Why do outdoor recreational activities in the U.S. seem to be a middle-class white phenomenon?

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Making you feel bad about not going outside

I agree. I see lots of blacks fishing and crabbing in rural Maryland. There are not many blacks where I now live in rural PA, but the ones I know go hiking, shooting, ride RVs, etc. I suspect this is another of those rural vs. urban things rather than a black vs. white thing.

As for camping being out of reach for poor people, I disagree. I camped a lot as a kid and young adult precisely because it is inexpensive compared to most vacations. You have to enjoy being outdoors and have some outdoor skills, though, to even contemplate it. Well, not so much nowadays where camping means sleeping in an RV that has internet, electricity, bathrooms and a stove.

Bird watching? Caving? Those are really niche activities, and I have no idea.

It’s ‘obvious’ to everyone who has been educated in economic determinism. In the real world where everything isn’t actually explained by economics other posts have brought up some of the other reasons.

And actually as has been mentioned, some of the most ‘outdoorsy’ people are poor people in rural areas. Traveling to exclusive destinations or engaging in particular outdoor activities which are expensive (skiing, scuba, even belonging to a golf club) requires money, but not in general. In some cases outdoor activity like hunting or gathering plants to supplement your diet is most necessary to the poorest people. If they live in suitable areas to begin with.

Or alternatively the OP’s observation has unstated qualifications of what activities and where.

My family hasn’t been particularly ‘downtrodden’ in the last century or more AFAIK, but NY Irish. I used to camp in the Boy Scouts but it wasn’t ever a family thing as probably more likely for Anglo Saxons or even other ‘ethnics’ (German, Irish, etc) whose families moved out into the hinterlands long ago. Although skin tone-wise we’re about as white as it gets (to the point it’s a reason not to spend too much time outdoors when there’s any sun) :slight_smile: .

Also I think in recent times this is another of many things affected by people’s conscious attitudes toward assimilation to some general ‘American norm’. Some groups are now more likely to have an attitude wary of the norm as ‘what white people do’. Other distinct groups still have more of the traditional attitude of consciously moving toward the ‘American norm’.

Why I never thought about but it is changing. I teach hunter safety/education for the PGC (Pennsylvania) and 30 years ago you never saw a minority face even in the city-based classes. Now its more like 30% or better. That and the rise of girls/females as entry level hunters are MAJOR shifts we’ve seen in say the last 5 years.

I think the point is, many minorities grew up in poor families who didn’t really have a concept of “vacation,” at least not as a regular occurrence. Camping is a cheap vacation only if you amortize the cost of your camping gear over many trips.

Personally speaking.

I’ve welcomed ANY newcomer/“outsider” into any hobby in a major way. I also actually look out for the “new guys”.

Maybe some black people felt uncomfortable showing up at the XYZ club meeting…but it sure as hell wasn’t because I was the asshole.

Yes, I wasn’t trying to imply that everyone in the group would make someone feel out of place, but most black people aren’t going to feel comfortable socializing with a bunch of Confederate flag-waving white people, and with good reason, even if there are some group members who’d treat them like a person instead of a curiosity or a threat.

I think it starts with a baseline. Like you have gone on long road trips before. You’ve gone camping before. You’ve been in a canoe before.

THEN you continue these things.

I’ve learned the hard way when I’ve run canoe and camping trips that many black families have just never done things like this before.

So to deal with this your going to have to start people out. Maybe start by sleeping out first in their backyard. Go on a day hike. Try canoeing in a pool first.

No problem.

But some random minority showing up at the XYZ meeting…I/most of the people I know there are welcoming with open arms…and it often still did not take

I don’t what to say otherwise…

Also, to quote a former white, from very poor background co-worker, the attitude of “I’m not f’kin spending money on pretending to be homeless”.
My Dad had a good work friend back when I was tiny who was black (in England), and a very keen birdwatcher, as was my Dad. The friend didn’t own a car, and used to walk everywhere. This meant him regularly carrying a set of binoculars and wearing a camouflage jacket, walking miles and miles down country lanes and paths to really great birding spots, in the early hours of the morning, so he’d be there at dawn, which is often considered the best time of day for nature watching. He had an insane arrest record.


An aside…the movie the Pefect Year is a damn good movie…even it you are not a bird watcher…

A former white? Sounds like there’s an interesting story there.

So I am not the only one wondering what color he is now

There are a lot of people of all colors who don’t go for outdoor activities. Low income families lack the time and money, but anyone who grew up in city often is not exposed to rural outdoor activities. I know a lot of people who just find the idea of overnighting outdoors to be the opposite of what they consider a vacation

For recent immigrants or rural working class many of these recreational activities are/have been simply activities in their life which are no longer novel or enjoyable because they have done them far too much. My cousins in the Balkans absolutely hate “hiking” because they do plenty of walking going from home to school or to visit people everyday. To them a fun time is going somewhere there is public transportation or being able to get a ride. Likewise fishing loses its appeal for a lot of people when it’s one of only a few recreational options and done very often. Middle-class white people like to sleep on the ground because it’s something they rarely do. It’s also something they can do comfortably because they can afford nice sleeping bags. If you are poor or from a less developed country, sleeping on the ground is something you do if you can’t afford decent bedding and it sucks.

I’ve read a few magazine articles within the last year or two about the National Park Service reaching out to urban/suburban African-Americans of the middle class (who own a car) to try a more outdoorsy vacation.

A Boston resident family, for example, could drive up to Acadia National Park in a few hours. Spend the day hiking in the mountains, swimming in the lakes and ponds, having a lobster dinner, an artisinal ice cream cone afterwards, then retiring to a fairly comfortable bed in a fairly reasonable hotel/motel. No discomfort or expensive equipment necessary.

I was just out hunting this weekend and we had a nice Mexican family camping across from us. Total for the weekend I think I saw more Mexicans than Whites.

In general, I would add that there is a baseline level of knowledge that you need to enjoy a stay outdoors. It can certainly be done very cheaply >$200 per year for a family but if you don’t know how to start a campfire it can be a long boring night and while walking around looking at trees is interesting it much more fun if you know what type of tree you’re looking at or where to find a herd of deer to see.

Another example of this would be heating with wood. People who grew up with natural gas or electric heat often find heating with wood (say in a fireplace) romantic or whatever. People who grew up with heating with wood remember it as an unpleasant childhood chore and would never use wood if they can afford an alternative.

If you really want to see a “white people are crazy” expression on someone’s face explain a holiday trip to a Pick-Your-Own-Fruit orchard to an older, working class Hispanic.

I grew up heating with wood and I don’t find it romantic or unromantic: there were several times where my mom just wanted a fire or we roasted popcorn in the stove or something. But it’s definitely more romantic than a gas faux fireplace or video fireplace.

Then again I didn’t have to chop the wood. Mom either chopped it herself or we bought a cord or one time she bought a truckload of wooden pallets. Now that was fun since I would play on and in between the stacks like a cat exploring moving boxes.

Tell me about it. Until I was 15 I thought my name was “Fill the Woodbox”.