Not even five minutes upon pulling into the campground, there was a middle-aged white woman yelling at us. We passed by this woman and her group in what seemed like slow motion. She all but banged on our windows as she peered inside, yelling angrily into our vehicle. I couldn’t help but wonder if on some small level, this was how Ruby Bridges felt as she moved through angry crowds in order to spend time in a place primarily occupied by white people. All I knew was that I was grateful to not be alone in this experience; instead I was, for the first time in my life, camping with other black women.
I entered into this camping situation with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I had high hopes for camping with other black people, knowing full well that bonds would be formed, experiences would be validated, and that I would feel free to be no more and no less than my very black self. But as excited as I was, and as curious as I was to turn heads with our unapologetic blackness, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a tiny bit worried about the reactions of our white camp neighbors. The discomfort of white people has historically had dire consequences for people of color, so I kept that in mind as we entered the campground donning afros, tapered cuts, and waist-length box braids.
I do not know if I can adequately illustrate how rare this is—three black women spending time together camping in the wilderness. There are, of course, reasons for the lack of black and brown people in outdoor spaces, most of which are rooted in oppression and the misuse of power. So to have found other black women with a love for adventure and the outdoors was a gift I didn’t know I needed.
In this gift, I have found both safety and validation, and interestingly enough, this safety and validation go hand in hand. There is a sense of security that comes in shared experiences, past or present. It is grounding to feel free to talk about race and topics surrounding race without sensing a time limit to the discussion, the uneasy shifting of bodies, or the subtle changing of subjects. There is safety in being met with understanding instead of discomfort and hostility.
This weekend, I talked about body image without having to explain that there is no separating discussions about bodies from discussions about race. I easily moved from conversations about Harry Potter and the merits of young adult literature to crying over stories of racial identity formation. I listened to four hours of indie pop and also spent time doing a collective close-read of Jay-Z’s latest album. I watched my friend secure a wide brimmed hat over her afro using tight chin straps, and I nodded with shared understanding as another friend said, “In high school I was told that I wasn’t really black because of the music I listened to.” This weekend, I not only talked about, but also experienced the expansive reach of blackness, all while taking in the natural landscapes that I hold dear. The only thing that could have made it better would have been even more blackness.
To my black brothers and sisters who have not yet fallen in love with the outdoors, do so with other black people; it is an experience you’ll want to repeat over and over again. And to my fellow black adventurers who think you’re the only ones, know this: WE OUT HERE.