Walking

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

 

I walk through the park I walk in almost every day.  I have walked here so many times it must be layered with the imprint of my feet.  The grass has been shorn.  It had crisped and browned in the sun, but three days of showers has re-greened it.  I look out for the crows, tending their nest high up in the canopy.  I notice the clusters of wall barley that have sprouted against walls and around the base of trees.  I enjoy the scatters of daisies and buttercups that have survived the shearing.  I’m not paying attention to the fact that I’m walking, but to the signs of life all around me.

I take walking for granted.  Walking roots me into my landscape.  It keeps me in touch with what is happening from ground level.  It enables me to watch the progress of the seasons.  It confirms that I belong.  Exploring on foot allows me to find those spaces in which I can experience the magic of the natural world.

I take it for granted that I can walk where I want to walk without needing to have an explanation.  I take it for granted that I belong in this space, that I belong in nature and should have a relationship with it.  When I walk, I draw on memory, history, past and present to find my place in the world.  Very occasionally I’ve felt vulnerable, as a woman alone, but in general  I don’t think twice about my safety.  Somehow I feel no harm will come to me among nature.

If I were black – and particularly a black man –  it would be different.  It wouldn’t matter that I’d been born here and lived my whole life in this landscape – my history and my belonging would be in question.  I would have to think about where I was walking.  I would have to think about how to position myself so I couldn’t be mistaken for a criminal.  I would have to consider how I move and interact with other people so that they wouldn’t assume I’m a threat.  I would walk with the knowledge that I might be in danger from those who are supposed to protect me.  Walking could so easily be a matter of life and death.

I write nature.  I didn’t set out to do that, but I found that when I came to write about my experience, it was my place in the landscape that emerged.  I’m not a typical nature writer.  My voice is a different voice, but it isn’t the only voice.  People of colour spend less time in nature than white people.  There are complex reasons for this, but they include experiences of racism and not feeling safe or a sense of belonging in nature.  Ask Christian Cooper, the bird watcher in Central Park who only last month was threatened with the police by a white woman when he asked her to put her dog on a lead.  An organisation was recently set up here in the UK called Wild in the City to encourage more people of colour to enjoy nature.

Nature is where I feel most at home.  The streets and the beaches and the green spaces of this town and its surroundings are where I find belonging.  But it isn’t a safe space for everyone.  Race hate crimes in the wider north east region have tripled in the last 5 years.  There are layers and levels to racism and privilege.  I learned about this by studying the history and experiences of women.  I kept good company: Alice Walker, bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey and Audre Lorde were some of my teachers.  On occasion, when tanned, I have been called racist names, but I’ll never know how it is to walk through the world as a black woman.  I think I am self aware, but I know that I will have biases and prejudices I’m not even aware of.

There are moments in time that feel like tipping points.  Brexit.  Me Too.  The most recent focus on Climate Change.  Covid-19.  All of these have felt, at times, like  momentous changes (for better or worse).  George Floyd’s death brings a rising up of grief and outrage that – it seems – can’t be ignored.  And yet we’ve ignored so many other deaths.  I wonder how history will judge these moments.  I hope they’re enough to change us for the better.

Some further reading on people of colour, nature and walking:

https://www.discoverwildlife.com/people/diverse-nature/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/13/hiking-african-american-racism-nature

Meet the group helping black people reconnect with the natural world

Walking While Black

94 thoughts on “Walking

  1. Beautifully said, Andrea. We cannot know – although we may have had glimpses – of what it is like to be a person of color – or a different nationality – in a white world. I saw a black woman’s sign in a protest photo that said something like “I’m glad white women are standing with us, but I’m not sure I trust you.” It made me a little sad, but you can sure understand her point. We are so very lucky that we can walk where we want. We can easily forget that it’s not everyone’s world. You make that so clear, and all amidst your lovely photos. Tx..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Andrea, this is beautiful. I like your good company. Your teachers have been mine, too. I still have my original copy of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple that I read when I still lived in Miami and remember the people I talked with about the truths that book opened us up to. Yesterday I picked up my copy of Maya Angelou’s Poems and turned to a well-thumbed page to read again Still I Rise. So powerful and so much history in those few lines. I heard a young black woman read it in Overtown, a black ghetto in Miami, and also heard it read by Maya Angelou – amazing. Last verse: Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise / Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave / I am the dream and the hope of the slave / I rise / I rise / I rise.
    Thank you thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. What a beautiful and thoughtful piece! I hope it alerts us to those missing faces in our worlds…I’m grateful to see some of those missing faces on my own walks…our forests, beaches and secret paths should and must be available to all of us. We are being given many chances to change and enhance our world, your meditative words will help us take those first steps…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A well-written, beautiful post, Andrea. Here is some additional reading from High Country News, a news magazine about our American West and its issues, on the subject.
    https://www.hcn.org/issues/52.3S/special-race-the-wildness-is-in-me-too

    I have the hope that with every new generation, humanity will grow farther away from old schools of thought, that the prejudicial thought patterns and behaviors passed down through generations of social inheritance will die out.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Our experiences are similar, finding solace in nature, moving under our own power. Yet what privilege we have, able to do so with little worry, being white. A jarring realization.

    Recent events here in the US – George Floyd’s murder only the most recent – are a reminder that we’re not as progressive and free as we want to believe, and much work – internal and external – needs doing. I’ve always believed that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge, so naming the problem and admitting it exists is a powerful first step in doing something about it.

    Thank you for addressing these issues so eloquently. For those who – like so many of us – feel powerless to make things better, remember: you can vote.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your post is wonderful, Andrea. Filled with peace in the landscape you so enjoy, where you walk free. Your first quote by Audre Lorde is so true. It has stopped me walking free in many new places.
    I am also deeply sad for a world that can judge a person by the colour of the skin. How pathetic and cruel is that.

    The more known attacks on women here are by white man so it is violence
    and sickness we need to combat.

    Your woods look so beautiful, I used to roam the Yorkshire mood and feel the same peace.

    miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Having found myself in the deep South of the USA in 1966 I am so aware of racism….and then having lived in the USA from 1966 til 2003 when I returned to the UK…I know only too well about prejudice against people of colour, against women and frankly against anyone who isn’t like a white republican male!.

    I am not a fan of the USA….Geographically it is a magnificent country, but for me that’s where it stops.

    My two adult children were born there and live there and so there will always be a tie, but anger wells in when I think of the injustice and hypocrisy metered out in that country.

    Will all of what we are experiencing now change things? I do hope so – however I have strong doubts.

    The Audre Lord quote is perfect.

    Janet 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Gosh, Andrea, what a thought provoking piece.
    I too love walking. I tend to avoid woods if walking on my own, but it has never really occurred to me that walking anywhere could be a dangerous activity depending on the colour of my skin.
    I think you are right, I surely have biases I am not aware of. Firstly probably not being aware enough of the extent of the problem. That has now changed.
    Thank you for writing about this and making me further aware.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This captures what I have been thinking and expressed so much better than I could have done. I’m going to reblog this tomorrow because it deserves to be shared. I’ve been impressed with the international bloggers I have seen address this topic from Spain, Australia, and now the UK. Thank you, Andrea, and the rest of the international community of bloggers that have commented so thoughtfully on what has been happening in the United States.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A heartfelt post Andrea… And unless one has walked in another’s shoes, no one can know how that feels.. The History as you rightly point out goes back centuries… The collective Grief, and discrimination, along with the persecution of many humans, not only of colour but of every race is now surfacing, rising to the surface to be cleared out…. And none of it is going to be pretty.. In fact I feel it may well get more ugly as tensions rise, and laws are implemented which may affect ALL of our freedoms to walk where we please in Natures Heart….

    Walking for me especially in the woods is something I have long done, and like you Andrea…. No fear ever enters my mind…. Because I am in the heart of Mother….
    Many thanks for your thoughtful post.. you have also mentioned some great names who have also been instrumental in taking up the challenge of change..

    Much love and Blessings… The rain has saved my arms these last few days Lol… on watering our allotments… 🙂 And the Earth was well parched and was thirsty.. 🙂 ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for ;your honest and powerful words, Andrea. I grew up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow days. I care tremendously about people of all colors after seeing the devastating effects of racism first hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You have certainly taken us down a different path filled with challenging thoughts. I too take walking in my neighborhood for granted. Sometimes I encounter a Black man walking and I try to make eye contact so that he will not feel I am afraid. Silly, perhaps, but it is important to me. Beautifully written. Love your first quote.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thought-provoking and sensitively written. My takeaway, Andrea: Some of us “belong” and have always taken that sense of belonging for granted. Others of us have to continually wonder if “belonging” is in the cards or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I know I can always depend on you to offer new and interesting insights – about nature, about humans, about the world we live in. Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Andrea. As a Black woman, what you wrote and how matters a lot to me.My relatives in the UK, the US and Canada have all been through some of the situations and feelings you describe and it wears us down bit by bit and sometimes all at once. Knowing you are there as an ally is very important. Bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Cynthia, I probably wouldn’t have written it without your call to action, thinking I’d have nothing useful to add, but I realised that while I take for granted doing what my blog is all about, that’s not something a black person could do.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. This brings it home to me how difficult it must be for those who do not have white skin. I live in a small rural community where everyone is white and mostly comfortably off. A young man with dark skin was taking a walk in the park. Everyone gave him a wide berth…

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Beautifully written, Andrea. No, we as white women cannot ever fully understand what a black man goes through (or woman, of course – but let’s face it, it’s the men who get the brunt of it).
    I keep dreaming of the day when a story will say that a man or woman did such and such with no mention of race because it is not an issue.
    We do take so much for granted because of the “privilege” of being born white. We all need to work towards a better world, accepting that all races are part of the human race and deserve the same rank.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Such a well thought out piece. It has made me think. I wonder too how history will write all these things that are happening now, from covid, black lives matter, even Brexit

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Well said. As a white woman I do review in my mind when walking alone in isolated areas but the potential threats are compounded for women of colour and also for black men. Nature should be available to all of us free of such fears. I am so glad Christian Cooper was able to get his story out.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Reblog: Walking from Harvesting Hecate – e-Quips

  20. Andrea, as a person who relies on braces and crutches to walk, the world can be quite a dangerous place. Sometimes I have to remind family and friends that what might be fine might be dangerous for me, and that if I am in danger, so are they. That I am light complected and male undoubtedly helps a lot in making my journeys safer. It should not be so, but it is. I look forward to the day when we can all walk safely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michael, of course the world is not a friendly space for people with disabilities. Again, I can’t know what it is like to walk in your shoes, but I learned a little bit about how difficult public spaces can be when I pushed my mother around in a wheelchair for a couple of years.

      Like

  21. Excellent writing, Andrea. What a year this has been, and still so much strife and unanswered questions. My heart hurts particularly for anyone who has been the victim of racism, bigotry and hate. Recent events have brought it all to the forefront–where it should be, mind you, as it desperately needs to be addressed–but there is an element that prefer the status quo. They are complacent and uncaring.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. You’ve made such an important point about one of the simple things we, as white people, take for granted. It is hard for us to understand the lack of such basic freedoms that black people have to live with everyday. Thank you for sharing the information for reading. I am trying to educate myself further because, as you say, we have biases and prejudices we are not even aware of, being born into a world that is structured on racism.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. So well said, Andrea. We cannot help but take our freedom for granted at times. I think this world is at an almighty tipping point just now. Most days I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what we must do. If everyone woke up one day and decided they weren’t the centre of the universe, it would be a start.

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying your walks. Being around nature is such a soul-lifter. Everyone should be allowed to experience walking in joy and peace, whatever the colour of their skin.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. So many layers here. A white person cannot take a walk in a black person’s shoes. However they can walk together and talk together and learn from each other. It is a two way street.
    When thoughts collide nature helps and one of my favourite therapies is to lose myself in a book.
    Thanks, Andrea. You have captured a moment in time and also offered a way to make it matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Hi Andrea, I’m coming to this thoughtful post a little late and so much has happened since you wrote it. I think we must talk about racism and listen a lot to others, specifically Black voices. Change will be difficult here in the US, but I believe it’s coming. Everyone should feel safe while walking in nature. I’m going to read the Guardian piece now.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. You write about this such an interesting way by starting with a walk that many of us do and forget about the freedom and privilege behind it but your focus on how a black man might feel and then all your links shows what the problem is in the UK. I agree my reading path has been with all those great black women writers and I recently discovered Barnadine Evaristo. Levels and nuances of privilege are important to consider. As to how we can discuss these issues with those who find the BLM difficult I am not sure. Then there is the other level of the increase in hate and racist crime.

    Liked by 1 person

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