The world’s diversity is no secret. Earth is a vast planet with different environments, peoples and cultures. Each place is unique in its own way.
Many peoples’ identities lie within their cultural environment because that’s where they’ve grown up. That’s where they found their sense of community and belonging.
But what about a culturally fluid person? Where can a person who may not identify with an individual cultural group find a sense of belonging among a like-minded community?
In a world where it is easy to focus on differences, the community created through outdoor recreation focuses on a powerful similarity: a love of being outside. This can create a sense of belonging for those who are culturally fluid.
A COMMUNITY UNBOUND BY CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Antoinette Lee Toscano, an Adult Cross-Cultural Kid, Third Culture Adult and outdoor adventure sports enthusiast, says no matter where she goes, she finds a community among the people who participate in the same outdoor recreation as she does.
“A person who may feel like they are struggling to find a community [has] the outdoor community,” Toscano says. “It has its own language, customs, traditions and ways of speaking, talking and eating.”
Toscano was born in the United States. She identifies with Irish, Nigerian, Chinese, Ashkenazi Jewish and Indigenous Arawak (Jamaican) ancestry. She is also an 11-year U.S. Army veteran. Toscano spent the first three and a half years of her life in a multicultural institutional setting before being adopted by an African-American family living in the United States.
Toscano became interested in the outdoors when an occupational therapist encouraged her to try archery to help with focus and brain and body cooperation to help her traumatic brain and spinal injury. Later, she joined Team River Runner, a nonprofit organization that teaches veterans and family members paddle sports for little to no cost. Now, Toscano is a full-time adventure sports person.
Outdoor recreation is at the intersection of adventure and conservation.Antoinette Lee Toscano
Essentially, the foundation of the outdoor community is based upon a love for being outside and protecting the outdoors. Although cultural identities will undoubtedly differ, members of the outdoor community can find common ground through their outdoor lifestyles.
THE STRUGGLE FOR INCLUSIVITY
However, the outdoor community isn’t perfect. Historically, there is a long-standing lack of diversity within the outdoor community.
A 2021 report on outdoor participation trends found that nearly 75% of outdoor participants were white. Participation rates among Asian Americans declined 7% annually and remained stagnant for African Americans. While rates grew among Hispanics, they still fall far below white people.
Toscano adds that the outdoor industry is a $689 billion industry with 4.3 million jobs in the United States. Still, only 4% of black and indigenous people of color recreate in the United States. The majority who do recreate earn over $100,000 per year. This means that people who make less than $100,000, people of color and people with disabilities are not represented in the industry.
So, why is this lack of diversity present? Ideals ingrained from the age of colonialism in the Americas manifested a belief that outdoor activity appeals to white people, specifically white males. An article written by Naomi Humphrey on the National Health Foundation website states the diversity gap in the outdoors resulted from a combination of legalized segregation, economic inequality and other forms of racial violence.
These barriers evidently created a cultural stigma that the outdoors is only meant for white people to enjoy. By becoming “outdoorsy,” Toscano says she had to go against her entire culture. She says some people felt she was betraying her race by wanting to recreate outside.
“My parents and siblings felt like there was something wrong with me and that I wanted to be white because I wanted to do what white people did,” Toscano says. “I didn’t want to be white. I just wanted to be the person that I felt inside. That person didn’t have a race. They just had a desire to be outdoors.”
COMBATING THE PROBLEM AND WHITEWATER TV
The outdoors itself does not discriminate, but the current outdoor industry was built on underlying systems of oppression. So, to solve the problem, Humphrey says society has a responsibility to dismantle the methods that are widening the gap.
Toscano is an executive producer for Whitewater TV, an online platform that highlights people, places and products that fuel and support adventure sports lifestyles. According to Toscano, Whitewater TV centers formally marginalized people who are historically underrepresented in the outdoor community. This includes women, people of color, plus-sized people as well as people with disabilities. But the platform provides equitable representation for all people involved with the outdoors, including the majority white population.
Videos on Whitewater TV teach people how to recreate outdoors safely and sustainably. The platform features content for every level, whether one is a beginner, casual enthusiast or outdoor athlete.
“My whole mission for the past three years has been creating foundations that create opportunities for low income earning families, for women, for people of color, for plus-sized explorers, for people with disabilities, for black indigenous people of color to recreate at a cost they can afford and in a way that is safe and sustainable,” Toscano said.
To reiterate, the outdoors doesn’t discriminate. And organizations such as Whitewater TV are working diligently to rid the outdoor community of this diversity gap.
Hence, the outdoor community can provide a like-minded community for culturally fluid individuals who may struggle to find a sense of belonging anywhere else.
“There’s these common threads. No matter what country you’re from or your socioeconomic background, we all have this common language and way of being in the adventure sports community, and I think that’s beautiful.”Antoinette Toscano