BY GLENN SAPIR
Creating diversity within OWAA is a classic chicken-and-egg situation. Outdoor communicators grow out of outdoor participants, in general. Outdoor participants must be mentored or lured into participation, often by parents, friends, or, perhaps outdoor communicators, especially those with whom they can relate.
It is frustrating to try to fit diversity into that equation. Where do minority outdoor participants and communicators come from? Do they exist now?
At the National Shooting Sports Foundation, our research department has reached out to other experts in outdoor research regarding minority participation in outdoor recreation. Studies and statistics are scarce.
So, I can at best offer gut feelings based on my experience.
Cultural traditions are hard to overcome, and there may be a lack of outdoor recreation, especially hunting and, to a lesser extent, fishing, in many peoples’ backgrounds.
I am Jewish. Some may refer to the Old Testament and point out that it says people aren’t supposed to kill for pleasure. Also, an important part of an observant Jew’s religious and secular life is obeying the Jewish dietary laws. In part, that means animals must be slaughtered in a prescribed fashion to be kosher, and killing them with bullet, shot or arrow is not allowed. Throughout the medieval and more modern times, Jewish people were less tied to the land and were more likely to earn their livelihood as merchants, bankers and other traders, losing a connection with killing for their food.
Even without a reliable collection of statistics, I would venture a guess that the percentage of Jewish people who hunt and fish is far less than the percentage of the general white population in America.
Now, let’s look beyond minorities within our white population, which itself is quickly approaching minority status in the United States. Is sport hunting historically part of the Asian or Hispanic culture? The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hired personnel who spoke Asian languages to administer hunter education courses and to emphasize the existence and need to follow hunting and fishing regulations. For cultures that have long subsisted on fish, livestock and wildlife, a minimum size or bag limit is incomprehensible.
I’ve seen little evidence of active sport fishing or hunting participation in Latin American countries, except for among the very wealthy, or where it exists as part of the economy in order to draw in tourists.
Blacks have been stereotyped as anglers who sat on the bank with cane poles and baitfished. They were not the target of lure manufactures, for example. Most non-white ethnic groups have had to fight their way up the socioeconomic ladder, with limited discretionary income for equipment and travel for outdoor recreation.
I have sat in meetings where people of these ethnic backgrounds are referred to as the fruit at the top of the tree, meaning that they would be the hardest to pick and put into the basket — in this case, the basket of hunters and anglers.
I have been sensitive to the lack of diversity in our own organization, but when looking about during a dinner at an OWAA conference, it is quickly obvious that neither I nor anyone else has done much to diversify the composition of our membership. And I still don’t have any magic solution to do so, but I do have some suggestions:
♦ Encourage our membership to find subjects of ethnic minorities for their articles and broadcasts and show these minority participants in magazine cover photographs and photos that run with articles. My kudos to the Missouri Department of Conservation, for being one of the first to feature minority sportsmen on the covers of their publications. This is a way to create role models.
♦ Use our Excellence in Craft contests to create a category for published writing and photography where minorities must be the subjects. Blatant? You bet. But it could help as much as anything I can think of to get our members to write about and photograph these subjects, thus creating more exposure and role models.
♦ Have panels at conference sessions that intentionally include members of minorities, allowing them, again, to become subjects of our coverage. n Identify existing minority outdoor communicators and make a special effort to recruit them into OWAA membership.
n Be mindful of all significant religious and/or ethnic celebrations and observations when planning organizational events.
♦ Though I am not advocating special consideration in the evaluation of scholarship applications submitted by minority students, I am advocating a special effort to promote our scholarship program to colleges and universities with a particularly significant minority student body. I would also make a special effort to promote our student membership availability at these institutions.
♦ Consider holding Becoming an Outdoor Communicator seminars at colleges with a significant minority component.
♦ When I proposed what became the Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards competition, my hope was to get young people writing about the outdoors in communication with their peers. Such support of the writing competition needs to be directed at more communities through our HQ staff and our members. ◊
An OWAA member since 1975, Glenn Sapir is from Putnam, N.Y. He is the director of editorial services for the national Shooting Sports Foundation. Contact him at gsapir@ earthlink.net.
BY GLENN SAPIR