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About Racism

The following is a talk given at an online workshop for the Sustaining All Life/United to End Racism delegates before the September 2020 Climate Week:

We are doing important work together. We are doing it against systems that would very much like to remain in place and that have ways and tools to keep us separated.

Racism exists as a tool for exploitation. It is an entirely artificial idea that provides a pretext for exploiting people. Historic and systemic racism has affected our individual lives, interpersonal connections, relationships, and every action we try to take together, including on climate change.

Racism keeps us from having the relationships we want. It keeps us from going out and connecting with each other and taking on [confronting and doing something about] the challenges we face. It has a damaging effect on everyone. It is a way to put distance between us so that we can be restimulated enough not to fight against the oppression of someone else. That way we stay separated. And we hear messages that we are not good enough or, if we are in the oppressor role, that we are better than everyone else.

We grow up being told that we are less intelligent or are the most intelligent, which makes it difficult for us to see each other, connect with each other, and reach for each other. This divides us enough that there is almost no one left to fight for our liberation except ourselves alone.

As a team, how are we doing with racism?

If you are a person targeted by racism, where and how has racism silenced you?

We have shown up [come] to do this work, and that means that we want to work together, and work well together. But that is not going to happen unless we understand and heal from the effects of racism. So how do we do that?

We heal by telling how racism has affected us—what has happened to us and is happening to us now. Also, what happened to our ancestors, our people.

We want to heal and to reclaim our power. We want to reach for each other. We want to really see each other as people who are working for the same movement. We who have been hurt by racism want to discharge and reclaim our voices. We want to remember our goodness. We want to remember and reclaim our intelligence and never forget the fact that we are complete human beings. When we do that, we feel and act more powerfully and are more hopeful about ending racism and other oppressions. We remember our significance. We remember to take up space and to reach for each other.


A struggle for me and probably many others is about being heard and seen. One of the many ways I have experienced racism that still gets me [upsets me] is when people talk over me. I used to think, “Oh yeah, it’s my voice—I’m not loud enough.” But I realized that it is racism. It is difficult for people to actually see or hear. If a group of us is sitting somewhere and we are of different races, the person with the oppressor distress looks at us and seems to rate us, to put us on a list, and more often than not I come up last on that list of people who should be listened to or talked to. The result is discouragement and isolation. It becomes more difficult for me to reach out and show myself and have meaningful connections with people. I can see the damage it is doing because I want to connect with and relate well to everybody, including everybody here—because we did show up, and we did that because we want to work together.

I and several others of us come from a continent that has been misunderstood and misrepresented. When we show up at a meeting, the first assumption seems to be that we don’t know anything about anything, that we are people who need help to do everything, including the simple things we do every day.

People generally do not approach us with, “I am glad you are here. I am glad we are doing this together. I know you are as intelligent as I am. Let me know if you need any help.” Usually it is, “Yes, you are from Africa, so you don’t know anything, and you definitely need my help or for me to save you.” That takes our relationship a step back. 

I want you to remember that we are intelligent and that where a gap exists between what I know and what I should know, it’s not my fault and it’s not your fault. It is how we have been set up by the oppression. If I am struggling to catch up, it is because the resources that would have made it possible for me to be where I should be have been stolen from us. First colonialism came and wiped out every plan we had for our lives. Then several generations, including our own, have had to rebuild and heal from the damage of the attempted genocide and all the other oppression we have faced.

We are trying to save what is left of our continent as it continues to be exploited, and we still have to deal with war. We wake up every day knowing that there are several systems trying to destroy us, trying to ensure that we will never succeed or will remain weak enough that we do not fight for ourselves.

Africa has also been the hardest hit by climate change, while contributing the least to causing it. Climate change has affected food prices and as a result food security, food accessibility, and the ability to receive essential nutrients from the food we consume. A warmer planet also brings the threat of new pests and diseases, including water-borne diseases in flood-prone areas, and an inability for us to adapt quickly enough to these new threats to the food chain.

So because of climate change, we face lack of food and the opportunity to grow our own food, and millions of people are displaced by floods and drought and related conflicts. And this is as the West continues to exploit and loot the continent, making it difficult for us to organize the resources we need for a proper long-term response to climate change.

Western countries still benefit from centuries of injustice. If we want to genuinely address climate change, we need collective action to make the West give back the wealth it has stolen from the ninety percent of the world it has made poor—the wealth it has spent centuries amassing, with extreme violence. Giving back that wealth is how the West can stop climate change, together with reducing its emissions.

This is what the struggle looks like for me and for others here.

We know and appreciate our strength and intelligence. We also are aware of the oppressive system’s attempts to silence us. That is why we continue to reach out and show up [be present] even when it is difficult to do so.

Janet Kabue

Co-leader of the Sustaining All
Life/United to End Racism delegation

Nairobi, Kenya

(Present Time 202, January 2021)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00