Today’s post is a little different, as it doesn’t directly deal with specific environmental issues. However, I think “gatekeeping” is an important thing to talk about when it comes to the environment, which is meant for everyone.
First, what is gatekeeping? Gatekeeping is the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something. In this case, gatekeeping occurs when people feel left out of outdoor activity or the environmental movement through lack of representation or attitudes of others.
Let’s look at some examples:
- An article by Resources Magazine talks about how there is a serious lack of diversity in outdoor recreation activities. While non-Hispanic White Americans make up 68% of the population, they comprise 88-95% of visitors to our public lands. Both Black and other POC are largely underrepresented in as visitors in public lands relative to their presence in the general population.
- Why is there such a lack of diversity in outdoor recreation? Wouldn’t it make sense that if you like the environment, you should just go out and enjoy it? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
- Affordability and access: visiting National Parks such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone can be expensive, and even staying local can have extra costs, unless you’re only going for a walk in a public park. Sports and camping equipment can be expensive, and second-hand items can be hard to find. For low-income families, it can be really hard to afford the things needed to enjoy the environment in ways that more privileged people can.
- Early childhood experiences: research shows that how people viewed and experienced the environment when they were younger shapes how they experience it in adulthood. Generationally, if certain families feel locked out from the environment, their future generations might also feel this way.
- Discrimination and White racial frames: prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Black Americans were banned from or segregated at public recreation sites, including state and national parks. This legacy lives on today, and many Black people feel excluded or barred from enjoying the outdoors as White people do.
- Safety concerns: some communities of people report feeling concerned for their safety in terms of outdoor recreation. In a study, 66% of Black people said they felt uncomfortable or unsafe in public lands, due to a legacy of lynchings and attacks in the Jim Crow era. As I pointed out in a post about racism in the outdoors, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered earlier this year while out for a run. Even today, doing recreational activities outside is dangerous for Black or other POC. Additionally, women may not feel comfortable doing recreational activities alone or during certain parts of the day, like when it gets dark.
These different systems in recreation in the environment actively limits who can enjoy the outdoors and when. Whether it be based on race, economic status, or gender, these are things that gatekeep the environment and make it seem like it is only exclusively for White, middle- or high-income families.
Gatekeeping doesn’t just occur around activities; it is also a big issue in the environmental movement as a whole. There is not only a serious lack of representation in the environmental movement, but also a lack of access. An article by the Los Angeles Times goes into this issue in a little more detail.
- While BIPOC make up about 38% of the population in America, they represent only 12% to 15.5% of staff in environmental groups and organizations. In fact, none of the largest or most well-known environmental organizations have a person of color as head staff (president, vice president, director, etc.)
- Lack of representation in organizations makes it harder for people of color to join these groups or feel like their voices are being heard. This is concerning, since low-income communities and communities of color have been and will be disproportionately effected by environmental issues such as climate change. Shouldn’t those who suffer the most be the ones in charge of fixing those issues, or at least part of the conversation? Unfortunately, this is not really the case.
The environmental movement has its roots in being White-dominated; today, we need the voices of underrepresented communities to be heard more than ever. How do we do this? We stop gatekeeping the environment.
We can all do our part to make the environment feel more accessible to all different groups of people by learning more about the issues I discussed above, reaching out to people and communities who don’t have healthy and safe places to enjoy the outdoors in, and changing our rhetoric it be more inclusive. Your attitude and the way you choose to educate yourself on this issue can really go a long way. The environment should be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of race or status.