Image is Everything


By Outdoor Afro Contributor, Javaughn Fernanders

There is an uneasy predictable phrase I hear after requesting my family’s presence in the great outdoors: “You don’t see us out there!”

Seeing. We are told not to believe what we see, and yet we trust our eyes not only to reveal truths about our immediate environment, but to tell us about our cultural practices.  This is why in 2010, I created a campaign of six posters named “Your History is Waiting For You,” to encourage African-Americans to reconnect to an environmental community from which we have been visually disconnected.

The creation of the posters were part of a three-part project, which also included a comparison of photography of African-Americans in nature.

Before the Great Depression, images of Black bodies in nature could be categorized as exploited laborers, lazy workers, or as terrorized victims. Of course, these images are not our true story. African- Americans have and continue to be in nature, which includes vocations,  religious ritual, environmental justice, and in the preservation and conservation of natural resources.

Unfortunately, many mainstream environmental publications have omitted images of African-Americans positively engaged in the outdoors. And this has created a popular perception that African-Americans are not connected to environmentalism and outdoor recreation. Therefore, I encourage my fellow readers of Outdoor Afro to share family photos that depict people of all hues engaged with and enjoying the great outdoors. Share your photos with this site, or with schools, and in other places where our faces are not often visible. Also, download the posters and put them in your home, classroom, church, or environmental organization. Let’s create a new vision of ourselves outdoors and return to the history that waits for us.

Javaughn Renee is a 40 year old writer and artist currently living in South Bend, Indiana, but missing sunny California. She is a nature loving, yoga teaching, parent, striving to live simply and with love. In 2010, she completed a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on images of African Americans and nature and their effects on stereotypes. She has written for regional and national publications and blogs regularly about her unique parenting situation at “Mezclados.wordpress.com.”


3 Thoughts on “Image is Everything”

  • Thank you Rue, Image is Everything and that is why we are looking for numbers of How Many African Americans Participate in the Outdoors. It is very important that we find this out. We have been sharing this thought since our TV show Urban American Outdoors aired back in 2003. We deal with the visual. Even as people watched our show we still heard that black people don’t do Outdoors. Our show is multicultural showing everybody and they still would say black people don’t do this. So as you can see even with “in your living room visuals” it is hard to change past perceptions that have been burned into the psyche of people. So I am counting on my friends such as you to help us to continue to change these images.

    • Thanks again Javaughn!

      And Candace — your television work can’t be beat for putting black people in the context of nature AND enjoying it!

      I completely agree we each can use the tools at our disposal to help shift visual perceptions of who engages with the outdoors.

      Thanks for your posts!

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