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

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

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

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

Excerpt

Surely I am able to write poems
celebrating grass and how the blue
in the sky can flow green or red
and the waters lean against the
chesapeake shore like a familiar,
poems about nature and landscape
surely but whenever I begin
“the trees wave their knotted branches
and …” why
is there under that poem always
an other poem?

—From Mercy by Lucille Clifton

In May 2006, Vanity Fair, a monthly magazine with national distribution, published a special issue focusing on environmental issues. Labeled the “Green Issue,” it had such celebrities as Julia Roberts and George Clooney, resplendent in green, alongside politicians Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., gracing its cover. Inside the issue, Al Gore outlined the global warming “crisis” and then shared the “good news” that “we can solve this crisis, and as we finally do accept the truth of our situation and turn to boldly face down the danger that is stalking us, we will find that it is also bringing us an unprecedented opportunity” (Gore 2006, 171). Following his optimistic proclamation were twenty-eight pages of photos and text reflecting the voices of well-known eco-activists, environmental organizations, and celebrities who are considered proactive in combating the world’s environmental crisis. Among the sixty-three pictures and profiles, however, only two pictures of African Americans (and one African, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai) could be found.

It might be tempting to dismiss this striking imbalance because of the issue’s celebrity-driven feel (even if Gore lent some gravitas). For a gossip-driven, advertisement-heavy magazine, allocating an entire issue to . . .

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