Most of you have probably heard of DWB: “driving while Black.” This term refers to the difficulties faced specifically by Black drivers, including being yelled at by highway patrol officers, being forced into random vehicle searches, or worse—being physically assaulted due to racial profiling. Unfortunately, DWB extends to other types of personal transportation in America, such as RVs. RVing may be considered a quintessential American pastime—images of the “great American road trip” come to mind—but this activity has risks for BIPOC, especially Black families.
As you know, our co-founder Parker is on a road trip across the American South and Midwest with her mixed-race family to raise visibility for BIPOC travel and outdoor recreation. However, things aren’t magically discrimination-free in 2022 for Parker’s family or other BIPOC families. When on a road trip today, there’s a high likelihood families will pass through predominantly white communities full of conservative residents with their Trump signs still up; in fact, this was one of the first things Parker encountered on her journey. Even if nothing happens when passing through these towns, the mere anxiety of mentally preparing for a list of what-ifs puts strain on those traveling, especially the parents of children of color.
Moreover, as we discussed in earlier blog posts, sundown towns were in full force in certain areas until the 1970s, and national parks that were located in segregated parts of the country during Jim Crow upheld the local “separate but equal” policies, thereby making outdoor recreation less safe for Black families. American road trips, whether as the mythology we see satirized in National Lampoon or the practical, lived experience of them, are overwhelmingly white. Some Black men from the South remember hearing the story of “the Bogeyman in the woods” growing up, which was often code for “the KKK will get you.” While a lot has changed for the better since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, these childhood stories stick with people. You don’t simply forget the racism you’ve experienced—and that you’ve been taught to be wary of—because businesses are legally obligated to say they don’t discriminate based on race. Racism lives on, however insidiously.
Fortunately, there are groups trying to make activities like RVing more welcoming and comfortable for Black individuals. The National African American RVers’ Association, for instance, is one organization that’s on a mission to connect Black RVers and their families around the US. While many Black people have been discouraged from outdoor recreation because of a lack of representation and inclusion within the travel industry, a history of racism in the outdoors, and other legitimate concerns, there does exist a community of Black outdoor enthusiasts. You may not see a Black family hitting the road on the latest RV ad, but there are many Black and mixed-race families, such as Parker’s, enjoying this American dream—you just have to pay attention.
So what can you do to help make Black individuals feel more comfortable RVing or engaging in outdoor recreation? If you work for a national park or interpretation service, you could reflect on and update your educational content to ensure that it doesn’t tell history from a “white victor” perspective, thus allowing BIPOC to be a more significant part of the narrative. If you’re an outdoor recreation retailer, you could represent BIPOC in your advertising and even team up with folks like KWEEN WERK to encourage more people of color to enjoy the outdoors. Or if you’re a fellow RVer, you could simply check yourself and your privilege when interacting with travelers of color on the road or at campgrounds.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram @inclusiveguide, and Facebook @InclusiveJourneys to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about outdoor recreation for BIPOC.