Blackness in the American Outdoors: a COVID Keywords Conversation

Access to nature and the outdoors has long been considered one of many personal health benefits connected to environmental health. This access is also the prerequisite for participation in key aspects of culture such as conservation, agriculture, life sciences, natural history, and a long legacy of art and storytelling inspired by the natural world. By a variety of means, including housing discrimination, violent policing, and environmental racism, Black people and communities have always faced significant barriers to free and equitable access to healthy outdoor environments in the United States.

As life with COVID-19 continues to reveal deep-seated social inequities in new ways, this panel will look at how Black folks in America are facing the changing relationship to public space and the concept of the outdoors during the pandemic and ongoing protests against systemic racism and police brutality. While we are unequally burdened by new regulations and vastly underserved by government response, we can also name and seize new opportunities for public joy, protest, and presence.

Participants include:

  • Grace Anderson, co-director of PGM ONE (People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature & the Environment)
  • Carolyn Finney, Author, Storyteller and Scholar-in-residence at the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College
  • Cauleen Smith, interdisciplinary filmmaker Joanne Douglas, Watershed Interpretation Manager at Bartram’s Garden, and member of Kosmologym, an arts and game-design collective.
  • Aay Preston-Myint (facilitator), visual artist and Program Manager at Headlands Center for the Arts

About the COVID Keywords Conversations:

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated policies, guidelines, and practices have laid bare fundamental, systemic inequities, tensions, and sites of struggle and power coursing through our cultural and social frameworks. As an extension of Headlands’ Thematic Residencies—our cross-sectorial convening and residency program—the Keywords Conversations take their name from both a “keyword” project that resulted from a Headlands Thematic Residency on climate equity, and from Raymond Williams’ essential work, Keywords, a collection of cultural histories of words as sites of struggle.