As much as we’d like to think that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in 2019, we’re far from that being a reality. Across the country, police are routinely called to investigate black people doing the most mundane things — waiting for a business meeting in Starbucks, delivering newspapers, and, no joke, golfing too slowly. And while you may think this wouldn’t happen out in the great outdoors, longtime wildlife photographer Dudley Edmondson wants you to reconsider.
While Edmondson was taking pictures of wildflowers in his own neighborhood a few years ago, an elderly white woman came up to him, demanded that he hand over his film, and then called the police, convinced that he was casing houses. “You don’t look like any nature photographer I’ve ever seen,” he remembers her saying. Weeks later, Edmondson was taking pictures of different species of flowers along the highway, lying down to get close-ups, when a state trooper rolled up and said he had gotten a report of a drunk black man on the ground. The trooper looked a little embarrassed when he learned the real story.
Edmondson, who created the book Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, is now a part of a growing group of people who are working to create a more welcoming environment in the outdoors. Their joint efforts, through art, writing, and community building, seek to bring more diversity to parks and public lands, and to the images we see in movies, magazines, and advertisements.
One of the main fruits of their work is the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge, which is committed to hiring and supporting a diverse workforce and representing underrepresented populations in their marketing and advertising. Thus far, brands like KOA, Marmot, and Merrell have all signed the pledge.