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‘Brown People Camping’ shows the outdoors are for everyone

"Brown People Camping" creator Ambreen Tariq in Arches National Park (Photo courtesy of Brown People Camping)
LISTEN: Brown People Camping encourages people of all races and backgrounds to get outside

Ambreen Tariq began camping as a child in Minnesota.

“Me and my sister and my parents moved to America when I was about eight years old, from India,” Tariq said. “Definitely a struggling immigrant family, but the Minnesota culture very much embraces the outdoors. Everybody is out there hunting and fishing and camping and hiking. My parents saw that and I think they wanted their children to experience American culture.”

“From my first introduction to the campground to the outdoors, we were always pretty much the only people of color out there,” she said. “At that time that didn’t seem strange to me because I was an immigrant and I was always feeling like an outsider.”

Now, as an adult, Indian-American woman living in Washington D.C. with her husband, she still doesn’t see many people who look like her on trails and at campgrounds. So she started the Instagram page Brown People Camping, a photo essay of her experiences in the outdoors meant to encourage others to join her.

“When you look around and you don’t see anyone like you, you feel like you stand out,” Tariq said. “That in itself has a way of building anxiety and discomfort for people, barring some people from even getting outdoors. For me, I’m not a professional hiker, I don’t go backpacking, but I love the outdoors.”

“But so many people in my community, whether they be women of color or South Asians or immigrants or Muslims, I’m not seeing the people that I love in my life outside in a place that I love,” she said. “So it became important to me to start sharing that and making people feel comfortable trying to get out there and experience something that they didn’t feel was for them.”

“Often times you’ll hear, ‘Well, that’s something white people do,'” she added. “What Main Street looks like should be what the Appalachian Trail looks like. Our outdoor spaces need to reflect the faces of the rest of America.”

Aside from the fact that camping or hiking may be new to some cultures, transportation is a big prohibitive factor. In this country, getting out to trails and campgrounds and national parks is virtually impossible without a car.

Tariq thinks outdoor gear companies can also do their part through advertising and marketing. If you see someone that looks like you in an ad, out on the trail, you’ll know it’s a place where you also belong.

“It’s not just about sticking in a person of color here and there,” Tariq said. “This is something I’m very passionate about. For me it’s about making it normative. Body images, people of color, different hair, people of all walks of life. Images and ads, they are signaling as well as representation. When I see that this company is signaling to me that they embrace diversity, that is extremely important.”

With Brown People Camping, Tariq also wants to send a message that people don’t have to be hardcore. They don’t have to have fancy gear. Anyone can get outside.

“I do my hair before I go camping. I wear makeup,” she said. “We’ve created this caricature of what it means to be outdoors. If you do not fit this caricature of being John Muir, then you are not an outdoors person. And that’s false. I want people to have positive experiences. If you want to bring an inflatable mattress, bring it.”

“When [my husband and I] camped, we used to download Walking Dead and we used to watch it on our iPad because we couldn’t fall asleep when the sun set,” Tariq said. “Do whatever you want to do to enjoy the outdoors, there isn’t one way to do it. I really do believe that the outdoors is for everyone, it’s just a matter of finding what it is you enjoy doing out there. It may just be going to a cookout in the park. I think there definitely is a space for everybody out there.”

As Woodie Guthrie once said: This land is your land, this land is my land. So use it! Not only to enjoy it but to participate in keeping it protected for years to come.

“Our country is growing more diverse, our demographics are growing more and more diverse, but our natural spaces, our environmentalists, our agencies, those faces are not being reflected in the diverse demographics of America,” Tariq said. “If we don’t get more people of color outside enjoying it, we’re just not going to have enough people in future generations to stay and protect that environment. So it’s sort of this twofold, that this is America, this is our land, we need to be enjoying it and loving it and getting the benefits of the outdoors, but at the same time also growing the community of people who love it enough to stay and fight for it and protect it.”

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