People of Color’s Erasure from Environmental Justice is a Disgrace In Need of Immediate Correction
by Riv Lobban
My disengagement from anything environmental justice-related came from the simple fact that I never saw anyone in advocacy that looked like me.
I was raised with the belief that being Black in a White-dominated world was hard enough, especially with the staying alive part. I figured, why give a crap about a dying world when people like me are targeted almost everywhere all the time? Therefore, any news content regarding climate change or unjustifiable inaction just flew over my head and into someone who actually cared.
My waking up to the urgency of environmental injustice issues came from two recent phenomena. The first was the media making Greta Thunberg the face of the climate change issue. All over Twitter, Instagram and other news outlets were her powerful words ringing true about how immoral it is to ignore the peril we’ve caused our world and why it must stop. And that was all well and good, until the second thing happened. Underneath all the positive propaganda of Greta Thunberg and other mainstream symbols of environmental justice, I came upon bits and pieces which showed a more colorful yet invisible part of the fight for a healthier world.
It turns out that Black, Brown, and Indigenous Youth have been at the forefront of Climate and Environment-related issues much longer than most people realize. And what’s worse is that the majority of the population as well as white-mainstream curated media neglect the fact that the negative effects of environmental injustice disproportionally hit communities of color much more. This ranges from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina down in the American South (an event which people are still gradually recovering from) to Indigenous Youth leading protests to protect land surrounding their reservations. And the conversation regarding how climate change will result in the failing health of youth of African descent ultimately shows that our addressing environmental racism has barely begun. No one should say it’s sad.
Everyone should scream that it’s a monumental disgrace.
The prevailing stereotype that Black people have enough to worry about regarding our own lives is far from true. Black people have always been heads of social movements, and their erasure from historical as well as current acknowledgement is nothing short of disrespectful. Since the inception of slavery and abolitionist efforts, Black folk have always been on the frontlines of the most critical social justice issues and would take the brunt of the blowback due to the gross invalidation of Black bodies. This does not include how the differences in gender, social class, sexual orientation, and other identity labels affect the types of stress and trauma received. In terms of environmental injustice, the fact that a disproportionate amount of Black folk live in neighborhoods where living conditions, health concerns, and lack of developmental upgrades are neglected will certainly mean that there will be less attention and protection as the growing concerns from these matters manifest completely.
There are also Indigenous folk fighting for land that has been abused by the same people who colonized, killed, and made them invisible for the past four centuries. Diminished to nothing more than a vague mentioning in every Thanksgiving movie, Indigenous folk were (and are) living, breathing, and fighting for homes that are their birthright, homes that had been violated repeatedly by the same people who created the territory lines we live by today. They are among the first negatively affected by this rising conflict; as well as the last to be recognized for their efforts. And we cannot not continue this discussion without acting against the mass assassinations of Leaders of Colors that are happening almost everyday. They are not happening far from home. There is bloodshed here in the US, the South Americas, and all over. Racism is still deeply sewn into the tapestry of the world’s social consciousness, so even within environmental justice the racial injustice decides who gets the most resources.
There needs to be a sense of accountability from all sides. White advocates have a responsibility to recognize that people who have been marginalized deserve to have their equal share of seating in this fight to preserve our planet. They also must see how they can use their privilege and power to help non-White people into spaces that they should have had access into from the beginning- as well as change the media into a medium that is more accurate as well as dignifying. For people of color, they must know that just because they have not been initially been included in the conversation does not mean they cannot start their own productive revolutions. The world belongs to everyone. And as equally important, everyone is equal. Therefore, we all have essential, need-to-be-recognized roles for keeping this planet a place where all people can thrive.