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Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors
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Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  292 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the ...more
Paperback, 194 pages
Published June 1st 2014 by University of North Carolina Press (first published May 12th 2014)
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Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
This book didn't do much for me, but I am probably not in a position to judge it fairly. Maybe it was the extremely academic style of writing, or the qualitative methods, but I didn't come away from it feeling like I'd gained much novel insight into why black Americans are disproportionately absent from the outdoors and conversations about its preservation. There's a lot of stuff that seemed pretty clear to me (lynch mobs often hung black people from trees in forests, black people are rarely emp ...more
 The Black Geek
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book takes you into an in depth analysis of how African Americans have both defined and embodied their landscape as citizens and environmental stewards. I truly appreciated how Dr. Finney was able to effectively integrate the historical impact of white supremacy on the unique relationship that African Americans have to natural spaces. She was able to engage the reader with clear examples of the proactive ways that African Americans have used to counter the narrative that we lack a connectio ...more
Tessa Farbstein
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I cannot emphasize the importance of this book enough. If you love spending your time outdoors, and enjoy the privileges of exploring our National Parks, this book is a crucial. It is about the role that slavery and the oppression of marginalized peoples and the effects of systematic racism, and the lack of welcomed participation into the outdoors. I recommend this to everyone, but specifically my friends and loved ones who work with NPS, and those who get to enjoy the privilege of such places l ...more
Amy Layton
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow.  This was so incredibly informative on so many levels.  Both politically and historically, there are so many reasons why, according to Finney, black people have a very different relationship with the outdoors than white people do.  Historically, the outdoors was both a place of refuge and caution, especially in the Antebellum south.  As Harriet Tubman weaved the way to freedom, and as white plantation owners beat and raped their slaves, the outdoors began to take on a very different reality ...more
Feb 18, 2015 rated it liked it
While definitely an important topic, it was not particularly readable. (Very dissertation-like.) I'm not sure that Carolyn Finney met the aim of the subtitle...but then again the onus is on us to diversify our organizations and publications and to invite and welcome the participation of African Americans in the creation, design, and redesign of parks and the environmental movement.
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This reads like a dissertation, and that isn't a slight but only to note that it is very academic. With a lot of new concepts including critical race theory and geographic and spatial analysis, I'm sure there was a lot I missed. Some arguments were lost on me and reader beware, this doesn't read like a lot of popular nonfiction.
With that said, this was VERY interesting! I was reading this while we were watching the George Floyd protests and the concepts of space and place as tied to ownership a
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
For a thin book, it took me a very long time to finish because there was so much to grapple with. Finney uses a lot of previously written critical theory in a new context to talk about the African American experience in the environmental movement, in addition to her own research, interviews, and thoughts. The beginning delves into a lot of method -- necessary for academia, especially given the systems for what we collectively legitimize as knowledge -- but after that quickly dives into more pith ...more
Ben Platt
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Finley's detailed focus on the representation of Black people in environmental movements and spaces seemed counterproductive to me at first - how does such thorough attention to representation help us deconstruct and dismantle racism in relation to the "outdoors?" That, of course, was just ignorance on my part regarding how, as Finley so effectively outlines, "racism, perceived or 'real,' can hinder the possibility of building long-term relationships of reciprocity between mainstream environment ...more
Stephanie Fuhr
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Inspired a dozen road trips and revealed a lot of history unknown to me. Really dug the author’s language use, challenges, and optimism. One of the most interesting Epilogues I’ve seen included.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Finney pours her heart-felt intellectual prowess into this book that draws upon multiple strands of data collection and analysis within the social sciences to build a story of African Americans in the outdoors and conservation spheres. This story blends social dynamics, communal historical memory, and unseen and often un-realized prejudice. Finney's chapters deliberately layer on top of one another to make the case for the complex, usually-strained and often unfair relationship African Americans ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Pretty academic read, where I felt like it would be a book assigned to me in one of my old college AFAM, cultural anthropology, or environmental studies courses. But it was a short read and very insightful with a detailed examination of the social, cultural, & historical connections we African Americans have with our environment. I could relate to alot that was being expressed in each chapter. It was disappointing to learn that there's still an all time low in diversity of people of color visiti ...more
Finney provides a succinct, yet thoughtful and relatively comprehensive examination of the historical and contemporary relationship of African Americans to the environment. She states that "my goal in this book is to draw together key concepts and frameworks from several theoretical perspectives in order to understand and explain the intersections of racialization, representation, identity, and their subsequent impacts on African American environment relationships." One anecdote in the book that ...more
Faith Bee
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love this book so much I bought five copies to give away to other people, it's the most important book I've read this year and it's completely changing the way I see the work I do, the places I go and the conversation about conservation and public lands.
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well written book to consider as to why the outdoors is off putting to groups of people and individual. Reasons, data and suggestions as to how to change this and make it better. A Good Read.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 20s, to-read-2020
This was a disappointing read as I had so much more hope for it. I fear I was not in the right head space reading it, as I mostly read it sleepily before bed. I've never read an academic work by an environmental *geographer* but I thought I'd be able to comprehend it, as I've read a lot of environmental sociology, environmental justice, public lands management, urban planning, and environmental politics...

I emerge with more questions than when I started it, and with very little answered. Of cou
Kate M.
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Black Faces, White Spaces is an insightful, compelling exploration of the historical and contemporary forces shaping how African American people relate to the natural world. It's a valuable read, especially for anyone involved in environmental education, outdoor recreation, environmentalist activism, science communication, national and state parks, and various related fields. (That very much includes my fellow white people.) It's important to understand that the disproportionate whiteness of the ...more
Massanutten Regional Library
Tamara, North River patron, July 2018, 5 stars:

Excellent read and something I will use in my classes to further diversify my curriculum. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Finney talk at VATech two years ago. Her stories are interesting, her research thorough and showed me how closely the civil rights movement and the environmental movement paralleled, yet one of those movements completely left out an entire group of people.
Neha Savant
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
An illuminating exploration of the varied perspectives and experiences of African American communities in the outdoors and conservation fields. I found the discussion on land and perception of land conservation/protection particularly revelatory. It’s an academic work full of history, evidence and concrete examples but it can be difficult at times to parse out the main ideas. However, Finney does make an effort to summarize her chapters to help guide the reader to her main ideas. An essential re ...more
Black Faces, White Spaces pulled together sources from across the humanities to make its points, which is great for future reading on this important topic. There were many instances where the setting up of the idea/argument took longer than the actual argument itself, and in these instances you could tell it was edited (but not enough) from a dissertation.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read and something I will use in my classes to further diversify my curriculum. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Finney talk at VATech two years ago. Her stories are interesting, her research thorough and showed me how closely the civil rights movement and the environmental movement paralleled, yet one of those movements completely left out an entire group of people.
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Highly recommended reading. I consider myself fairly aware of the detriment caused by systemic racism and segregation in this country, but this book was an excellent shock to my brain that I my awareness is still limited in many arenas.
Caleb Melchior
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Important book, clear and thoughtful

Important book for anyone who works in landscape architecture, planning, design and any other fields relating to environment and place. It’s giving me much to think about..l
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting topic

While the book felt a bit too academic it was a good read that covers an important topic that I experience regularly, but don't hear much about. Bravo to the author for tackling this complex issue.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Black Faces, White Spaces is a thoughtful examination of the lack of diverse voices in mainstream conservation, environmental advocacy, and outdoor recreation organizations. It is a must-read book for anyone who cares about promoting a love of the outdoors and protecting the environment .
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting take on the relationship between race and public lands. More relevant especially in regards to recent events and the current administration.
Elizabeth Ward
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
[4.5 stars]
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
read this book!!!!
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Great concept, but the writing was so academic that it was difficult to stay focused.
Andy Janes
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
Good discussion of the issues at hand that lead to the outdoor community being whiter than the US as a whole. Would love to see something similar of the Canadian outdoor industry/community.
Olivia Barrow
Dec 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I really liked the message of this book. It was a bit more academic than I was expecting. I want to keep learning more about this topic.
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