Brown Girl? What’s a Brown Girl?

I’m a Brown Girl. It’s a self-designation to be sure, and one I chose because, at first glance, I’m ethnically ambiguous, which tends to make people uncomfortable. I am unambiguously brown, but my light skin makes it nearly impossible to identify the roots of that brownness. Inevitable questions on the subject are the result – hardly anyone can just leave it alone – ranging from the polite-yet-prying “What ethnicity are you?” to the more-discreet-yet-assuming “Where’s your family from?” to the downright rude “What are you?”. Each of these inquiries seeks to classify me and others like me, put us in racial boxes through which all of our subsequent actions can be filtered vis-a-vis racial stereotypes.

I’m Black – on both sides of the family – but even that’s more complicated than can be summed up in a simple word. The underlying obsession with race in the United States is part of a complex global legacy, one that is perpetuated even today.

Why does race even matter in the outdoors?

That’s the amusing part: It doesn’t, really. Not to me. Or, at least, it shouldn’t. Race isn’t on my daily agenda of things to think about. But simply being “TBI” – Tall, Black, and Intimidating, a term I first heard in reference to my intelligent and capable mother – affects how people react to me. As a woman, those reactions are different than the reactions often garnered by Black men, but even from “colorblind” people can still be exoticizing, oversexualizing, and, at their worst, dehumanizing. This blog is, at its core, an acknowledgement of those reactions, to me and to others, by the world at large, a world we do not entirely escape by disappearing into the backcountry for weeks, months, years at a time.

As such, these trips – on the Colorado Trail, and soon, with any luck, on the PCT – are a little daunting, given all of the recent news concerning blatant or systemic violence towards communities of color, all of the recent polls reflecting backwards attitudes we hoped had been left behind, even if we knew otherwise. As unfair as it is, I know I’m likely to be seen as a “racial representative”, somewhat responsible for the formation of the image of all Black people to step on the trail in the future, even if, as is the case, I make no such boasts about myself or, for that matter, my writings. I do not and cannot speak for all Black folk; my experience may or may not be applicable to anyone but me.

Still, I’m hoping to encourage others like me, those who are on the fence about a trip of this nature, especially if that hesitation has to do with concerns about being welcomed in hiker or trail communities. The long-distance backpacking community is one of the most welcoming and respectful communities I’ve found; as they say, the trail unites, and I don’t believe my trip(s) will be the exception.


Still have questions about Black history in the US, racism in the US, “reverse racism”, and White privilege? Many people of all ethnicities have addressed these and other related issues better than I could; many such links can be found on the Useful Links page.

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