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Exploring and Creating New Identities in Evocative Landscapes: Reflections on "Names we Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity" by Evelyn C. White

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            Evelyn C.  White’s honesty and vulnerability is captivating and relatable: “For me, the fear is like a heartbeat, always present, while at the same time intangible, elusive, and difficult to define. So pervasive, so much a part of me, that I hardly knew it was there” (White 283).

            I appreciate how Evelyn C. White claims that language goes beyond those who use it: “Both committed feminists, they asked me to teach because they believe as I do, that language and literature transcend the man-made boundaries that are too often placed upon them” (White 283). I was fascinated with this idea that words can be more powerful, poignant, and meaningful, rupturing their structures.

            “I believe that the fear I experience in the outdoors shared by many African-American women and that it limits the way we move through the world and colors the decisions we make about our lives” (283). This was a particularly poignant and sententious statement that has many consequences. The idea that mostly white people play, explore, and venture into the woods is not new to me. I have thought about how the wilderness, something seemingly so free and unhindered at times is connected to privilege, class, race, and status. I realize that many people of color live in cities and do not have the opportunities to be guided or explore the outdoors, yet I had never made the connection between lynchings and the outdoors. I appreciated how White tied her racial, cultural, ethnic, historical, and class identity with the wilderness.

            I have explored the idea of how our backgrounds shape our experiences when we venture into natural settings, removed from our “comfortable” environments.  I can’t help but think of this summer when I worked at a wilderness camp in Vermont. The camp was in the woods and we took children on five and six day hiking, canoeing, and rock-climbing trips throughout the session. Unfortunately, one could not help noticing that the children who often cried the most, were most often upset, angry, or frustrated, and had the least amount of high-tech or any outdoors equipment necessary to go on our excursions, were almost entirely campers of color.

            How can we expand the emotions and experiences people associate with nature and the outdoors so that they are not necessarily “comfortable,” but challenged, safe, and intrigued?