News flash



Climate Change & Climate Science
Diane Shisk &
Janet Kabue
January 20 & 21

Connecting Racism and Care of the Environment

For years it was very difficult for me to see how care of the environment was my issue. In the United States, white people are usually shown as the key leaders of environmental work, so it felt like a “white people’s issue.” So many other issues are affecting black people and other people of color in my country—issues like racism, poverty, gun violence, and mass incarceration—that I could not see how to make care of the environment a priority for me.

This changed after I attended the Environment and Racism Workshop led by Barbara Love (the International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People) and Diane Shisk (the Alternate International Reference Person).

Barbara helped me see that what is happening with the planet is just an extension of the racism, colonialism, classism, and other forms of oppression that have been used to exploit our people for centuries. Our own homelands have been forced to build economies based on one “cash crop” or industry—often to the detriment of the very environment we rely on (for example, Angola’s complete dependence on oil to fund all of its governmental operations).

It is interesting for all of us, but particularly those of us who are people of the global majority, to discharge about the idea of “home” and “land” in exploring our connection to the planet, to the environment. Indigenous peoples had their lands stolen from them. Most of us people of the global majority in the United States were either forced to leave our homelands or fled under extremely oppressive conditions. Many of us experienced brutal wars carried out or supported by the U.S. military. Many of us still live in segregated areas with few resources—areas that were forced on us when our families arrived here. (Some of my family members fear spending time outside in the summer, because of the number of shootings in their neighborhoods.)

As USers we also have other work to do. The United States carried out the genocide of Native peoples to become a nation. As capitalism advanced, the country began acting to keep oppression in place throughout the world. Currently our country exploits vast amounts of the world’s resources and labor, often by means of our ongoing support of and involvement in conflicts and wars throughout the world. Thus any of us who live here, regardless of our individual class status, have lots of work to do on the role our country plays in relation to the rest of the world.

At the workshop, Rudy Nickens (the Regional Reference Person for Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, USA) led a powerful group on the events in Ferguson, Missouri, resulting from the police killing of the unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown. He explained why it is important to get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. He said it was important that those of us with more “comfortable” jobs or lives become visible supporters of this movement and show that we stand with other Black people (often young people) who are expressing their outrage at the exploitation and violence.

Rudy, Barbara, and Diane all encouraged white people to experiment with challenging racism among other white people. One white woman shared her experiences in going door-to-door in white neighborhoods asking people to put Black Lives Matter signs in their yards. It was a way to interrupt racism—and show white people their goodness and caring—right then, right there.

Finally, I could begin to see how care of the environment is related to my life and the things I care about. There are many roads into this issue.

I also got to discharge about feeling like “I can’t look at one more thing” and the early hurts that left me with that recording. Barbara encouraged us to discharge any feelings that “we don’t want to clean up a mess that white people made.” We must do this. This is our planet.

Barbara, Rudy, and Diane all helped me understand that anything we can do to stand against capitalism and the exploitation of humans is a step toward fighting for our entire planet. It is a good time for all of us to try things, in and out of RC, and be visible in standing against all forms of oppression.

I am now thinking about ways I can help my friends and colleagues think about the interconnections between the brutality of our criminal justice system and the exploitation of our planet. I am thinking about conversations I can start with people doing environmental work on how to make sure they are including Black people in those efforts. I am encouraging leaders in my RC Community to try going to more rallies, demonstrations, and other events, particularly ones where Black people will be present.

I also want to work more on the idea of “comfort” as a Black U.S. middle-class person, in the context of the environment. I think we have been taught that we can “succeed” our way out of racism and that the goal is to become upwardly mobile—that this is the way to show we are not limited by racism anymore. I think it’s important for us to discharge on the lies we are made to believe about what a “good life” actually means. We need to be able to think for ourselves about how we want to use our minds and our attention—not just build our lives around the constant messages that tell us to make more money and buy more things.

I think we need to be careful as RCers about telling people that there are certain ways they should live their lives, or certain things they should do, in order to claim the care-of-the-environment issue as their own. We can stretch our minds to think about the many ways this issue intersects with those that are central to other groups. We can listen to people in other groups and ask them what they think, and we can try many different things as we work on this. I am excited about the possibilities.

I would love to hear about how other global majority people are working on this issue.

Alysia Tate

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lists for RC Community members and for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 182, January 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00