The whitewashing of National Parks

Our public lands aren’t as inclusive as you might think. But conservationists of color are trying to change that.
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It’s National Park week, and while many of us see that as a celebration of our shared public lands, it’s not such a rosy story for people of color. Angela Fichter, a freelance writer and digital journalist, tells that story in her latest Grist video

From land stolen or coerced from Native Americans, to full participation in Jim Crow, to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s policies on diversity and access, the National Park system has alienated non-white Americans since its inception in 1916, says Fichter. It’s no wonder people of color make up only 20 percent of park visitors, while they compose almost 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to National Park Service and U.S. Census data.

The idea that the parks belong to everyone doesn’t hold up against the facts. And if they don’t belong to everyone, why should anyone care about them? “Representation and visibility in the outdoors sends a message that conservation actually is a viable career path for more Americans,” Fichter says. “With demographics quickly shifting, the conservation movement needs people of color to sustain it.”

We still have a long way to go in the outdoor industry, but a number of leaders say we are getting better at diversity. In this opinion piece, Yoon Kim agrees.


Kristen Soderman entered this photo in the 2015 National Park Photo Contest sponsored by Tamron.

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