Updated: Jul 11, 2020
These last few weeks have been a huge wake up call to many of us. White and non-black people of color don’t have to live with the same daily reality of police violence that black people in this country do, a fact starkly shown by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. But these deaths are only a snapshot into the centuries of anti-black violence and oppression in this country. Which is why anti-racism is and has to be a constant practice, spanning beyond these past few weeks and becoming a daily lens through which we all live our lives and advocate for change.
Before coming to college, I rarely ever thought about race as a white person growing up in a predominantly white town. Learning how racism infiltrates all aspects of our lives is an uncomfortable and difficult process. But it also opens us up to the incredible ideas, collaborations, and the necessary solutions for the future.
As someone whose work often deals with the environment and our climate crisis, I’m also particularly passionate about how environmental concerns intersect with racism. As activist Leah Thomas pointed out in a recent article, Why every environmentalist should be anti-racist, “The time is now to examine the ways the Black Lives Matter movement and environmentalism are linked.”
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy advisor, and has founded two organizations that help come up with and implement climate crisis solutions. “But I’m also a black person in the United States of America,” she recently wrote. “I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.”
Sam Grant, executive director of the Minnesota climate activist group 350.org, says, “Police violence is an aspect of a broader pattern of structural violence, which the climate crisis is a manifestation of. Healing structural violence is actually in the best interest of all human beings.”
And as the Indigenous Climate Action group said in their recent solidarity statement with Black Lives Matter, "We understand that the struggles of Black, Indigenous, migrant, poor, and all other oppressed people – each exacerbated by the present pandemic and economic and ecological crises – are fundamentally connected." Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination is necessary to include in this conversation, especially as we talk about the intersections between social injustices and our climate crisis.
I’ve taken a break this last week from Mendota research to educate myself further on race, especially as it relates to environmentalism. Below are some resources I’ve found helpful. They are by no means comprehensive, and I hope you continue to pursue these topics in your own time. I welcome further resource recommendations, corrections, and discussion.
RESOURCES ON ANTI-RACISM & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Here is a great collection of anti-racism resources curated by Rachel Rickets, a racial justice educator, lawyer, healer, speaker and author. There are resources on everything from white privilege to healing for women of color, biracial identities, and how the pandemic disproportionately impacts black communities.
Watch this short video to get the quick rundown on environmental racism. The book Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor dives much deeper into them, exploring the systemic issues that lead black people, indigenous people, poor people, and people of color to be disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards.
Some examples of environmental racism
The case of Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 caught the attention of Civil Rights activists and helped sparked the naming and exposure of environmental racism.
In 1987, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice released a groundbreaking study, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. The most important variable in predicting where commercial hazardous waste facilities were located in the U.S. was race. It's more predictive than household income or the value of homes.
The infamous Flint Water Crisis is one of the most well-known cases of environmental racism in our country.
A recent report by the EPA discusses environmental racism as it relates to air pollution.
Five important environmental justice leaders give a brief (and important) overview of the history and context of environmental justice, from its origins in the Civil Rights Movement to indigenous rights and current day youth-led movements. A bit more history about the environmental justice movement can be found here. Read the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice established at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in Washington, D.C. in 1991. These principles still guide organizing to this day.
This really helpful (and short) video describes what “intersectionality” is in an interview with Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer, professor, and the first person to formally term it. This is a great video highlighting some of the intersectional activism occurring right here in Dane County, Wisconsin.
Now, let’s connect this to environmentalism. This article discusses the history of “African ecofeminism,” a term used to describe the activism of certain African feminists who aim to combat the economic and environmental inequity they experience and witness as African women. This approach to environmentalism, one that unites both environmental destruction with how different identities experience them, is also recognized as “Intersectional Environmentalism.” The lens of intersectionality helps to analyze, critique, and change our world in order to achieve environmental and social justice for all.
Leah Thomas, an activist and eco-communicator, has been a recent voice on Intersectional Environmentalism. This article of hers includes a great list of organizations in America that take an intersectional approach to environmental justice.
Indigenous Sovereignty and Self-Determination
The Anishinaabek, Mushkegowuk, Onkwehonwe, and Lenape Peoples explain indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.
This article helps explain how fighting the climate crisis requires fighting for indigenous rights. Here are some more resources on why indigenous sovereignty and self-determination is important for our climate crisis, compiled by Land Rights Now, a campaign to secure indigenous and community land rights across the globe.
This article explains some of the ways current mainstream conservation movements are failing indigenous people, and what we could be doing instead.
Here’s Indigenous Climate Action’s solidarity statement with Black Lives Matter, which gives some information about the connections between indigenous sovereignty, black liberation, and the climate crisis.
Here are some organizations I follow on instagram that I've found to have really helpful information, activism, and perspectives on environmental justice & the climate crisis:
@mikaelaloach –– climate justice and antiracism activist
@soulfirefarm –– "Soul Fire Farm is committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system"
@she_colorsnature -- Chelsea Murphy, advocate for diversity in the outdoors
@wastefreemarie –– Climate and racial justice activist
@indigenousrising –– a media project of the Indigenous Environmental Network
@indigenousclimateaction –– “An indigenous led org working to inspire and support Indigenous-led climate solutions”
@re.earthorg –– International youth-led organization that emphasizes environmental justice through social justice
@thisiszerohour –– “An intersectional movement of youth activists fighting for a livable planet for all”
Feel free to comment additional resources/accounts about anti-racism, environmental justice, or other relevant topics.
About the Author & Project
Julia Buskirk has always loved lakes, but after doing research for the Center for Limnology at Trout Lake Station last summer, she is particularly interested in the stories science tells about them. As a Conservation Biology and English double major, she looks forward to bringing these stories outside of a scientific realm and sharing them with anyone who cares about our water.
Thanks to UW-Madison's Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Fellowship for funding this project, to Joshua Calhoun (Assoc. Prof., English Department; Affiliate Faculty, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies), & to the Holding History program for hosting this bookish, bloggish conversation about waterways.