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Black Faces, White Spaces Book Club: Week 2 Summary

This month, Shaver’s Creek is hosting a book club featuring Black Faces, White Spaces by Dr. Carolyn Finney, which focuses on the underrepresentation of African Americans in the outdoors. Every Thursday of this month, we will meet on Zoom to discuss our reactions and personal connection to the content of the book. Dr. Finney herself will join us for the last meeting for an intimate conversation with book club participants. If you are not able to join us for the book club meeting but would still like to be part of the conversation, a weekly summary of book club conversations will be posted on the blog for you to read. We would love for you to share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Week 2 Summary

Our book club recently met over Zoom for its second session. We dove into the book, using our reactions to the stories it shared as inspiration for our conversation. Although the book offered a strong basis for starting the discussion, participants were quick to lean into the personal experiences present in the room.

We recognized that this conversation is not new; it has been ongoing for years and years, but we have not experienced significant change. So, if conversations, research, and protests have not inspired change thus far, what is missing? Why are we still in a state of such division and injustice? It is obvious that the efforts in place are not effective. Some people in the room even shared that protesting may have become more of a social dance than an effective push for change. With negative representation in media, some may even argue that protesting is doing more harm than good for the cause.

One specific theme that came up throughout the book is the underrepresentation of black people in popular media, especially went it comes to advertisements with an environmental focus. I brought up an experience that I had recently where I picked up a magazine from a popular outdoor company to find that there were multiple people of color pictured on every page. For a moment, I thought “Good for them for actually representing a more diverse population in their advertisements!” But then it hit me — is simply including people of color in a picture actually going to make a difference? Should this even be accepted as an appropriate stepping-stone? Or is an empty gesture offered in order to stop backlash contributing to the underrepresentation issue in the first place?

As we navigated through these large questions and shared our personal reactions, the conversation in the Zoom room ultimately came back to the possibility of one simple but powerful solution for change — personal and genuine connection to one another. Did anyone at the large outdoor company make the effort to connect with the people of color that they chose for their advertisements? Did they even spend the time to find people that could model a genuine connection to nature rather than simply modeling the color of their skin in order to check the diversity box?

One participant dove deeper into the impact that these personal connections can have and why we should be putting more focus on those, rather than only looking for large-scale societal change. If you want to make a change in the underrepresentation of people of color in the outdoors, invite a person of color to participate in an outdoor recreation activity with you. Or simply invite them to take a walk in a local green space to enjoy the natural environments that are accessible in the area. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture or an excursion to a national park. We can make connections and explore nature in our own neighborhoods. These connections not only have an immediate and highly personal impact, but personal relationships will start to break down the daunting issue of environmental justice and allow everyone to see that we are actually fighting for those people that we take walks with; people that we love.

Now, I know that the issue has deep roots and there is a lot to unravel within the larger conversation, and solving it is not literally going to be a walk in the park. However, these small gestures offer the opportunity for great impact within our own communities. People that spend time in the outdoors freely and without fear have the ability to act as a guide and a safety blanket for those that do not have the same privilege. On the flip side, this experience can also act as a teacher to people with privilege, as they may see the fear and unfamiliarity that people in their own community have when it come to our natural spaces — the same spaces that are for all of us to enjoy and protect. While this may not solve the problem, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

During our next session, we will discuss the last half of Black Faces, White Spaces, starting with Chapter 4. We would love for you to be a part of the conversation! If you are interested in joining the book club on Thursday nights at 7:00 p.m. (ET) via Zoom, please email me at ogs5011@psu.edu. Alternatively, read the book on your own by ordering a copy from one of our local partners, or keep up with these weekly book club blogs and share your thoughts in the comment section below!