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Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby maverick » Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:01 am

That's funny BMFB.
I hear that all the time, that we white folks are thrill seekers, and have no fear, and
then when we died doing some insane activity, we say "but at least they died while doing
what they loved going."
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby quentinc » Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:56 pm

Interesting question Mav. I've notice the same thing even with local day hiking trails.

As others have said, I think it's partly socioeconomic with a residual factor even for those minorities who "got over." The idea of going out of your way and spending precious time and money specifically in order to subject yourself to hardship probably seems a bit peculiar to groups who have had to struggle just to make it.

The loner issue is interesting too. Although I certainly meet that description, part of the problem for me is finding people who like more adventurous, off-trail travel. When I go with groups, the trips are usually a bit unsatisfying, except when I can squeeze in some side-trips on my own. Too bad your attempts at a HST get-together were unsuccessful.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby dave54 » Mon Mar 14, 2011 7:35 pm

The public land agencies have noted the same thing. Every few years they launch another initiative to get more ethnic minorities into the backcountry, with little success.

Some studies have indicated not only whites, but primarily northern and western European ancestries. Southern and eastern European ancestries are underrepresented compared to the general population. No one has come up with a satisfactory explanation. It's not just cultural, because the trend remains after several generations in this country, when one would assume they would be fully acculturated.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby Jimr » Tue Mar 15, 2011 10:38 am

I've seen several Asian families backpacking. Funny thing is, there's always one in the group packing in an infant. I never understood that. Regarding Mexican Americans, I can only speculate from what I've observed. Whenever I see MA's camping or spending time at the ocean, it is a family affair with many participants and a whole kitchen. All other flavors, I'm clueless.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby windknot » Tue Mar 15, 2011 5:02 pm

Lots of good, thoughtful responses to this question in this thread, and I agree with all of them. Yes, it's partly cultural. Yes, it's partly socioeconomic. Yes, most of us who spend a lot of time in the mountains/outdoors were introduced by people close to us, so if people of color don't have family or friends to take them backpacking, it follows that there aren't going to be many backpackers of color.

I think one big factor is the fact that wilderness as a romanticized ideal is a distinctly Western (and even American) theme. This has been alluded to in the discussions of the cultural factor, and it is reasonable to suggest that even after minorities have become fully assimilated into American culture, it is hard to fully adopt as inherently good the idea that exploring, often individually, has merit as an end to itself.

Granted, it's not only people of color who reject the idea that spending time and money to put yourself in a situation where you exert a large amount of energy, forsake creature comforts, disconnect yourself from your social connections and information network is a good idea for a vacation. Most of my acquaintances, Caucasians or otherwise, view backpacking with varying degrees of incomprehension/disdain/disbelief. I think it's just a very small percentage of the population as a whole who truly embrace backpacking and the outdoors, and so the percentage of minorities within this category is even smaller.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Mar 15, 2011 10:06 pm

Most of my acquaintances, Caucasians or otherwise, view backpacking with varying degrees of incomprehension/disdain/disbelief. I think it's just a very small percentage of the population as a whole who truly embrace backpacking and the outdoors, and so the percentage of minorities within this category is even smaller.


Excellent observation. In the industialized world, most people do not deal with the outdoors and nature except to worry about the weather and when the weather is good to maybe take a walk somewhere. My wife and I don't know anyone besides us, regardless of racial or ethnic origin, who wants to go into the backcountry. A small few of them will car camp where there is a modern bathroom in the campground. Most modern "civilized" humans no longer want to experience wild nature. I could go on for pages and pages on why I think this is a major issue in terms of human evolution and the future of our planet.

Most minorities in the United States live in urban areas. Check the Census figures if you need confirmation. How many people, regardless of race, who live in urban areas visit the backcountry?

As to the other excellent point raised regarding backpacking as a social experience. I don't go into the backcountry to socialize. I go to see and absorb the timeless wisdom of wilderness. I can do that best when I go with my wife (who has her own version of the same thing and who I can be completely myself with at all times) or I go solo. While I understand those who go with a group since I did it that way for many years in my teens, I'm now at an age where I want to hear that wisdom as clearly and unobstructed as possible. It's a conversation with the wild, though I won't call it a dialogue since it's mainly nature doing the talking,
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby windknot » Wed Mar 16, 2011 9:18 am

LMBSGV wrote:Most minorities in the United States live in urban areas. Check the Census figures if you need confirmation. How many people, regardless of race, who live in urban areas visit the backcountry?


This is a very salient point. I think we can all agree that exposure to any particular activity - in our case, hiking and backpacking - is one of the keys to inspiring a person's interest in that activity. Most minorities in the U.S. do live in urban areas, and how many people in truly urban areas are exposed to outdoor activities? Even institutions like the Boy Scouts which introduce thousands of kids to the mountains every year tend to be populated by suburban types, the same kids whose families are more likely to take them on family camping trips than their urban counterparts.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby maverick » Fri Oct 14, 2016 6:37 pm

HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby frozenintime » Sat Oct 15, 2016 6:40 am

thanks for resurrecting this, maverick. five years later and little has changed!

to this site's credit, i'm so happy to see that the conversation above shows a real understanding of the complicated and systemic forces at play here, as well as some basic empathy towards the 'other' (in this case, anyone that's not white). i've seen a lot of dispiriting vitriol and narrow-mindedness when this topic comes up elsewhere on the internet.

on the positive side, there is a 2016 pct hiker that keeps a blog called brown girl on the pct (https://browngirlonthepct.com/). most of it is typical daily trail stuff, but as the name of the blog implies, she also does some important thinking about being brown in a sea of white.

there's a wonderful-sounding program in colorado called big city mountaineers (http://www.bigcitymountaineers.org/) that is trying to rectify one of the problems mentioned above: easing access to this country's amazing wilderness to children of color.

this article (http://www.rgj.com/story/life/outdoors/ ... /91202800/) offers a really clearheaded account of where we are at today, including the woman who started a "hikers of color" facebook group this year and received a ton of (absurd) backlash for it.

little by little..
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby Hobbes » Sat Oct 15, 2016 8:21 am

Pretty interesting dialing back the time machine to see the genesis of the annual HST meet-up. As to under-represented activities, why isolate backpacking? There are a number of hobbies/activities that share the same type of demographic participation:

- surfing
- volleyball
- golfing
- tennis
- hot rodding (car culture)
- RVing
- fishing
- dining
- travel
- boating/sailing
- jogging
- swimming
- cycling

Perhaps the one consistent factor is economic opportunity. Not only the expenses associated with core material/equipment needs, but also the energy/time/effort required to actually participate. That is, those with professional careers may have more latent energy and desire to "get outside", along with the economic ability to afford both the necessary time & equipment.

OTOH, there are other kinds of over/under-representation as well. The HB library is a notable Neutra design and is well known in the region as a great, open air, yet quiet place. Even during the summer while school is out, the study desks are packed. You can probably guess where this is going, but yes, it's 99% Asian (from surrounding communities); no white kids anywhere to be seen.
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Oct 15, 2016 9:16 am

I don't see that it's all white folks at all.
But I run large social groups on an internet platform - meetup - and they collect people from all walks of life, lawyers, housewives, disabled folk without cars, etc. and from all ethnicities -- I have hiked with Filipinos, Native Americans, African Americans, plenty of Hispanics, plenty of East Asian (Korean, Hmong, Taiwan, Chinese, Japanese, all of 'em) and plenty of others.
It's like people who are out there all alone, seeing no one, think they can do whatever they want and get away with it -- yet thousands more people come along when they are gone to see their pile of icky toilet paper sticking out from under that rock. You're out there with everyone, one at a time. You just don't know who.
People come from all over the world to California. They all hike. They join groups so they don't have to go out there alone.
One hike last month I had ten ladies from the Bay Area. Half of them were Asian, two of them were Indian (from India).
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Re: Why mainly only caucasian backpackers?

Postby rlown » Sat Oct 15, 2016 9:22 am

interesting. My one experience was on the trail to Vogelsang. A Japanese couple. was coming up the trail and they asked me "how far?" I had to express myself in meters, or at least I felt that way in the broken english. Who hikes in heels and a sun dress? just asking. No Idea why they were going to Vogelsang as it was already closed. I do applaud their attempt towards a goal.

I have invited people of color on trips before, and they don't want to go. It does appear cultural.
Last edited by rlown on Sat Oct 15, 2016 10:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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