This New Instagram Account Is Sharing All Of The Ways In Which BIPOC Take Up Space In The Outdoors
We absolutely love connecting with with individuals who are dedicated to visually amplifying the voices of BIPOC in the outdoors. A huge part of cultivating equity in outdoor spaces is challenging current stigmas and stereotypes while simultaneously sharing visible stories. We were excited to connect with Solimar Fiske curated the Instagram feed TakingUpSpaceOutdoors - this small and relatively new account has a big impact on how we see communities of color taking up space in the outdoors.
When and why did you create this community/space?
On January 1, 2018 I decided to take on the 52 Hike Challenge Adventure Series. The new challenge would allow me to take on a new hobby of hiking, and the exciting part was I would get to be outdoors! I would also get to hike and see 52 different places. This was so exciting to me. Doing this challenge, I would benefit physically, mentally and spiritually. My hope in doing this challenge was to be able to meet new people who share the love of the outdoors.
Once I started the 52 Hike Challenge, I soon realized I rarely saw individuals who looked like me; that is BIPOC on the trails. To feed my curiosity I started researching online, and I soon discovered there was indeed a lack of diversity, equity, inclusion and representation in the outdoors. On Instagram I discovered @wecoloroutside, @blackgirlstrekkin; @melaninbasecamp, @unlikelyhikers and many others who are advocating to change the current narrative in the outdoors spaces, as well as targeting outdoor retail companies.
Many outdoor retailers direct their products to the non-BIPOC population. I remember walking into REI, many times noticing I was the only POC in the store. Discovering what was happening in the outdoors and the outdoor retail industry, I decided I would do my part in changing the narrative by creating an IG page called @takingupspaceoutdoors. The outdoors belongs to ALL! I wished to amplify that message. In the process of doing my part to grow the @takingupspaceoutdoors community, I’m also learning so many things, such as land acknowledgement, conservation and environmental awareness. There are so many aspects of what it means to protect natural spaces and set them aside for people, now and in the future. This is huge!
Do you see a disconnect between BIPOC and the outdoors?
The first thing we must address is a lack of education. People often don’t know what is available as outdoor experiences. All too often, unfortunately, they are dissuaded by images and messages that convey exclusion from the outdoors. When they only see national parks as their option, they also see barriers of time, travel and funds. Glamorizing the outdoors in this manner is a huge disservice. Therefore, an important goal of education is teaching people that experiences of nature are not out of reach. I also want to neutralize fears associated with being outdoors. Does being in nature require one to sign up for snake bites and mountain lion attacks? Categorically “no”, I would say. I tell people how I learned about safety precautions when I go outdoors. Certainly, this is the first step. But there is a socialization barrier, as well. I might hear, “Well, that is a thing white people do.” To me this illustrates the lack of role models. If they can be educated about this, this barrier is surmountable.
Socialization also limits a person’s ideas about what constitutes “fun”. This comes from a lack of knowledge and experience. The truth is, once people are gently introduced to being outdoors, they easily come to appreciate the benefits of it. What I have said here only scratches the surface of ways BIPOC are disconnected from the outdoors.
What does it mean to “take up space in the outdoors”?
Take up space means one can go to any outdoor space and take up that space because it is one’s right to do so. Nature does not discriminate. In the outdoors, one belongs simply because one is there, no matter one’s race, age, religion, gender, ability, class, etc.
Speaking for myself, in the outdoors I am taking up space as a member of each of these under-represented communities: women, women of color, immigrants, people with indigenous heritage, people of mixed heritage, working class people, people with large bodies. There are many more I could list, but it is clear the outdoors is not an activity taken up by a singular, narrowly defined group. In other words, we would like to see more rainbows out there.
What is your long term goal?
It takes a community, or rather, many communities to change the narrative about who belongs in nature. When we succeed in this goal, a measure of its accomplishment will be diversity becomes so normal, no one even thinks about it anymore. Practically, though, this is a long journey, requiring consistent effort and inclusiveness of many communities. The theme is banding together and supporting one another. I, myself cannot do this—it will take a community. As well, one community cannot do this—we are required to work supportively and cohesively.
Another goal is communicating how utterly accessible the outdoors is. One doesn’t need travel far. I constantly discover how many different outdoor spaces are literally in my backyard. The same is true for equipment. Expensive gear is not necessary. One can use just what they have and go on easy hikes, nature walks, seashore or lakeside experiences, basically all sorts of places outdoors. To a large degree social media does not send this message. Too often posts and shares use the same iconic images of the same iconic landmarks, thereby hiding the pervasiveness of nature.
The actual face of nature and people in the outdoors are distorted in another way. A significant way this happens is by the type of people shown in the outdoors, often by outdoor retailers. To constantly see photos of young, slim, chic, energetic people is a fairy tale. The truth is one gets sweaty, dirty, tired out there. Lovers of nature don’t wear makeup or have such perfect hair and clothes. Sadly, the message is, if you don’t look this way, you don’t belong out there. It’s best we stop this intimidation and welcome anybody and everybody into nature’s places. I conclude authenticity is vital to encouraging people to own their right to be outdoors.
Who are pioneers that you look up to in the outdoor/recreational space?
I was inspired by many leaders who were previously doing the work of DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion). Because of social media, soon I discovered many people from the BIPOC community are contributing, like @teresabaker11, @outdoorism, @naturechola, and @ranznav, just to name a few. As I look at their posts, I see all sorts of contributions. It might be a solo hike, a group hike, or a family outing in nature. They are from all walks of life, and they are representing their communities. These are the people I look up to. When I see them (and others) demonstrating that BIPOC folks can go out and own their places by taking up space in the outdoors, I know this movement is taking hold. The exclusion and self-exclusion from before is melting away.