A Class on Care of the Environment,
for People Targeted by Racism

A few weeks ago I was invited to do a class on care of the environment for an Area1 class of people targeted by racism. I was pleased to have the opportunity, because I knew that I, at least, would learn a lot. 

After introductions and “news and goods,” I laid out the four things I wanted to cover: 

• Remembering a connection to nature 

• That “it’s your world“—all of it 

• Feelings about environmentalists 

• That it might be a good idea to give some thought to climate change

I started with the first item by sharing some stories from my own growing up in the city of Chicago, Illinois, USA. I picked stories that I thought would be accessible to people who had varying histories of time spent in wild places. I talked about my backyard, which was my world as a young child. I lived in an apartment building that formed two sides of a rectangle, and the remaining space was the backyard. Every spring the neighbors would prepare the ground so we could plant grass seed. Then they would rope off the yard to keep us children out until the grass grew. As soon as we could start playing on it, of course our running feet tended to destroy the grass, but I loved the ritual of doing this every spring. My backyard also had a tree that I spent hours in as an escape from the tensions in my family. The brick walls of the surrounding buildings were home to caterpillars, and in July we could catch fireflies in a jar. All this took place in the heart of the city. After I talked about this, we all had mini-sessions on our own stories and then shared them with the group. The stories helped create a backdrop for the other things we shared during the evening. 

I was a bit nervous about my second item, because I had never heard anyone else talk about it. A few months earlier I had watched a short video about an organization in California (USA) that encourages African Americans to go to the national parks. Some African Americans went on a field trip to Yellowstone National Park, and the looks of wonder and excitement on their faces were lovely to see. The founder of this organization talked about how, in his opinion, slavery in the United States would not be fully over until African Americans visited the national parks as much as white people did. That led me to thinking about a direction I’ve used sometimes with a few of my Jewish Co-Counselors: “It’s your world. You have as much right to be here as anyone else, for no special reason beyond that you’re alive and human.” It has seemed useful for me, as an ally to Jews, to insist that it’s their world. As I thought about people targeted by colonialism, slavery, racism, and genocide, it seemed that one of the big messages to targeted people is that the world belongs to the dominators, to the white people, and not to them. So in the class I briefly laid out these thoughts and then firmly insisted that the world was theirs—all of it. Then we did minis again and a good amount of discharge was going on.2 Afterward there was a thoughtful discussion about how the direction itself is built on the idea of possession and ownership and that it might be more accurate to say that we belong to the world rather than that the world is ours. I’d love for people to try it both ways and see what comes of it.3 

Time was getting short, so I briefly mentioned the third item, saying that I guessed there might be some feelings about environmentalists and welcoming the group to aim them at me. I mentioned a couple of prominent African American environmental leaders but said that they didn’t fit the usual image of an environmentalist. This invited a little commentary about what stereotypical environmentalists looked like. 

I said nothing further about climate change, figuring that we had more than enough going on already. Like a pebble dropped into a lake, the little ripples could spread out from my earlier tiny mention of it. 

I counseled a couple of people in front of the group, and their sessions drew from all four areas I had touched on. Feelings about environmentalists did get opened up, and I think it was fruitful to have space to work on them. One person said that if she showed concern for the environment, she got accused in a negative way of being an environmentalist. For another, racism needed to be acknowledged and discharged on to make some space for her to consider the environment. 

I am curious to know if these ideas work for other people as a way to open up discharge on racism and the environment. I look forward to hearing from others, and to more opportunities to listen, learn, and try things to see what moves us forward. 

Madeleine Para 
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for RC Community
members involved in eliminating racism 


1 An Area is a local RC Community.
2 “Going on” means happening.
3 “Comes of it” means results from it.


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07