Text By Sharon Watson, TMNCPC member. Article first appeared in June 1, 2021 Coastal Prairie Chapter Courier. Images from Texas Master Naturalist Be the Change web page and Black Outside, Inc.
Texas Master Naturalists (TMN) know any ecosystem is diminished when it loses diversity. The TMN program wants to ensure it reflects gender, ethnic and economic diversity. But just as it’s easy to do the wrong thing in our eagerness to restore an unfamiliar ecosystem, people can fumble when it comes to being allies to communities they don’t know well.
As founder and board president of Black Outside, Inc., Alex Bailey fields many requests from people and organizations eager to work with his group. He very gently pushes back by asking what they know about who Black Outside serves. “Don’t just jump into allyship,” he says. “You have work to do first.”
Bailey offered his take on this work and how to be an effective ally to Black-Indigenous-People of Color (BIPOC) communities in the outdoors during a May 19 “Be the Change” online talk. Using Dr. Barbara J. Love’s “liberatory consciousness” framework, Bailey suggested would-be allies work through the following steps before engaging a community that is less familiar to them.
Awareness: Understand how the outdoor experiences of BIPOC communities and individuals differ from your own. Bailey’s female colleagues challenged him to learn more about how women of color experience the outdoors. He expanded his social network to follow more female BIPOC explorers and nature journalists. Afro Outdoor, Melanin Base Camp and Black Girls Trekkin’ are places to start.
Analysis: Reflect on personal assumptions and blind spots, as Bailey did about women outdoors. He also suggested thinking about how and whether outdoor community resources and programs serve people of a variety of classes, ethnicities and genders. Clues include community park names and locations, which parks are cared for and which not so much and why.
Action: Decide what personal steps to take to learn more about and address barriers to inclusion and equity in a program or facility.
At this point, a person is in a better position to be a good ally. When ready for that stage, Bailey recommends considering three questions:
—To what extent are you/your organization learning about BIPOC communities? To build bridges and trust, allies must be willing to understand a group’s traumas as well as its strengths and resiliency.
—How are you making space for BIPOC leadership and resources? Bailey said it’s important for BIPOC campers, hikers and naturalists to see and hear from someone that looks like them. That may call for training BIPOC leaders or giving them resources so they can run a program themselves.
—Are you taking space to advocate for BIPOC communities? This includes ensuring BIPOC community members feel safe and included at activities, events and programs. For instance, do the names of events, trails and places signal that everyone is invited?
Finally, Bailey noted an event or program designed to welcome and include the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals likely will deliver a better experience for everyone participating.