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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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  577 ratings  ·  72 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
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really interesting content, which gives perspective of why the great outdoors is such a white space.

Took a star for the style of the writing which is too academic for a popular read.
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
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
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
I first heard about Professor Finney from an interview she gave on NPR about the lack of black spaces out in natural landmarks, forests, National Parks, and rural areas. This is an interesting academic text that draws on perspectives from systemic racism as a result of the abolition of slavery, and the legacy of Jim Crow that haunts natural spaces and does not make room for black bodies. Drawing on historical events such as the Jim Crow South, Hurricane Katrina, the movies of Spike Lee- it is an ...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. ...more
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 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
An appropriate book to finish after emerging from a few days in the woods lol. I feel like this is a must read for any National Park lover
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
May 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism
First, I deeply enjoyed this book. I have read about ecofeminism, but this book was the first time I thought more specifically about how racial identity would affect a woman’s relationship with nature. To me, femaleness and connection to the outdoors are intrinsically linked, and I’ve never thought about how black women are cut off from this part of themselves, or how that may affect their relationship with themselves and the Earth. One line in particular stood out to me:
This legacy—in which wh
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. ...more
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.
Ethi House
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pretty academic, but wonderfully written. Thankful for the perspectives and stories. This changed the way I view the world.
A case study of yet another professional field with little racial diversity, and sorely lacking for it. A lot of fields have this problem, but...

Fields with good racial diversity <
Fields actively working towards it <<<<<
Fields saying they want improvement but aren't really doing anything different

("Fields that don't care" somewhere adjacent.) And all of them are fighting a very long, bleak racist history in the States. To become diverse, you have to get over the hump of not being diverse. Repr
Jan 15, 2021 rated it liked it
This book is solidly academic in nature, and so it spends a fair bit of time referencing other theorists and studies, establishing its positioning relative other research and writing, and repeating its central thesis in different ways.

It is a good introduction to why African Americans are not as actively involved in outdoor recreation, and the environmental movement. It explores history, cultural depiction, intergenerational trauma, racism (historical and current) and the white fragility of the
Mar 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars -- an interesting and crucial read for any of my white environmental peers. The book was overwhelmingly academic at times (the structure transported me right to my junior year of college) and overall I didn't come away with any entirely new insights. It was good to be reminded of the dangers of complacency and the importance of considering perspectives and histories other than your own.

I was sometimes frustrated by the focus - there was a lot of time spend on the collective past traum
Cynthia Hunafa
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aviv Karasov-Olson
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting read about the relationship between Black people and the outdoors in the U.S. Each chapter weaves together a piece of the bigger picture including representation in visual media, fear, and leadership in environmental organizations. Dr. Finney nicely describes years of social science work in a very digestible way, though the scientist in me kept wanting more detail. This book is also written with a ton of breadcrumbs, little anecdotes or facts sprinkled throughout that I wanted t ...more
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
Kathy Kaderly
Apr 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is an important scholarly book that delves into the plight of the African American living in the American Society. The book helps the reader walk in the shoes of the African American and why they are not engaged in the environment and other aspects of society; how it feels to be African American in America. The subtle and not so subtle ways society disenfranchises the black American. The author gives examples how African Americans can contribute to the environment and become part of the sol ...more
William Jordan
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Compelling discussion of the relationship between African Americans and the environmental movement, the National Parks, and the natural environment generally. The central point is that black faces are not seen and black voices not heard in those places, so the African American perspective is missing from any discussions and our understanding of the environment. Somewhat too abstract and jargony for me at times. I would have liked more concrete examples to enhance my understanding of her assertio ...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
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