The British countryside remains a distinctly white and often intimidating place for BAME communities.
The British countryside being the preserve of the white middle classes is a perception that is backed by stark figures, with ethnic minorities often deterred from heading into the outdoors due to deep-rooted, complex barriers… Only 1% of visitors to UK national parks come from BAME backgrounds, and statistics from the outdoor sector paint a similar picture, with only around 1% of summer mountain leaders and rock-climbing instructors in the UK from ethnic minorities.
I’m sure the relative scarcity of brown-skinned rock-climbing instructors plays a pivotal role.
The reasons behind this reluctance to venture out are complicated.
Ah, but of course. Though some may be more obvious than others. The concentration of minorities in urban centres and the consequent logistics of travel to the countryside being fairly self-explanatory. We’re also told of “a lack of culturally appropriate provisions,” though details as to what these culturally appropriate provisions might be, or indeed why they should be provided, seemingly at public expense, are left to the readers’ imagination. We are, however, steered to the distinct impression that these “last bastions of whiteness” are a very bad thing and that something must be done.
Greater enthusiasm is shown regarding vague, third-hands claims of feeling “excluded and conspicuous,” complete with the inevitable intimations of racism, though again particulars are rather thin on the ground, and any exclusion seems for the most part self-inflicted, or simply a loaded term for a general lack of interest. Only one example is offered, later in the article, a reference to unspecified “comments,” when a Muslim woman, Zahrah Mahmood, recounts the heart-pounding trauma of Hiking The Scottish Wilds While Being Slightly Brown:
“I was the only non-white person in a hijab on the entire walk and I just felt so out of place, so I decided to never return.”
That’s the spirit, madam. Happily, Ms Mahmood has since mustered the will to press on with her heroic and empowered outdoorsiness:
Mahmood, who regularly prays outdoors during hikes, reveals the challenges of being in the outdoors are not only physical ones. She is often stared at and has suffered racism. “People look at me all the time...”
Well, one mustn’t excuse rudeness, but I’d imagine that amid the scenic splendours of Glen Coe, eye-catching displays of Muhammadan piety are a little unusual.
“I am not like your normal white adventurer. Sometimes, prayer times fall during a walk so I might have to stop and pray, which can cause more unwanted attention and stares. It shouldn’t be something to be gawked at. While I mostly welcome questions, sometimes I just want to enjoy my time outdoors and switch off.”
It occurs to me that, from a distance, the sight of a lone woman kneeling or prostrate in the middle of nowhere may invite concerns as to her wellbeing. And once you’ve walked over to ask whether help is needed, you may feel obliged to make some kind of small talk, albeit of an insufficiently sophisticated and cosmopolitan kind.
Ms Mahmood is currently “collaborating with outdoor clothing and equipment brand Berghaus,” presumably on apparel suited to the preferences of Muhammadan ladies - or the husbands of Muhammadan ladies - and has, we’re assured, “become an inspiration to Muslim women across the country.” Because she can walk up and down hills. Among white people, even.
Update, via the comments:
It’s also worth noting that this supposed oppression – the alleged intimidation and deterrence - doesn’t seem to affect all minorities. During my own jaunts into the nearby Peak District National Park, I routinely see East Asian people, often students, enjoying walks and the scenery. They don’t appear to be emotionally crushed by the awful whiteness of it all. The Other Half and I ran into one visiting East Asian chap, a dad with his young son, who was eager to share his appreciation of the landscape. While chatting, he didn’t complain about a lack of culturally appropriate provisions, and I’m fairly confident he wasn’t being excluded by my pallor.
As is the custom, our Guardian correspondent does appear bent on conjuring victimhood where little seems to exist, and with it the kind of pretentious guilt favoured by Guardian readers. And if I were to move to, say, South Korea and complained in a national Korean newspaper about how I was being deterred from visiting Seoraksan National Park or Namiseom Island, on account of such places requiring some travel from whichever Korean city I’d chosen to live in, and by them not already having sufficient numbers of white Europeans striding about in a suitably affirming manner, you might think me a tad presumptuous.