We're not the first to say it, and we won't be the last: the outdoor industry has a diversity problem. Thankfully, this is changing. While the outdoor industry has been traditionally considered a white, privileged space, more Americans—from all ethnicities—are camping than ever. Just read the 2017 North American Camping Report.
If you've ever spent a night camping under the stars, you probably understand that returning to nature is more than a fun activity—it's vital to our species' health and happiness. Nature is a right, not a privilege—and we're proud to support individuals, organizations and media collectives who are changing the landscape of our parks, trails and campgrounds and making the outdoor industry a more inclusive space for everyone regardless of where someone's from, how they look, or who they love.
An important first step begins with representation in our media. After all, it's a lot harder to imagine something you can't see. Enter: Brown Environmentalist, a new media collective started by Hipcamp Field Scout Michael A. Estrada. BE Media Collective is a collaborative, long form, and multimedia collective working to amplify the experiences, contributions and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the environment.
What is Brown Environmentalist?
BE is a collaborative, long form, and (multi)media collective aiming to chronicle the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the environment and outdoors. Part educational resource, part media collective, we are a revolving team of BIPOC filmmakers, educators, journalists, and creatives striving to uplift and influence public imagination for the empowerment of all people of color outdoors. We’re motivated by the fact that BIPOC have always been the leaders of their communities, and crucial in the protection, conservation, and stewardship of nature — historically and presently. However, because mainstream environmentalism does not acknowledge our past and ongoing contributions and leadership, our goal is to change this by helping people find resources, tell their stories, create new content together, and realign public imagination to intrinsically pair POC with leadership in the environment.
Why the name “Brown Environmentalist”?
The name was chosen very specifically. For us “Brown Environmentalist” symbolizes a current reality, a goal, and a hope all at once.
We use it firstly because it represents the fact that we have to use it so that we are included in the imagination of the word "environmentalist". The current reality is that most people would not think of people of color when they hear words such as environmentalist, or ecologist or outdoor folks, etc., and especially not as leaders in these realms.
In a more direct sense, we use it to signal our deep history with the environment and its stewardship. As an extension of this, we also chose the name as a way to voice one of our goals. It’s our hope that the work we do will create a new imagination in which BIPOC are inherently seen as the environmental leaders that they are. In this visualized future, the term Brown Environmentalist is a little redundant. If our work is successful, the word environmentalist will — on its own — stir up diverse and many images of BIPOC as its leaders and caretakers. BIPOC and environmentalist will become synonyms that pair up in everyone's mind, as will other related terms. Ultimately: a new reality via a new imagination.
What inspired you to start this collective? Was it a specific moment or movement?
The inspiration came over time, after being in the environmental and outdoor rec field for a few years. From our experiences, we felt that BIPOC voices weren’t being amplified, represented, or nourished enough and, furthermore, were often ignored in regards to the environment. Moreover, it was the fact that we knew that these histories existed — they were just being pushed aside or wholly unacknowledged.
We were further inspired because there lacked a single place for consolidated thought, story, and resources for the contributions and leadership of people of color in environmental issues, spaces, and history. We hope that alongside the things we create, we can also serve as a base of resource and knowledge for others, and most especially for students!
How has being a person of color affected your experience as an outdoors person?
Although this manifests itself in many different ways dependent on individual experiences, there are some underlying similarities.
For one, it's the emotional, spiritual, psychological, and overall (ongoing) toll that the lack of apparent and proper representation in the outdoor media takes. Apparent misrepresentation refers to the fact that while people of color are outside both enjoying nature and working to protect it, POC continue to not be proportionally represented in the media. Misrepresentation refers to the phenomenon that POC are often placed in documentaries -- or even outdoor sports videos in other countries) as a prop, i.e. next to the documentary's environmental degradation of choice — and not via images of empowerment and leadership. Both of these forms of representation are not only harmful but also inaccurate.
From this (lack of) representation, the notion that POC don’t care about the environment arises and may even seem valid. However, the truth is that it doesn’t represent reality. There’s this idea in traditional environmental spaces that POC need to be convinced to care for the planet or need to be convinced to spend time outside, but that’s a very surface explanation and outlook at the situation. BIPOC have always had a deep connection to nature, they’ve been the stewards for the planet, and they still continue to do the most to protect the environment. So yes, let’s definitely get more people outside and encourage them to do so — that is still necessary — but let’s also make the point to learn and teach this history and knowledge. After all, knowing this history is crucial, and it goes hand in hand with the realignment of our representation in the outdoors. BE is attempting to not only create new media that focuses empowering and accurate representation, but also to provide these resources so that people can reclaim this history and thus reframe our collective imagination.
Finally, it can be frustrating. Especially when POC are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and climate change. We need leadership in all fronts of environmental organizations, impacted leadership, a focus on rewriting narratives, and lastly to be intentional with what images we choose to promote. Visuals are an incredibly powerful tool in setting how we see the world around us; if the images of POC are ones that empower, respect history, name and acknowledge, then we'll begin moving to a more just and resilient future.
What are your dreams for BE?
Short term, we’d like to become one of the go-to environmental (justice) resources for everyone and anyone doing intersectional work. This includes a directory filled with curated content that already exists, new writing, people’s stories, interviews, and media. We want to be a source of knowledge and a haven for those looking to easily find the work of POC in the environment.
On the other hand, we want to be hired! We’d like to partner with people and begin producing media and content as told through POC. As we stated above, the narratives around environmental documentaries where POC are mentioned are often not ones of empowerment, and additionally aren’t being told by POC themselves. We want to offer those creative skills to the environmental and outdoor industry so that this can change. In other words, hire us! We can do video, long form writing, audio, or even an art project. We have quite the multitalented team!
What are some projects we should be looking out for?
There’s a few in the works. Although we haven’t officially announced it, we are recording episodes for our podcast TBA soon. We are partnering with a few organizations to promote content around rewriting narratives. We also have begun interviews with people of color in the outdoors, and ongoing is our series on women of color. This explores the contributions of women of color in the environment historically and presently. We’ll also be releasing some content only through the Hipcamp Journal!
Are you recruiting new members?
Yes! We’re currently expanding our team and want new writers and creatives to join. We're even seeking college interns. If you have a story, pitch it to us. Even if it’s just an idea. If you want to work on a short documentary — let us know. We also partner with organizations to help guide their creative process or complete the project for them. Ultimately, BE is meant to be for the public and should feel like anyone can contribute. And oh, we’re also looking for fiscal sponsorship. 😁
What should people take away from your work?
Ideally, we’d like for people to have learned something new. If people didn’t already have this narrative of BIPOC environmental leaders, historically and presently, then they definitely should afterward. If they’re POC, then hopefully it’s a feeling of empowerment and inspiration. It’s imperative that everyone knows that BIPOC have always belonged to the environment, and have always been — and will continue to be — its primary stewards and defenders. That’s the essence of BE.
Any final thoughts or comments?
Join us. We’re part of a greater coalition of organizations and people who are all striving to make the outdoors a more inclusive and diverse place. Check it out at diversifyoutdoors.com and follow us on Instagram, hire us, and reach out. :) Thank you!
Want to learn more? Reach out to Michael A. Estrada.