July 13, 2015
U.S. national parks attracted nearly 293 million visitors in 2014—a record high. But in a country boasting a sub-65 percent White population, nearly 80 percent of the national park visitors are White. Which is not okay.
Non-Whites just collectively lack interest in national parks. What’s to blame? Why, White racism, of course!
A neighbor, Carla DeRise, has been to Mount Rainier and other parks, and is game to go again. She just can’t get any of her friends to come along. They are worried about unfriendly white people, hungry critters and insects, and unforgiving landscapes, said Ms. DeRise, 51, an African-American. So she mainly hikes alone, albeit with some anxiety. “I don’t have a weapon,” she quipped. “Yet.”
I also live in one of the Rainier neighborhoods, close to where I grew up, the son of a Japanese mother. I met my oldest friend in the Boy Scouts, an African-American from a family that, like mine, frequented the parks. In college, he and I led outings for minority student groups.
There was always nervous banter as we cruised through small rural towns on our way to a park. And there were jokes about finding a “Whites Only” sign at the entrance to our destination or the perils of being lynched or attacked while collecting firewood after the sun went down. Our cultural history taught us what to expect.
But wait! White racism isn’t the sole problem. Insufficient levels of affirmative action is as well:
The place to start is the National Park Service. About 80 percent of park service employees in 2014 were white. The parks’ official charity, the National Park Foundation, has four minority members on its 22-person board.
Minorities did not exceed 16 percent of the boards or staffs of some 300 environmental organizations, foundations and government agencies included in a 2014 study for Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity in such institutions. Minorities hold fewer than 12 percent of environmental leadership positions, and none led an organization with a budget of at least $1 million, the study found.
Forget the author’s emphatic declaration that “we need to demolish the notion that the national parks and the rest of nature are an exclusive club where minorities are unwelcome.”
We need to demolish the notion that the diversification of everything in this already over-diversified country will transform it into some sort of magical multicultural paradise.