Black Faces, White Spaces Review

Review by Kristen

Carolyn Finney combines geography, history, Critical Race Theory, environmentalism, conservation, and ecology into an adept analysis of the African American experience in the environmental movement. By examining pop culture references and current and past historical events (Hurricane Katrina, for example), she adeptly paints a portrait of how and why African Americans are excluded from the white-dominated environmental movement.  

 As a white conservationist, I found her stories on the Black experience in nature to be deeply moving. Finney draws from her own background as the child of land managers, parents who lived and maintained a beautiful, lush property but who never owned a single acre of that land themselves. This Black exclusion from natural spaces (including the National Parks system, for one example) is the direct result of slavery and Jim Crow. Perhaps most shocking to me was the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll that some natural places or symbols can have on Black individuals due to the horrific treatment of Black people in the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow United States. Despite this horror, she tells comforting stories about groups or individuals working in their community to right the wrongs of this injustice and reclaim the land and environment on behalf of Black people.  

Black Faces, White Spaces reads like an academic text and very much is one. It is perfect for those interested in discussions at the intersection of race and the environment. I hope the storytelling of this work encourages white, privileged individuals to re-examine their role in the environmental movement.

Find Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney at one of our branches or on Hoopla.