Tag Archives: African-American

April POC Travel Book Club

Hey people, I moved the POC Travel Book Club over to TinyLetter so sign up here if you wanna join! April’s book club pick is Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, available on both Kindle and in print at the link above, and we’ll be discussing it on Sunday, April 30th at 3pm EST via Google Hangout. For those of you who’ve been unable to join us, here’s a list of the books we’ve read in the past:

  • Migritude by Shailja Patel
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks
  • Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
  • Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat by Paula Young Lee

More on Black Faces, White Spaces:

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

Happy reading!

Writing Outside the Mainstream #Dispatch: Elaine Lee

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Elaine Lee is an avid world traveler, travel writer and media maven. She is the editor of Go Girl: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure as well as a freelance travel writer who has contributed to numerous national and local magazines, newspapers and webzines. Her travel stories generally address subjects such as African American travel trends, adventure, women’s travel issues, spirituality, solo travel, health, budget travel and travel planning. She has also contributed stories to five anthologies and two books.

Bani Amor: With Go Girl!, did you get the sense that you were doing something radical, even if that wasn’t your intention?

Elaine Lee: At the time that I put together my book I could not find any other travel books geared to the African-American traveler, so I knew it was a novel idea, but never thought of it as ‘radical’, per se. Since my book has come out there have been at least 20 more written on the subject so I feel honored to be a maverick of sorts.

Bani: What kind of response did you get from African-American woman travelers after Go Girl! came out?

Elaine: Spirited. Almost all book signing events were standing room only but I didn’t get as much press as I thought I would. I only sold 5,000 books but had expected to sell the 7,000 published and be in my second edition by now.

Bani: What has your experience with racism been like in the travel media biz, if any?

Elaine: I primarily write for the African-American travel audience and have rarely crossed over to the mainstream. African-American travel does not seem to be of interest to the mass media.

Bani: Was that a choice you made – not to cross over to the mainstream – or was it more circumstantial?

Elaine: Both – I am primarily interested in reaching the African-American traveler but don’t really have any other options anyway.

Bani: If you could change one thing about travel media, what would it be?

Elaine: I wish there was a way that I could produce or host a black travel television show.

Bani: Which people of color have inspired you in your adventures?

Elaine: Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, Nancy Prince and Ida B. Wells.

Bani: What advice would you give young travel writers of color starting out in the industry?

Elaine: Its a difficult field to break into but folks are carving out niches and succeeding. I was recently invited to audition to host a TV show for The Travel Channel. Even though I didn’t get the job, the fact that they sought me out and considered me means having a black person doing mainstream travel TV is a possibility. Look how well Tracey Findley, Evita Robinson and Rue Mapp are doing!!! There is hope. Follow your bliss and doors will open.

Closing The Adventure Gap #Dispatch: James Mills

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Enter a captionJames Edward Mills is a freelance journalist, independent media producer and founder or The Joy Trip Project. Working in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer and photographer, his experience includes a broad range of expeditions that include mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing and kayaking. He is currently a contributor to several outdoor-focused print and online publications that include National Geographic Adventure, Rock & Ice and Alpinist. His first book, The Adventure Gap (Mountaineers Press) is available here.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

James Mills:  I’m a freelance journalist specializ[ing] in creating stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living. I also have a direct interest in issues of diversity and environmental justice.

I recently decided that I’m not a travel writer. I’m a writer who happens to travel. I don’t think they are the same things. Travel writing is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t often include the things that I write about. The same goes for adventure writer but to a lesser extent. I definitely write about adventure, but not for adventure’s sake. My focus is primarily on individuals whose work includes a higher purpose in adventure or exploration that has a humanitarian focus or an interest in environmental protection.

For example I’ve written a lot about Shannon Galpin who has done quite a bit of work in Afghanistan on behalf of the empowerment of women and girls through the creation of the first national female cycling team. Travel, adventure definitely, but in the pursuit of a much higher cause.

Bani:  So what was the spark that got you in the outdoors in the first place?

James: When I was 9 years old my brother and I joined a Boy Scout Troop in Los Angeles that was heavily into backpacking and mountaineering. From then on through high school I spent at least one weekend every month camping somewhere, primarily in Southern California. When I graduated from college I took up rock climbing and then got a job doing outdoor retail at REI in Berkeley. From there I worked for the North Face in sales and started my own agency in the midwest in 1992. I’ve been here ever since.

Bani:  Awesome. Was there a particular instance that inspired you to start writing with a “higher purpose” in mind?

James:  It was right after 9/11 when I decided I wanted to make a career change from sales into journalism. At the time I felt like no one was really doing much to tell the stories of people trying to save the world while there seemed to be plenty of those trying to destroy it or capitalize off of the suffering of others. Since I started writing professionally those are the topics that I’ve felt most drawn to and passionate about.

Bani:  Which leads us to your first book, The Adventure Gap. Could you tell us more about how the project came about?

James:  I’d been writing about diversity in outdoor recreation for a while. I produced a documentary for an NPR program on the Buffalo Soldiers as well as several magazine stories. I was working on a piece about diversity in the National Park Service when I became acquainted with the newly appointed director of diversity and inclusion at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin. I was originally interviewing her on her role in making the most prominent outdoor education institution more relevant to people of color.AG-Cover003

That conversation led to a much deeper discussion on what practical steps one could take toward achieving the goal of great inclusivity. A few weeks later I got an email from her asking me what I thought about putting an all African-American team on the summit of Denali.  I naturally thought it was a great idea and asked what I could do to be a part of it. I knew right away that it would make for a great story and of course a book.

Bani:  Expedition Denali was a game-changer! What are your hopes in how the book is received?

James:  Well I hope that it will sell a million copies! But the reality is I’m concerned that it will fall on deaf ears. Our modern world is too full of people today who simply won’t understand why this was such a landmark event. Even though the team didn’t summit, it set in motion a conversation about a critical issue that each of us, regardless of race, will have to face at some point in the future – a profound lack of support for environmental protection among the majority of the US population. But because there are so many people prepared to deny that diversity in outdoor recreation is important, we’re going to face an uphill fight to create a movement toward greater inclusion. I can only hope that I succeeded in writing a compelling enough adventure story that will captivate readers’ attention long enough to make them think about the book’s primary message and overall theme.

Bani:  Addressing the whitewashing of adventure media is one thing, but how do we effectively continue a conversation around environmental and conservation issues within our own communities of color? You’re challenged with getting white outdoorsy people and urban-dwelling people of color to agree on something.

James:  As a person of color by definition if I continue to travel, adventure and write my way through life I’m contributing to the diversity of outdoor recreation. I can also try to tell the story of people of color out there pushing the boundaries of the field and illustrate their efforts to defy notions that suggest that these are things the black and brown folks don’t do.

I’m pretty cynical to the belief that I’ll ever convince anyone to think differently about these issues. As a writer and a journalist all I can really do is tell the truth as I see it. As an athlete, now that both my legs work properly again, all I can do is push the boundaries of my abilities and do it with style.

Bani: Why do you think that lie – that black and brown folks just don’t care about nature – is so pervasive? Do you think that’s just the fault of poor representation in media or an intentional notion of white supremacist thinking?

James:  Unfortunately it’s a lie that we perpetuate among ourselves. Young people are given a very clear message that unambiguously says, “black people don’t…” There are stereotypes that we impose upon ourselves and people in our community that are so thoroughly entrenched that to do anything contrary to this common belief is to be “less black” or trying to “act white”.

The consequence of going against the accepted definition of what it means to be black in America today is to be ostracized by one’s peers or even one’s own family. Who wants that? So we perpetuate the lie in order to fit in, but we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience something that is not only wonderful but part of our birthright as human beings, spending time outdoors in pursuit of something extraordinary, an ecstatic experience in the natural world.

Bani:  What are your plans for after the book release?

James:  Sell, sell, sell! I’m coming full circle on my career, but now I’m pushing a product of my own creation. I want to write popular fiction and hopefully create compelling characters – people of color – who exemplify the best qualities of stewards dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural world.

Bani:  Sounds like a plan!

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