Nature Connection as Resistance
Why is it important for people of color and LGBTQ+ communities to connect to nature?
"Change in this world is about finding commonality and bridging, and bridging happens on the land."
For centuries racism, trans-phobia and oppression has served as a tool to alienate people of color and LGBTQ+ communities and a resource to alter the way in which these communities benefit from the medicinal benefits of positive nature connection. It has also served as a means of erasing these communities from the historiography of the outdoor field which perpetuates the disconnect due to a lack of representation.
Pre-colonial communities held positive relationship with the natural world . Africans who were brought to Turtle Island during the transatlantic slave trade were forced to work the land in way that led to violence, trauma, and often death. Yet the wilderness for Africans also presented an opportunity.. To escape captivity meant the freedom to search for a safer environment, but also meant that your skills of survival were going to be put to the test in the woods. Eventually slaves who became farmers had no incentive to engage with the land in positive ways because their hard work was benefiting their oppressor, they were often being left behind in environmental policy. This fostered negative relationships and complex dynamics between people of color and the land. First Nations communities were displaced and their land stolen in order for the new world to become prosperous. This fostered negativity with the land as well as so many other complex dynamics, and we are still seeing these communities left out of environmental justices today.
LGBTQ+ folks are also led to believe that nature did not create them properly, and that nature itself lives through a gender binary. This in fact, is wrong. Many plants are able to embody both masculine and feminine body parts when the time serves in order to fulfill their needs of reproduction and creation. In addition, trans and non-binary individuals are held in high esteem by indigenous communities due to their ability to provide assistance in any role within the community, and harness both the masculine and feminine energies of the gods.
As a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community it can be hard to create a relationship with the land. This quote is from Sir Fredrick Douglass' address to the Tennessee Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association explains how people of color are a key role in the creation of the agricultural industry and the ways in which racism has affected the ability for them to associate healing with the natural world.
Sir Frederick Douglass
Tennessee Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association Address 1873*
“What possible motive had the slave for a careful, successful cultivation of the soil? What concern could he have for increasing the wealth of the master, or for improving and beautifying the land?" [wealthy masters were less likely to work in the fields with the slaves, so wealth served to increase the distance and break down any sympathy between the master and slave. Therefore], "it was in the best interest of the slave to make the rich man poor, and the poor man poorer." [The soil] "was cursed with a burning sense of injustice… slavery fostered anger and hatred in the slave, and fields could not be lovingly planted nor faithfully cultivated in it’s presence.”
“Yet In color form and features we are related to the first successful tillers of the soil; to the people who taught the world agriculture... While Briton and Gallic faces wandered the forests like beasts of prey, the people of Egypt and Ethiopia rejoiced in well cultivated fields and abundance of corn."... [But prejudice has] "driven the negro in great numbers from the countryside into large cities, and into menial positions, where we easily learn to imitate the vices and follies of the least exemplary whites”.
The quote below provides and example of W.E.B Du Bois' difficulty accessing the great outdoors due to the "Jim Crow waiting room"
W. E. B Du Bois
“Did you ever see a Jim Crow waiting room?... to buy a ticket is torture; you stand and stand and wait and wait until every white person at the other window is waited on. Then the tired agent yells across because all off the tickets and money are over there. What? What d’ye want? What? Where? The agent browbeats you and contradicts you, hurries and confuses the ignorant, gives many persons the wrong change, compels some to purchase their ticket at a higher price, and send you and me out on the platform, burning with indignation and hatred”.
The Rusty Anvil is an educational organization reconnecting people of color and LGBTQ+ communities to the medicine of nature and their place within themselves and the natural world through mindful wilderness trips and place-based skills gatherings in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Berkshire county is rich in natural beauty, yet access to these experiences is not properly distributed.
In the recent years I have truly come to understand the ways that racism, trans-phobia/homophobia, and oppression has served as a tool to exclude people of color and LGBTQ+ communities from the outdoors. Through my work in mindfulness nature connection, I engage participants to come to understand how these ancestral experiences have led to negative and unsafe experiences in association with land and wild spaces. These experiences have manipulated the way people of color and LGBTQ+ communities engage with nature, and has pushed them heavily into urban and industrialized spaces. This lifestyles away from a relationship to the natural world has contributed to the physical, mental, and social pathologies commonly seen within these communities. I focus on nature connection as a means of self-discovery, healing, and resistance to oppression.
*excerpts cited from Smith, Kimberly, "W.E.B Du Bois, Racial Inequity and Alienation From Nature" Engaging Nature: Environmentalism And The Political Theory Canon
edited by Peter F. Cannavo and Joseph H. Lane JR. The MIT Press, 2014, pp. 227-229