Understanding the experiences of African American outdoor enthusiasts
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The study of race/ethnicity and leisure has been an area of great interest to researchers since at least the 1970s. Numerous studies have shown that differences exist in the ways people from different racial/ethnic groups participate in outdoor recreation. Most of these studies have found that racial and ethnic minorities (i.e. non-White groups) participate in many outdoor recreation activities at proportionally lower levels than do Whites. While these studies present numerous hypotheses to help explain this phenomenon, no study has been conclusive. In this dissertation, I present a theoretical framework and three empirical studies to investigate the nuances of this issue. The first study examines the theory of systemic racism (Feagin, 2006) and its utility to deepen our understanding of the factors that play into African Americans relationship with nature and outdoor recreation. The second study analyzes narrative and historical autobiographical accounts of African Americans from the three major racial eras in United States history in order to examine African Americans’ relationship with nature over time. The third study examines the racially related constraints of African Americans who are involved in serious leisure pursuits of activities generally considered outdoor recreation, as well as African Americans who are involved in nature related careers. The constraints I found with this group are reservations of family and friends regarding being in “the woods,” collective memory and fear, being the “only one, ” discrimination and “reverse curiosity,” assumption of novice status, and balancing identity between being Black, and “acting White.” In the fourth study I analyze this same study group, but explore their experiences of being involved in serious leisure and look at the negotiation schema that this group employed to sustain participation. These negotiation schema are childhood formative experiences, realizing deep connections to nature, transcendental experiences in nature, leaning on knowledge of nature, comfort with White people/places/groups, and positive experiences with White people in nature. The four studies in this collection represent a rethinking and deepening of our knowledge of African American participation in the outdoors.
Cavin, Drew Alan (2008). Understanding the experiences of African American outdoor enthusiasts. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from