After social distancing protocols forced countless Americans into isolation for the winter, many of us strive to meet Mother Nature and the great outdoors with enthusiasm. While the pandemic has exposed structural inequalities in everything from health care to education to housing, less attention has been paid to the natural environment. And like most American institutions, the outside space – and especially the access to it – has been socially and physically constructed by white supremacy and settler colonialism.
In his 1869 book Switzerland of America: A Summer Vacation in the Parks and Mountains of ColoradoJournalist Samuel Bowles III wrote that the beautiful United States is the outdoors “amusement park and health home of the nation.” When European colonists first looked at North America, they saw it as “undeveloped, “Ripe for the instrumentalization – it doesn’t matter that it was hardly uninhabited. Several centuries later, after the immeasurable destruction of natural resources to create an often lavish urban and suburban sprawl, the seemingly pristine natural areas took on a new meaning.
“The great outdoorsWas built as a place to escape the stresses of modern life and be more in touch with nature. We like to think of the nature that this country has cared for – national parks and public parks, campsites and nature reserves – as representatives of our democratic ideals: they are there for everyone. But that refutes its origin. Through military and legislative interventions such as that of the Mariposa Battalion violent assault By the village of Ahwahneechee in 1851, which drove the remaining indigenous people out of Yosemite, these places were mainly cultivated for whites. Early conservationists like Bowles or the Honored John Muir or Madison Grant (who wrote one of the basic texts of the American eugenics movement, The Death of the Great Race: Or the Racial Basis of European History), weren’t shy about advocating racial exclusivity: when they spoke of the importance of nature to our nation, they were referring to the white nation.
The picturesque picture of the American road trip to a national park? Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was mostly for whites. The eradication of non-white issues is inextricably linked to the American wilderness project: the land that the US federal government annexed into national parks became “available”. only through the forcible removal of the indigenous people.