Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

October 31, 2020
Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes tointerest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? Inthis thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond thediscourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how thenatural environment has been understood, commodified, andrepresented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fieldsof environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies,and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, JimCrow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings ofthe "great outdoors" and determined who should and can have accessto natural spaces.Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, andpopular culture, and analyzing different historical moments,including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and theaftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived andreal ways in which nature and the environment are racialized inAmerica. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work ofAfrican Americans who are opening doors to greater participation inenvironmental and conservation concerns.