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"We have our own cultural ways of being in nature": Black Americans and National Parks

Authors: Aby Sene-Harper*, Clemson University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Recreational and Sport Geography
Keywords: African Americans ; National Parks; Nature Tourism; Race
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

African Americans have the lowest wilderness area visitation rates of all racial and ethnic groups. The most prominent explanations in the parks, recreation and tourism literature focus on socioeconomic barriers, cultural norms, socialization practices and interpersonal and institutional discrimination (Washburne, 1978, Weber & Sultana. 2013; Stodolska & Floyd, 2014). Fewer but critical studies brought historical context into sharper relief to properly frame African American park visitation. They argue that past racial oppression influences present day behaviors (Erickson, Johnson & Kivel, 2009), and reveal the various relationships that African Americans cultivated with nature from slavery to the Jim Crow eras and have been suppressed by the White dominant view of wilderness as a place of refuge (Finney, 2014; Floyd & Mowatt, 2014; Mowatt, 2018). This paper reflects the results of a qualitative study on the perceptions and meanings African Americans have of national parks and wilderness areas in general. The findings unveil Black-centered themes rooted in the lived experiences of African Americans. One of those encapsulates a resurgent fear of racial oppression in nature driven by the current political climate. Despite this barrier, there is a desire to reclaim and recreate their own environmental narrative as an important step towards increasing their interests in national parks. To this end, a prominent and more accurate interpretation of African American legacy can help sustain a stronger connection with national parks. Finally, framing national parks as a source of resilience, healing and empowerment for African Americans can be a foundation to creating relevancy.

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