YEP, I was actually asked that question this morning. Who knew that a trip to the store to get last minute camping supplies would result in a reflection and discussion on vacation time and race.
With everything going on in this country today, the last thing I intended to do today was write anything having to do with race, because I think plenty has been written on that topic of late. But I feel compelled to share this story. As my very friendly and observant African-American cashier rang up my items, she noticed that I had all the ingredients in my cart to make S’mores. She smiled at me and asked “are you going to make S’mores on the gril?” I responded, “Actually no, our family is going camping in Utah and will be making them with our granddaughter over a campfire.”. The cashier stopped ringing up my items, turned and looked at me and asked that question “sooooo, Black people go camping??”. She stared at me, waiting for my answer. “Ummmm, Yes, they do… well, at least our family does”. Her next question was “so you sleep in a tent and everything?”. I shared that we have a camper. “Nawwwwwwwww, get outta here!!” she said. So I showed her the photo of our camper. She squealed “wow, check it out!!!” She then called over other cashiers, who weren’t busy given the early hour I was shopping. At once I became a spectacle. The other cashiers ooohhed and ahhhed as well and agreed with my cashier that they’d never known any black people who’d ever been camping.One cashier asked, “You like camping?… Did you used to be a Girl Scout or something?” I said that I had been a Girl Scout as a kid, but that I couldn’t afford to go on the camping trips they sponsored.
I found our discussion so interesting, because this very week I was most intrigued by a posting on the National Park Service’s Facebook page in which they announced a new initiative created in attempt to get more African-Americans to visit the National Parks. The article shared that in spite of the massive growth in visitors to the parks over the last few years (292 million people in 2014 alone), African-Americans continue to be the most underepresented demographic visiting the parks. In attempt to raise these numbers, they’ve enlisted the help of several retired African-American NFL players who are avid campers and hikers, including one who has hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon several times. I thought the initiative was a great one, as did several others who commented on the FB posting. BUT some of the other comments were personally heartbreaking and disturbing. One person wrote “who cares if they come, it’s a stupid initiative, spend the money on something valuable”. Another wrote “We don’t need them messing up our National Parks like they do their neighborhoods”. I stopped reading the comments at that point.
Going back to my discussion with the cashiers, one of them asked me if I ever see other black people camping. I was very honest and explained that last summer was our first foray back into camping after a 20 year absence. I said that we rarely saw others who looked like us when were were tent camping years ago, and since we purchased our camper last summer and camped almost every weekend, we only saw one interracial couple. I added that not seeing others who looked like us hadn’t disssuaded us from going, and that the fellow campers we’ve encountered on our trips have been beyond friendly. They looked astonished! I wasn’t sure if it was because they were stunned that we could actually have fun with people who are different from us, or that those different from us would actually be welcoming to us, or that we wouldn’t want to spend our vacation time just with people who look like us. That seemed like a great place to end the discussion. As I left the store, all of the ladies yelled “have a great trip” and I yelled back “thanks, we will”.
On the ride home from the store, I thought a lot about my discussion with the cashiers. I am very aware that we are probably going to be very much in the minority this summer wherever we go in the camper. I am also aware that we did two things over the past couple of months that we did very consciously. First, we intentionally removed the word “bullet” from our camper that just happened to be the model name of our camper. I never liked the word because I’m not a huge fan of guns and bullets for obvious reasons. The second thing we did was to purchase a Ford Expedition to tow our camper, as it is safer and a vehicle intended for towing travel trailers like ours. What is significant is that we traded in a Cadillac Escalade for the Ford. If we experienced anything unusual this past camping season, I’d say we got some interesting looks as we drove up with the Escalade towing our camper. I think some campers were initially afraid (due to sterotypical movies and videos) that drug dealers had invaded their campground. It probably didn’t matter to anyone that Tim used the vehicle for his sedan service business. Thankfully, once we would say hello people would seem to relax and dispel the notion that we weren’t good people. Now that we have a more “camping-like” vehicle, I’m guessing we’ve erased one stereotypical notion about African-Americans and Cadillacs.
I wonder what my Mom would say if she understood that Tim and I are camping again. I think she’d be thrilled. She loved taking us when we were kids to the National Parks in the DC area, and would be excited that we were continuing what she started. But when I think back to my grandmother Alberta, she’d agree more with my cashiers from this morning!! I’ll never forget the very first time I announced that Tim and I were going camping! My grandmother was terrified for us. She said “they have bears in those woods, and you’d be their first target because they’ve probably never had dark meat before!!!!” Lord have mercy!!!! But we went anyway and never had a bad encounter with a bear, and we hope to continue that trend this trip!!
So here’s to the Veney / Sewards road trip in our Memory Maker that begins this Thursday!! I pray that we have adventures that we will never forget, and that we will meet other adventurous people who can share in some of the awe-inspiring moments with us. I also pray that our race won’t be a factor at all.
Loretta, I’m so thankful to have met you through USA2 and to call you a friend. Thanks for sharing this story. I’m so disheartened by all that’s happening in America; it baffles me that racial issues are in the headlines – still – in 2015. Here’s wishing you an amazing trip – camping in Utah sounds like a dream. Can’t wait to see pictures and hear all about your adventures. xo
Hi Ann, YES indeed I too am thankful that we’ve become friends though it’s been through such a horrible disease. The happenings in the country today are just mindblowing! I know our trip will be a Blast and a true learning experience!! Thanks again!!
Loretta, Tim, Herb, Kim, and Kendal, first and foremost, Godspeed! Have a safe and fruitful and enjoyable journey. Loretta, the cashier’s reaction doesn’t surprise me. Nor, I think, you. I believe that camping, especially of the sort the Veneys and Sewards are about to do – with a camper, has been and is out of economic reach for a good many folk of all colors; hence making the camping experience one complicated by race AND class distinctions. I think, too, your testimony of not being able to afford to camp when younger and as a Girl Scout rings true still for many. All that said – have a ball!
Thanks Paul! I actually was a little surprised about the comment, because though I totally get your point about the economics of camping, some of the conversation with the cashiers was not about cost at all, but more about the impression that it’s an activity that we wouldn’t think of doing or would be welcomed into even if it were free. It saddened me.Thanks for your good wishes for our trip! We appreciate it and you.
This is why you are a “angel” riding around the DMV in your Cadillac spreading your good cheer, knowledge and experience where ever you go. I know you touched those cashiers lives in the best way and planted a good seed. Have a greattt safe trip and I’ve booked my late summer trip to Big Sky Country in Montana. Laura Ingalls here I come.
AWWWWWW MAN!!!! BIG SKY, MONTANA!!!! OHHHHH, I can’t WAIT to see the pics!!!!
Thanks Lt. Col, Gen!! I appreciate you and your unwavering faith in me and my calling! You Rock!! And I have not forgotten that you were a Laura Ingalls fan!!! Me too!! Montana’s on my list too!
Sadly, those befuddled comments aren’t isolated to camping. Anytime we (as African Americans) go anywhere that’s not in the caribbean, we are stereo-typed. I’m used to it. When having conversations with those outside of my community, there is always a mixed response. It’s either enthusiasm and a nice conversation or skeptism and a side eyed look until they realize that I am not lying. When we traveled to Egypt, we were very warmly received. Dubai was a little different, but not terrible.
It is TRULY disheartening, that there is still the belief that Black People don’t travel, camp, hike or any of the other things that other communities do. I guess they’ve not seen the cover of our President surfing. – LOL.
Minority or not, I SOOOO look forward to this and subsequent trips. I’m UBER excited to see how these experiences shape Kendal.
That’s right Kim!! We’re gonna have an absolute blast!! No matter what transpires, we wil ensure that Kendal has fabulous memories!! Oh Lord, and thanks for the reminder about Dubai!! Whew!! And just for the record, NOPE we are NOT surfing!!
What a great story that is so real. I’m excited about our adventure and love the way all are participating. It will be a grand time. So as Kendal says I’m going on a adventure.
There is also another side to the story. I’m a country boy who played in the woods and used tree leaves for toilet paper when the need arose. We also had to use the outhouse during my entire youth (running water and inside toilets came after I left for college). So, camping out and “roughing it” had no allure for me because I lived it in my youth. But maybe it’s just me. Some of my classmates now own campers. If you run across some Black campers from Calvert, and them of they know me. Anyway, enjoy your adventures!!!
That’s a GREAT story Bruce!!! Love it!!!! If I see any folks from Calvert, I’ll definitely ask if they know you!!!!!
Oops, sorry for the typo. It should have read “ask them if they know me.”