Sierra Snyder, an intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a recent graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, and a proud member of the Gamma Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Doves in the Wild is a blog providing her perspectives, and those of her Sorority sisters, on conservation and experiencing nature.
Nature, Wildlife and the Great Outdoors. Many people hear these words come out as Dirt, Bugs and Wild Animals. I know that’s what many of you are thinking because that’s what I thought before interning at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I don’t like getting dirty (especially my shoes). I have a low tolerance for bugs and I fear wild animals. However after working here, I see things differently, and I’m going to tell you why you should, too.
Not having a relationship with nature and wildlife is a longstanding problem in the Black community. Traditionally, Black folks are not known as “outdoorsy” people. This attitude can be linked to our history in this country. Yes, Black people have equal rights, but we are still fighting the lasting effects of an era of legalized racism. Now that we have the freedom to visit public lands and engage in nature conservation, why are we not jumping at the opportunity?
A survey by the National Park Service reported that 96 percent of their visitors are White. While it is disappointing to hear that people of color are not accessing and enjoying public lands, there is some rationale behind this statistic.
The year 1964 was a significant one for the Black community because of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The same year the Wilderness Act became law, protecting designated lands from human disturbance. It’s understandable if Blacks people were slightly apathetic to the advancements of nature and wildlife conservation during that time. Even though the Civil Rights Act was passed, Black people still had a long way to go. Discrimination was still alive and well, it was just deemed illegal.
Fast forward 54 years and our nation's race relations are still not great but have improved tremendously. It is now time for people of color to become more involved in the outdoors and wildlife conservation. We must work toward dispelling the stereotype that Black people are not interested in the outdoors and encourage others to visit public lands. We need to diversify every aspect of America and make our presence known.
We do this not just for us but for future generations. Nature does provide a beautiful and refreshing change of scenery, and it sustains us with clean air and water. But in many ways, conservation is about our future generations. The decisions being made now about nature conservation will directly affect our children and their children.
Just as our ancestors fought to give us a better life, each of us must fight for our descendants to be exposed to something many of us weren't. Teach them to appreciate the natural beauty of our country and how to help conserve the life that grows from it. People of color fought hard for a seat at the table. Now it's time we make the most of it.
This story is from our Open Spaces blog.