, but how decades of racism­—whether in how housing and parks are developed or the common practice of paving over communities of color with highways and power plants­—means people of color get shut right out of nature—particularly damaging during a pandemic when access to nature has been a key to people’s mental and physical survival. 
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