Really? The National Parks Are Racist?


Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photo from

Now that the Confederate Battle Flag has gone down in flames due to its supposedly racist significance, and the Fleur-de-Lis is under attack by historical ignoramuses, there are all sorts of people out there wringing their hands looking for racism high and low.  In the case of Glenn Nelson and his “Why Are Our Parks So White?” in Sunday’s New York Times opinion section, this is the literal truth.

Michelle Perry lives in an adjoining neighborhood and travels to work on Rainier Avenue South. The looming mountain enchants and beguiles nearly the entire way. She knows she can keep driving south and visit Rainier and the national park that surrounds it. Ms. Perry, 58, an African-American, has an idea about what she’d find up there — mosquitoes, which she hates, and bears, cougars and wolves, which she fears.

“The mountains are beautiful to watch,” she said, pausing for effect, “from a distance.”

Mosquitoes?  Everybody hates mosquitoes. They aren’t biting because of the color of anyone’s skin and they were not put there just to pester people of color.  These are a naturally occurring insect that truly does not discriminate.  Fearing bears, cougars and wolves is perfectly natural as well.  Why is this presented as a potential racial issue?

The premise of Mr. Nelson’s screed is that with an American population that is 37% non-white, more than 22% percent of the almost 300 million annual visitors to the National Parks should be as well.  300 million visitors is nothing to sneeze at.  With just over that number of American citizens, that means there are either a lot of repeat customers, or a lot of foreign tourists, which could be effecting that ratio.

However, it is the people Mr. Nelson quotes who give him what he believes to be the basis to make the claim:

Jeff Cheatham grew up in southeast Seattle, and still lives in Mount Rainier’s shadow. Yet, he said of Mount Rainier and other national parks, “I’ve never been, and never thought about going.” A 29-year-old African-American writer, Mr. Cheatham said he didn’t even know what a national park was, or what he would be likely to find at one. “As far as I know, it’s a big field of grass,” he said.

A neighbor, Carla DeRise, has been to Mount Rainier and other parks, and is game to go again. She just can’t get any of her friends to come along. They are worried about unfriendly white people, hungry critters and insects, and unforgiving landscapes, said Ms. DeRise, 51, an African-American. So she mainly hikes alone, albeit with some anxiety. “I don’t have a weapon,” she quipped. “Yet.”

Uh, well, Mr. Nelson, people who aren’t interested in going to the National Parks just aren’t interested, regardless of how appealing advertising can make a trip sound.  Sort of like those who refuse to sing at church.  A cantor or song-leader can stand before the congregation and invite the people to join in, but that doesn’t mean they are going to.

As for unfriendly white people in the National Parks, no specific incidents were described in the essay.  However, there are a smaller portion of non-white employees and board members with the National Parks than the population ratios.  This is supposedly racist.  That many of the National Parks are quite a distance from urban centers where non-white populations tend to live which would draw a more diverse work force, is not mentioned.

In all, Mr. Nelson’s opinion piece is frankly much ado about nothing.  Whites did not put the Rocky Mountains where they are, or the Cascades, or Mount Rainier or any of the volcanoes.  Man did not invent the mosquito.  The Grand Canyon has been in that exact spot long before humans migrated to North America.  Wildlife has been a part of the National Parks since they were carved out of the states.  There is nothing racist about this.  All of that belongs to all of us.  It is part of our history and our heritage whether one is a descendant of a minuteman, indentured servant, slave, immigrant or a naturalized citizen.  The National Parks exist to preserve all that majestic wonder in as natural a state as possible.  From a libertarian point of view, that might be a problem.  From an American patriotic perspective, the National Parks are a matter of pride.  Largely.

(Okay, a lot of conservatives do like the National Parks and since they do generate revenue and largely pay for themselves, no big deal.)

As for people having no interest in visiting the National Parks, there are those that don’t.  Fine.  In this writer’s opinion, they don’t know what they are missing, but that’s what freedom is all about.  There is no question that it would be lovely for all Americans to want to see the wonders and natural treasures of the National Parks, but that cannot be forced.  Personally, one item on this writer’s bucket list is to make it to all the National Parks.  They are great places to escape the city.

H/T – The Daily Caller

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.