Most students who have attended Indiana University Bloomington have had at least one experience at Lake Monroe, the popular recreational site in nearby Brown County. For decades, spending time there has been a rite of passage for students at IUB and treasured nearby place for Bloomington locals to relax and recreate. As an IUB alumnae, I have fond memories of swimming, kayaking, ice skating, backpacking, and just hanging out at the Lake. Following the events at Lake Monroe over Independence Day weekend, I’ve become more aware that my fond memories are such partially (and mostly) due to my white privilege. By digging into American history surrounding BIPoCs and outdoor spaces, it is apparent that Vauhxx Booker’s horrifying experience is, in the context of history, way more “the rule” instead of “the exception.”
Outdoor recreation has a long road ahead to ensure the safety of ALL people who enjoy beautiful spaces. It is our responsibility to learn more about the history of outdoor public recreation sites in order to further social justice and be steadfast allies to those that feel unsafe. Until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Jim Crow and general segregation between blacks and whites extended to all corners of the United States, including our National Park System and other public recreation lands designated by local, state, and federal governments. Even one of America’s conservation heroes, John Muir, wrote in 1901 that “the Indians are dead now…and need no longer be feared; and all the wilderness is peacefully open.”
Furthermore, many BIPoC peoples associate these spaces as potentially dangerous ones. As a white female undergraduate at IUB, Lake Monroe was a place I considered ‘safe’ for myself and my friends. It is a place that should be safe for everyone; and in my ignorance, I made that assumption. Over July 4th weekend, I watched in horror at the videos of those torturing Booker and loudly demonstrating that our sordid history of racism in public outdoor spaces is sadly something of the past. Indiana University professor and researcher Rasul Mowatt analyzed barriers faced by various groups when recreating outside in the United States. His research includes safety, BIPoC inclusion, racist policies, and the of role inter-generational trauma. Lynching, as Mowatt explains, is more than vigilante violence. It not only became a form of leisure and spectacle; it also was considered a method to maintain power and create the type of fear to make non-White Americans feel inherently unsafe.
In Mowatt’s article Lynching as Leisure: Broadening Notions of a Field (2012), he describes stories of place and leisure as being passed down from one generation to another, creating a concept of space that includes customs, beliefs, and fears. In the case of outdoor public lands in the United States, this concept of lynching as leisure is not merely a thing of the past. According to the NAACP, between 1882-1968 4,743 lynchings occurred around the United States. Although this number is staggering and should require profound consideration, it does not also include the enormous amount of BIPoC lynchings and violent actions that occurred before these dates (slavery and Civil War era) and afterwards (Civil Rights era to today). It is also important to note that although the majority of lynchings occurred in the South, the West and the North are not exempt to these horrendous actions against BIPoC populations (especially Native Americans).
As many outdoor recreators try to rationalize ways in which our spaces are exempt from the Black Lives Matter movement, or even occasionally participate in programs that can lead us to pat ourselves on the back for ‘assisting’ other races, it’s important to consider the complicated history of many races with outdoor spaces in the United States. This isn’t new. We are just late to the broadcast.
What can we do to attempt to comprehend others’ experiences in outdoor public spaces and convince younger generations they are invited to join the outdoor community? Although listening to others stories and studying history is essential, so is action. This is not a contract that ends after one phone call or one social media post. It is a lifestyle that requires work, uncomfortable mistakes, and even more awkward questions. What Vauhxx Booker experienced while trying to recreate with loved ones at Lake Monroe is not only an atrocity, it displays the immense need for us to pressure lawmakers, police entities (in this case, the DNR), and the general public that their complacency is unacceptable.
* This article was reviewed and approved by Vauhxx Booker before publishing
Resources and further information
From this specific case:
For those inquiring how to provide financial support for Vauhxx: https://gf.me/u/yffu48
If you’d like to follow and support Vauhxx’s activism, please follow his public figure page:
Video shows racist attack directed at Bloomington Man on the 4th of July, Bloomingtonian, Jeremy Hogan, https://bloomingtonian.com/2020/07/05/bloomington-man-threatened-with-noose-during-assault-at-lake-monroe/
Lynching as Leisure: Broadening Notions of a Field, Rasul Mowatt (2012)
The History of Lynching, NAACP, https://www.naacp.org/history-of-lynchings/
The 1619 Project (Podcast version), New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html