Ever been Black in the backcountry? I once led a trip of college students into the backcountry of Southern Indiana. Ours was a diverse group of students who had learned outdoor living skills that week. The time had come to shoulder packs into the wilderness.

We hiked for over an hour before coming to Saddle Creek. We dropped our gear for a 10-minute break before crossing making a stream crossing. After I dropped my pack, I noticed two camouflaged hunters in the shrubs nearby. Not out of the ordinary for autumn in what we call Kentuckiana. A lot of hunting spills into this wilderness area. And even when the two came over to talk up a few of the cuter students, that did not particularly concern me. These things happen on trips. When they shouldered their firearms to leave, I paid attention, but I wasn’t worried. But I was watching. Which is why I noticed when they passed by one of my students who happened to be Black and said clearly, “Keep walking.”

WTF? But that wasn’t what floored me. When my student looked up at me, his was not a look of surprise. Nor was it one of defensiveness. The look on his face was one acceptance. It was no surprise at all to him that he experienced racism. Not even in the middle of the woods, 30 miles from the closest town. Just another day in the life of a Black man in America.

This surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. I’ve worked in outdoor recreation for over 20 years. For a decade we’ve discussed why people of color aren’t more involved in outdoor recreation. There are reasons. I’ve talked to my friends about it. More often than not, there’s no way they’re gonna sleep in a tent in the middle of the woods. I have to say, my understanding increased on that trip. We don’t have more people of color in outdoor recreation because our nation is dangerous. It has been. And it is now more than before.

I listen to people tell a story, “There’s this Black woman….” or distinguish John Smith as “the Black man.” Or when people describe the scene of a story by saying, “…and there were 3 or 4 Black people in there.” I want to ask, “What’s Black got to do with it?”

If #AllLivesMatter, why assert #BlackLivesMatter no more than any other color of skin? Why this need to make sure White people have not lost value? Are we expanding relevance to Native? Are we including other injustices like sexual assault? Are we actually saying, “Policemen are people too?”

Or are do we fear that acknowledging injustice to others consents to injustice against ourselves? As though there is a finite amount of justice to be shared. As though justice is either ours or theirs. As though justice for us depends upon the injustice afforded others. Must justice come at others’ expense? What became of liberty and justice for all?

What’s Black got to do with it? It’s that people like those two White hunters felt a need and an entitlement to threaten a young Black man. It’s that Black lives matter less in our society. And still, we justify that. There is no justifying an armed racist threat in the backcountry. Still, I hope that young man did continue walking. I hope we all keep walking, even in the face of racism institutionalized at the highest positions of our country. As Martin Luther King Jr. said…

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”


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