What You See Is What You Get
by Jennifer Gurecki
December 01, 2018
Tired of all of the talk about diversity and equity in the outdoors and just want to get outside and play? Teresa Baker, founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience and co-creator of the CEO Pledge, agrees with you. “Shit, we’re tired of it too. If there was more action there would be less conversation.”
There’s a myth that has served the outdoor industry quite well for decades: People of color don’t recreate outside. This myth making has allowed for a sea of whiteness to present itself as a pilar of normalcy by which everything else can be measured against. From magazines, to films, to marketing campaigns, to social media, we’ve been presented with a narrative that people of color are missing from our outdoors spaces. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth, says Baker.
“To say people of color are not in the outdoors is discouraging. It makes our history appear irrelevant…We are in outdoor spaces, have been for ages. Due to lack of recognition on websites and social media feeds, the impression is that we are not in these spaces and that we don't care about these spaces. That impacts how people view us. Thus our stories are forgotten, erased and manipulated, which makes it easy to exclude us in marketing campaigns, which further adds to the visual of POC not being in outdoor spaces.”
Baker’s been playing outside since she was a kid. Growing up in California, she was surround by redwoods and coast lines, and couldn’t get enough of either. As she got older, she recognized that the things she loved would soon disappear if there wasn’t a stronger effort to protect them. Enter the African American Nature and Parks Experience, a platform that engages communities who are currently missing from the conversation on conservation through various events that encourage them to experience national, state, regional and local parks. “We’re fighting for the environment. The more people you have at the table fighting for our outdoor spaces, the better. We need more people.”
Fast forward five years and now Baker has a another initiative: The CEO Pledge. The CEO Pledge is designed to move the outdoor industry towards authentic inclusion by pairing leading outdoor brands in one-on-one relationships with inclusion advocates to advance representation for people of color across the industry. Fifteen companies have signed on thus far, and Baker is serious about companies who sign this pledge following through. “I don’t want people signing the pledge for the hell of it. You will be held accountable,” she said.
Beyond the pending environmental disaster that Baker is determined to avoid, her work has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with business. In the next 20 years, the United States will have a majority non-white population. If that population doesn’t have a connection to the outdoors, we can expect to see declining sales in retail and lower than average visits to resorts and national/state parks.
While her mission has been consistent, her approach has changed a bit. “When I first started doing this work I was loud and I didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. I mean I still don’t give a shit what people think but my approach is a little bit different now that I’m working with brands and it’s a business.”
Her message to outdoor brands? You must act. “You can no longer stand in the middle, with one foot on each side. One side industry, one side diversity and inclusion. The time has come, take a stand. Diversity and inclusion is not about division.” She acknowledges that brands might not be used to putting a person of color on their magazine or in social but she says that’s ok. “It’s ok to feel uncomfortable.”
You don’t have to be a company to be a part of creating a more diverse outdoor community. Baker’s advice? Look at your social media and take inventory on who are you following. Google “diversity in outdoors” and watch all of the names that pop up.
Start following these organizations of color. While it might seem difficult to find people of color in the outdoors, she disagrees. “It’s simple to me and I’m like damn, I don’t get why it’s complicated. The only reason why it can be so complicated is because you are not trying.”