Important Things: Why Are Our National Parks So Darned White?

Nothing like some good race baiting for the sake of race baiting

Why Are Our Parks So White?


The national parks attracted a record 292.8 million visitors in 2014, but a vast majority were white and aging. The most recent survey commissioned by the park service on visitation, released in 2011, found that 22 percent of visitors were minorities, though they make up some 37 percent of the population.

This suggests an alarming disconnect. The Census Bureau projects that the country will have a majority nonwhite population by 2044. If that new majority has little or no relationship with the outdoors, then the future of the nation’s parks, and the retail and nonprofit ecosystem that surrounds them, will be in trouble.

Perhaps people of color just do not want to go to parks? Maybe it’s not their thing? No, wait, it must be racism. Probably unconscious racism. Even though no is actually stopping people of color from going to the parks.

A neighbor, Carla DeRise, has been to Mount Rainier and other parks, and is game to go again. She just can’t get any of her friends to come along. They are worried about unfriendly white people, hungry critters and insects, and unforgiving landscapes, said Ms. DeRise, 51, an African-American. So she mainly hikes alone, albeit with some anxiety. “I don’t have a weapon,” she quipped. “Yet.”

One has to wonder how it would have gone over had the article been written about, say, Detroit or Baltimore, with White people worried about “unfriendly Black people”? It’s a heck of a lot more dangerous going into those urban parks.

There was always nervous banter as we cruised through small rural towns on our way to a park. And there were jokes about finding a “Whites Only” sign at the entrance to our destination or the perils of being lynched or attacked while collecting firewood after the sun went down. Our cultural history taught us what to expect.

Again, what if the article had been written about worries about being shot, stabbed, raped, robbed, and/or assaulted while visiting the ghettos of Baltimore, Detroit, Birmingham, Newark, and other majority-minority cities? How would that have worked out? Our recent history has taught us what to expect. Seriously, this article is about as race-baity as it gets.

This is part of what the park service is up against, which may help explain why so many minorities say they know little about the nation’s parks or what to expect when visiting them. In the 2011 park service survey, nonwhites were more than three times as likely as whites to say that the parks provided poor service and were not safe to visit.

And those responses were from nonvisitors, which means that perceptions had congealed into reality among what should be an important constituency for the parks.

Oh. So people who have never been there are scapegoating whitey in a racial manner. Who’s the racist now?

The place to start is the National Park Service. About 80 percent of park service employees in 2014 were white. The parks’ official charity, the National Park Foundation, has four minority members on its 22-person board.

Minorities did not exceed 16 percent of the boards or staffs of some 300 environmental organizations, foundations and government agencies included in a 2014 study for Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity in such institutions. Minorities hold fewer than 12 percent of environmental leadership positions, and none led an organization with a budget of at least $1 million, the study found.

The National Park Service is the logical leader to blaze a trail to racial diversity in the natural world. It has a high public profile, and its approaching centennial can serve as a platform for redefinition.

Here’s the thing in our forced conformity world: maybe they do not want to be involved. Has anyone considered that? Maybe it is simply that simple, that there are things different groups like doing and not doing. They obviously do not like being part of the NY Times’ Editorial Board. Maybe the article writer should be asking why the EB is so darned white.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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