As the founder of Brown People Camping, Ambreen Tariq campaigns for more inclusivity in the outdoor industry and encourages people of all races to get outside, in whatever way possible.
For Ambreen Tariq, being an American and loving the outdoors are one and the same. Soon after immigrating to Minnesota from India at age 8, she and her family started exploring their new home through hiking and camping. “It was very important in developing my own sense of self here,” she says. Only as an adult did Tariq, who works for the Department of Labor, grow increasingly bothered by the fact that she and her family were often the only people of color out there. So, Tariq launched an Instagram account (@BrownPeopleCamping) to push the conversation about increasing diversity in the outdoors. Now, she has 5,000 followers and counting.
1. Why did you decide to start Brown People Camping?
Around the Centennial of the National Park Service last summer, the conversation about diversity in the outdoors started coming up more and more. It inspired me that people were talking about it so openly. So in August I thought, hey, why don’t I do this? I want to join the national conversation and share my experience. A big goal of mine is to get the momentum going: Can we all share our stories, and talk about what it is about the outdoors that’s so impactful on our lives? Ultimately we can grow our community of outdoor lovers, people who are willing to integrate the outdoors into their lives and protect it for future generations.
2. What makes Instagram the right platform to encourage diversity?
Instagram is extremely powerful. There are a million ways to take a photo of a tree, and they all show a different perspective of how someone could look at it. There’s a kinship when you share that photo. We can connect on this level, that we find this particular thing beautiful.
People of color and people who identify as minorities in the outdoors have reached out to thank me for sharing my stories. Some have even said that following my account helped them not feel as alone in the outdoors community. I am a total stranger, but simply by sharing an image and a story, I can have such an intimate connection with someone. That’s so profound and moving.
3. Has the current political climate influenced your campaign?
Absolutely. When you go outdoors, you meet people with a lot of different politics, especially in this political climate where we’re talking about Muslims as “other.” I’m Muslim, and it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. But being outdoors, that all just stops and you’re having a moment, cutting out all that noise. There are so many negative political voices trying to make me feel less American, and I like to push back on that. Talking about public lands and the role they have played in my life is a proud part of my identity, and I like to share that. This is our land, our taxes go to it, and it’s just as much a part of our heritage. I want to encourage other immigrants to go out there and find that rich, empowering connection to American land.
4. Why do you think the outdoors has been traditionally seen as a place for white people?
It’s an expensive hobby when you’re brand-new to a culture like this. I was exposed to it at a young age, but most people don’t have that to fall back on. Parks are often in rural places, and you have to set aside time and money to get there. A lot of people I know don’t feel comfortable in the outdoors community because they can’t identify with the people around them. Another aspect is the extreme caricature of what it means to be an outdoor enthusiast. People say, it’s not really camping unless you’re doing it for days in the backcountry. But the outdoors is whatever you want it to be. If you want to glamp, glamp. If you want to go in an RV, fine.
5. What does the outdoor industry need to do to be more inclusive?
I would beg brands to rethink the way they approach their advertising campaigns and think about diversity. There’s consistency in the way that people are used to model outdoor gear: Often, they are young, thin, white people enjoying extreme adventures. It’s very hard to regularly find people I identify with in advertising campaigns. I would push companies to make it not just a diversity campaign—make it normative. Diversity should be a regular part of your visuals. People need to see themselves in the outdoors to want to be outdoors. It’s not just trying to attract customers of color. It’s acknowledging that diversity is important, period.
And if we don’t grow, these hobbies will dwindle. The writing is on the wall: People of color are a growing segment of the American population. Everybody has a role to play, from retailers to brands to consumers to politicians, to think about what it means to make people feel comfortable in the outdoors.
This article was originally published on p.60 of Outdoor Retailer Daily's Day 3 issue.