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mattbrowne's avatar

Curious observation - Black and white tourists in the US - Where are all the African-American tourists?

Asked by mattbrowne (31449 points ) September 24th, 2010

First of all, our summer vacation in Arizona and Utah was beyond amazing. We had 3½ wonderful weeks. It was absolutely yotta, zetta, exa fabulous. We did so much hiking that I actually lost 7 pounds, although we enjoyed plenty of good food. The nature, in its infinite beauty, was truly breathtaking.

But there’s one thing I was always puzzled about: Why are almost all tourists white? Where are all the black tourists? Don’t they travel? Don’t they like nature? They make up about 12% of the US population. That’s almost 40 million people.

Here’s a list of places we visited with 2 numbers attached: approximate total number of people we saw (we didn’t count of course) and number of black people we saw.

Canyon de Chelly: 300, 0
Monument Valley: 30, 0
Canyonlands: 400, 0
Arches NP: 2000, 2
Capitol Reef: 300, 0
Calf Creek Area: 150, 0
Escalante State Park: 100, 0
Bryce Canyon: 1500, 4
Red Canyon: 50, 0
Zion NP: 2500, 6
Pipe Spring NM: 30, 0
Lake Powell Area: 200, 0
Antelope Canyon: 50, 0
Grand Canyon Rim Areas: 3500, 10
South Kaibab Trail/Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Trail: 200, 1
Riordan State Historic Park: 30, 0
Sonora Desert Museum: 500, 2
Saguaro NP: 50, 0
Sabino Canyon: 80, 0
Mt. Lemmon Area: 40, 0
Casa Grande Ruins: 30, 0
Superstition Mtns/Apache Trail: 20, 0

That’s roughly 12,000 people out of which 25 were black. In other words 0.2% not 12%.

Suppose the average household income of African Americans is only half of the overall total average. This would still mean we should see 6% black travelers. Suppose there were a lot of regional tourists and fewer blacks live in those 2 states and their neighboring states. We saw cars and RVs from almost any state. Of course more of them were from California than Illinois or New York. And there were a lot of European tourists and most of them are white.

Still, the 0.2% just don’t make any sense, unless there’s a very good explanation. So I did a bit of Internet research. Here are some observations and comments I found:

- I’ve noticed when they travel they tend to frequent places with a sizeable black population because of comfort and safety issues

- Black people tend to steer clear of areas that seem unwelcoming to them

- Seems that African Americans are rather frequenting cruises

- African Americans are more likely to travel to see family

- Because African Americans could not stay in hotels until 40 years ago, there’s less of a generational disposition to travel and tourism in general

- Blacks are more likely to spend their money on material goods than travel, cultural events or education

Really? What are your thoughts? Is this enough to explain 0.2% instead 12%? Are people in Arizona and Utah really that hostile toward black people? I simply cannot believe this. What is going on here?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

36 Answers

Seek's avatar

Really? Arizona – where they want you to carry papers if you’re anything darker than ivory, and Utah, where the state religion basically states you’re subhuman if you’re black?

That surprises you?

By the way, welcome home! I missed you.

thekoukoureport's avatar

You spent your vacation counting black people? You kinda sound like that guy from wild kingdom.

CMaz's avatar

They are 12.9% of it. So good chance you will not notice.

mattbrowne's avatar

I explicitly said that I didn’t count people. My estimates are very rough. But my analytical mind couldn’t help notice the disproportion.

@Seek_Kolinahr – Thanks for the welcome. Yes, it’s great to be back! Well, I was actually under the impression that all the parks and monuments are being run by very liberal and open-minded people. We met many wonderful rangers (again, all white) for example. I can’t imagine that all people in those two states are ultra conservative. Are African Americans really deterred by a few nutcases?

perg's avatar

Let’s be clear – you’re talking about minority visitors to natural areas. And actually, you’re touching on a topic that is of increasing interest and concern to outdoor, conservation and environmental groups – the disconnect between nature and people of color. It’s likely some combination of history (for example, remember segregated parks?), culture (concentrations of people of color in more urbanized areas, choosing recreation that’s more relevant to them), and economy. And though polls show voters of color are more concerned with the environment than white voters, their priorities are different – with a less wealthy, more urbanized population, visiting a park may be less environmentally relevant than, say, creating a community garden or protecting drinking water sources. I know this answer is more of a socio-political take on your question than you probably expected, but I think there’s a connection between people’s priorities in that realm and their choices about their free time. You might find interesting info at the Center for Diversity & the Environment

Blackberry's avatar

@mattbrowne To piggyback off of Kolinahr, to people in general, a vacation is a place like the caribbean or a beach setting. I would not vacation in Arizona or Utah just because I do not have that much of a desire to go there. If I saved my money and could pick a place, even if I have been to the Bahamas multiple times and wanted something new, I still wouldn’t go to a place like Utah or Arizona.

Also to be honest, the homogenous makeup of Utah does kind of make me not want to go there at all. Just like I wouldn’t voluntarily visit the woooded areas of the south.

mattbrowne's avatar

@perg – Thanks for sharing your insights. And the link. Very interesting. Well, the ‘Center for Diversity & the Environment’ could promote the hiring of black rangers and staff in all the visitor centers for example. A first small step perhaps. All these wonderful parks shouldn’t be run by 100% white people, right?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blackberry – Arizona doesn’t have a homogeneous makeup. Besides, even the parks in Utah have a very diverse group of tourists. From all over the world. Not only Europe. India. China. Japan. Mexico. You will find wooded areas only at higher altitudes because of the heat and dry climate. It’s not as wooded as you might imagine. That’s what I mean. Why not check it out? I like beaches, but they tend to become a bit boring after the third day.

perg's avatar

@mattbrowne Absolutely (re hiring). Recruitment of park/forest service staff is a big priority. It’s just not seeing a lot of results yet – but some. And hey, @Blackberry, if you WOULD come down to our Southern forests, I’d introduce you to the African-American guy who just took charge of one of the US Forest Service districts in my state… We’re nicer than in the old days, I promise.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Among the destinations popular among African American tourists are:
New Orleans
Charleston S.C. – Black history
Other Black history destinations: http://www.blackhistoryvacations.com/
Northeastern beaches, particularly New York to Virginia
Washington DC

perg's avatar

@Blackberry I would caution against generalizing about what a vacation means “to people in general.” This is what I mean about cultural and historic differences in attitudes toward nature. It may be that people in general that YOU know define a vacation as a beach trip, so that’s what you have learned to prefer. (I’m an exception that proves the rule – we never camped or hiked when I was a kid, I was introduced to it as an adult and now it’s my preferred vacation. But nobody else in my family camps or hikes.) I suspect @mattbrowne was raised in an environment where outdoor activities were preferred. We can talk all day about why that’s the case… but I need to go pack now for my trip to the beach. ;)

YoBob's avatar

Gee, my last family vacation was in Atlanta, Ga. Although I didn’t keep count or anything, it seemed that white folks were definitely a minority in that part of the world.

Blackberry's avatar

@mattbrowne Indeed, I would like to check it out, when I think of Arizona, I’d like to take a ride in the desert and watch the sunset behind some mountains.

@perg I agree, and you have a point about how some people are raised. The reason why I’m not an outdoor, woody person is because I already grew up around that (Northwest). I’ve been to Mt. Rainer and Mt. Hood. But once I saw the city and beach life, clubs etc. I became fascinated with it, and since I didn’t live around it, I always want to go back.

kevbo's avatar

I remember reading somewhere a snippet about hiking in general not really being a part of the black aesthetic similar to what @perg has said. I don’t mean to speak for the black experience in America, but I suspect the idea of “liking nature” in the way “we” commonly regard the notion is somewhat nonsensical. I think the priorities for tourism or vacation among black Americans as a group are more along the lines of family, food, history, arts and luxury (as nature’s antithesis).

thekoukoureport's avatar

wow I used to play the liscense plate game. Didn’t know their was count the other folk game as well.

Seek's avatar

@thekoukoureport My dear friend @mattbrowne‘s brain seems to run at a thousand miles an hour faster than the average Joe. I have full confidence that noting the cultural differences in his fellow vacationers was merely a background process that he happened to revisit upon returning home. ^_^

aprilsimnel's avatar

I couldn’t tell you about other American black people, but I love going travelling in spots other than the Caribbean, though I’ve been there. I’m sure had I the money, I’d be in the 0.2% in places like Joshua Tree and so on. But then again, I just love traveling, period.

I personally can’t be arsed anymore with worrying about what white people think of my presence anywhere, though I understand why many POC would, being from Wisconsin, a place that’s not especially friendly to non-whites in large parts of the state. Life is damn short. If I want to go somewhere and I can afford to go, I’m going.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think you should underestimate current discrimination nor historic discrimination. Not too many years ago, blacks had to plan carefully to drive anywhere. They had to figure out which hotels took them, and where there weren’t enough, they had to bring enough food and know where it was safe to pull off the road to sleep, and not get thrown in jail by a state trooper. These stories are passed down from generation to generation, but they are also reinforced by current racism.

I can’t remember seeing a single black person on a hiking trip or exploring the great outdoors. There are some specific places—Bear Mountain just North of NYC comes to mind—where they are comfortable, probably because there are sufficient numbers of people with their skin color to feel comfortable.

I was just at a talk about where interracial couples choose to live. Surprise, surprise. It seems that they are uncomfortable living in areas that have fewer than 20% of their race living there. Actually, it’s probably higher, but this wasn’t a numbers study. Where they feel most comfortable is in areas that are very mixed—fifty-fifty is preferred. As you might imagine, these are hard to find, and really only exist in urban areas or urbanized suburbs like Plainfield NJ.

The principle I extract from this—a big duh—is that people prefer to go to places where there are a lot of people like them. Until a lot of people of color go the Natural Bridges National Monument, you won’t be seeing many, if any, there.

Rarebear's avatar

When I was recently in France, I saw quite a few black American tourists.

janbb's avatar

Great to se you back @mattbrowne and glad it was a good trip. Interesting discussion – I think @perg ‘s comments are quite on point.

gondwanalon's avatar

It looks like all the areas that you visited are woodsy out of doors parks. Could it be that black folks are less comfortable in these types of places do to some unknown reason(s). Maybe (in general) hanging out in the woods just isn’t their thing.

mattbrowne's avatar

@GeorgeGee – Hmm… Does this mean we have something like segregated tourist spots?

mattbrowne's avatar

@perg – Well, I think the beach versus outdoor activities might be age related rather than related to how people were raised. When I was 19 or 22 I spent a lot of time at beaches. Why? Because there were lots of other young people, lots of parties and lots of flirting going on. Later we went to beaches because our kids were small and like most kids they were not eager to go on long hikes day after day. And they kept themselves busy for hours giving their parents a break. This changed when they got older. Now they are adults planning their own vacations.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – Same thing in Germany at many of the major tourist spots like Munich. Not the Alps, though. Maybe it has to do with hiking as such and not so much with states like Arizona and Utah.

mattbrowne's avatar

@janbb – Yes, it was, especially hiking down the Grand Canyon and spending the night at the Bright Angel campground. No tent. Just a huge blanket of stars above. At 10 pm the temperature had “dropped” to 90 F, quite a relief compared to the 106 F during late afternoon… Go up was fun too, well, for a while… the final 1½ miles were very hard.

Trillian's avatar

It’s nice to have you back @mattbrowne.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks :-)

Neizvestnaya's avatar

From my own American observations of black friends and their families then I agree with these:

Black people tend to steer clear of areas that seem unwelcoming to them
Seems that African Americans are rather frequenting cruises
African Americans are more likely to travel to see family

When I moved to The Valley of The Sun then I heard from many many people who were also transplants, how excited they were not to be “overrun by asians” and “how nice it is there aren’t many black people”. If I were a black family then coming to this state wouldn’t be high on my list.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Neizvestnaya – Actually, we saw more black people in Phoenix and Tucson than in any of the parks mentioned above. These racist comments you mentioned are absolutely horrible, but how many white folks in the Valley really think like that? Not that many, I think. It should not a reason not to travel.

Thirty years ago there was a small percentage of people in the Netherlands who still hated Germans and some of them said so openly. When I was 17 I spent 2 weeks at a beach and was insulted by Dutch people more than once who didn’t even know me. Why? Because I was German. Should this be a reason not to visit the Netherlands? Of course not. Besides, today some of my best friends are Dutch or live in the Netherlands. And the anti-German sentiment is getting weaker and weaker. Today many Dutch tourists spend their vacation in Germany, because they love hills and mountains and the friendly German hosts. World War II ended 65 years ago. It’s time to build a better future. Forced segregation ended more than 40 years ago. Isn’t it time for African Americans to end voluntary segregation on their part?

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@mattbrowne: The only place I’ve really noticed black people here in Phoenix is downtown, I’ve not yet been to Tucson. Lots of people where I live and work in the valley do feel this way, at least enough to say casually speak it aloud. Coming from California where there were so many people from all over the world, adjusting to living here has been tough for me. I’m not anglo but a lot of anglo people don’t see me as “other” and so feel comfortable to speak their minds about these things.

@Seek_Kolinahr: When I moved to AZ in 2004 then predjudices against anyone suspected of being Mexican was already really bad. I was given a hard time while applying for a job because I had just moved and didn’t have my original birth certificate at the ready to prove I was a legal American even though I had my Social Security card and references from other jobs.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Neizvestnaya – We used the DASH to see the state capitol. About 50% of the passengers were black and 30% Hispanic. Well, DASH is a free service, so there’s a correlation with income I guess.

Aster's avatar

Possibly, they have other priorities for their cash . Possibly, they would rather take vacation money and buy vehicles or clothes. Secondly, they may fear racial discrimination esp in Utah as SEEK said.

klutzaroo's avatar

@perg Isn’t this part of the reason that Obama visited national parks last summer

Yetanotheruser's avatar

I was going to respond with something like @GeorgeGee said, but (s)he said it first.
@mattbrowne It’s not so much color segregation as cultural interest. Before I got married (I’m white, my wife is black) I would have no reason to visit South Carolina, but as a family, we have visited there often, to visit (her) family.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Yetanotheruser – I find the cultural interest explanation puzzling. The great national parks in Utah and Arizona get visitors from practically every country in the world with a large enough middle class. If you compare German culture with Chinese or Japanese culture, the differences are far greater than those between white and black Amercans, right? So why did I see so many Chinese and Japanese people? Plus from almost every European country with all its diverse cultures?

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