Skip to main content

Black Faces, White Spaces: Systemic Racism and the Environment (featuring Dr. Carolyn Finney)

September 23, 2020

Systemic Racism and the Environment (featuring Carolyn Finney)



In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minnesota. Within the same week, Christian Cooper, a Black man, avid birder, and member of the New York City Audubon Society was birding in Central Park when a white woman called the New York City police on him after he asked her to leash her dog. In her phone call to police, she portrayed Cooper as a threatening black man. As these events unfolded simultaneously, many people working in outdoor and environmental spaces reckoned with the traditional centering of white experiences in nature and the role that systemic racism has played in the environmental movement

In her book, “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors”, Dr. Carolyn Finney explores why African Americans are underrepresented in environmental movements.

In this River Talk, Cumberland River Compact Executive Director Mekayle Houghton joins Carolyn Finney for a conversation on the historic and lived experiences that have brought us to where the environmental movement is today and how we can build a more inclusive, equitable, and just future.

Subscribe to River Talks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google.

About Dr. Carolyn Finney

Dr. Carolyn Finney is a storyteller, author and a cultural geographer whose work aims to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations, challenge media outlets on their representation of difference, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action.  She is currently a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College’s Franklin Environmental Center.

Read more about Carolyn Finney and purchase her book at her website:

In this podcast:

  • How Carolyn Finney’s lived experiences have shaped her views on African Americans in the outdoors.
  • Why is the outdoors not always seen as a place for joy and peace for African Americans? What role does systemic racism play in this reality?
  • Who are some of the people who have been left out of the traditional environmental movement’s narrative?
  • How can environmental groups create a more welcoming space for African Americans in the outdoors?
Learn more about the resources mentioned in this episode: