Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism

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When Virtual Migrants were set to devise a new production, “Continent Chop Chop”, directed by Amanda Huxtable, performance poet, editor, activist and fellow Shake! core team member, Simon Murray asked me on board but in video presence.

“What is CONTINENT CHOP CHOP?

‘Continent Chop Chop’ is a touring transmedia production linking narratives of climate change to the broader issues of poverty, race and social justice. Using interwoven narratives portrayed through music, poetry, and projected imagery, it will ask:

Who controls the narrative of climate change?
What are the connections between climate change and poverty?
How does the wider climate of austerity and scapegoating
of migrants connect with climate change?
And why should anyone care when they don’t have enough to eat?”

More details of the tour here.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO)

I’ve been to enough climate justice and environmental activism events now to notice that pervasive lack of representative diversity. Whatever diversity means. To de-mystify: spotting the person of colour, young people, those dis-abled by society is a sub-conscious action that can only be prevented from becoming normalised if you go in to these events with a mission to make a point about the lack of diversity. It often agitates the room in two ways, a) people embrace it and make all the right noises towards addressing the issue. Or b) people get defensive. (Learned something new just recently – aversion racism)EJ-word-cloud-black-white-red

As I have been engaging a lot recently with issues of race in places of activism and how systemic racism is so readily overlooked as a manifestation in the room, I go to these events now not to see what is *not* being done to diversify the environmentalist/climate justice movement, but purely to see where diversity could provide  missing pieces in the jigsaw of their plans, or remedies for previous mistakes made. Doing this enables me to see clearly where struggles in communities of people of colour have solutions that are transferrable into the mainstream environmentalist/climate movement, where the highest percentage of representation of presence is mainly ‘white’, with men in leadership positions.

To engage with these solutions and the principles upon which they are based requires a level of engagement with systemic racism in a way that reveals some muted prejudices held about Peoples of Colour. These prejudices exist deep in the psyche. They are the results of stories repeatedly told in mainstream propagandist media rooted in colonial narratives regarding the value of the lives, experiences, voices and opinions of those other than the historically violence-to-dominate colonial voice.

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Steve Greenberg—VC Reporter. Click for source

I must speak of the violence not to sensationalize this blog post but because the raced based neo- colonial template still manifests violence  today in discriminatory state policy directly affecting the health, education and livelihoods of peoples of colour, *forcing* innovation around self-defence and preservation.
It is frustrating to go to these events and hear how “there is a need for more diverse voices” over and over again and see no strategy made to make diversity happen. The movement can be a bit like a ‘scene’ where you begin to see the same faces and similar types and notice that recruitment of diversity outreach needs rejuvenating. I’m in its orbit because of my work with Shake! Youth Arts and Activism project. As a team we are on point with keeping a mindful eye out for events to send our young people to which will provide them with more opportunities to take part and/or attend these sorts of events to strengthen their voice and activism ethic. So I’m there by a sort of default.

To make matters more complicated is the visceral shutting down of a person of colour’s voice. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. And I’ve heard too many versions of the same experience from peoples of colour, where they’ve manifested their confidence in the room in simply telling accounts of the work that we do – and sharing how race inequality is the impetus for many urbanized communities engaging with eco-activism and self-educating on its positive environmental after effect as a result of their work. For some reason, this telling meets silence as if it is a separate struggle – ‘your thing over there’. Then you meet resistance to the notion that this ‘other(ed)’ work requires ‘special attention’ as if its is being presented as more important and the ‘ class card’ and, at worst, the #AllLivesMatter card is thrown in the center of the room which effectively neutralises the potency of the person of colour’s contribution.

I’m led to believe the problem of the shutting down lies in rejecting the call to  think beyond perceived  ideas of what environmentalism looks like outside of a dominant culture’s tropes of what it is. Its the paradox of disrupting the status quo whilst at the same time preserving parts of it by omission – the parts that uphold one of the supporting pillars of wreckless capitalist theory, exploitation of people from the global south and its descendants. Perception is everything.

Time and some financial resource allocated for diversification outreach is not strictly the problem. Its the reasons for *why outreach?* informing the *how to?* outreach, because numbers in the room is a goal but not the complete remedy. It’s the openness and intention of the listener that will make the difference. And even *that* is just the beginning of some real work.

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Co-founders Angelica “Jelly” Erazo (l) and Evette Jackson of Green Is the New Black, makers of renewable energy. photos by John Anderson Click for website.

Black and brown folk get on with greening their communities, aware of what feels like an exclusion, but not distracted enough by it to not take care of business in their communities. #SelfDetermination. The question – is the environmental and climate movement eventually going to listen to the intricacies of environmental inequality in the UK from a person of colour for the mercy of ‘saving the planet’?

This video is entitled Blind Spot and I took a position in the video specifically addressing anti-black environmental inequality in urban environments. Below is a list of black environmental initiatives to begin with. I shall be adding more. I’m glad that in terms of directors guidance, Amanda gave me license to communicate how the drive to engage authentically with diverse is problematized and not an actual problem. It requires work. So be firm. I appreciated receiving the go ahead to push the envelope a bit further.

This audio skit entitled “Intentional Listening” is made as a robust push back on the reluctance I have experienced in activist circles to engage with race, where class is used as a trump card to halt an opportunity to hear some authentic solutions born from the black urbanized voice to overcome environmental injustice hurdles. Intentional listening entails seeking to understand, then to be understood. Its is listening without judging, interruption or only to selectively hear the ‘bits that fit’ an agenda or jumping to a conclusion assumed ‘right’ for us. Its not listening to discover how to lead. Its listening to know where to position an entity so it and the body it is a part of can function at its optimum. Nothing else will do.

Intentional Listening

This is a ‘calling-in’ rather than ‘calling out’ post, which by no means, co-opts any person of African descent’s focus from their black experience, putting that focus in danger of being subsumed into dominant activism culture in the UK. It specifically speaks to maintaining the potency of the black experience for its optimum effectiveness in its inclusion into the movement. Maintaining that potency and positioning it correctly (and appropriately minus prejudgements) speaks directly to climate and environmental justice’s core principles. There will be no justice without every part of the organism having room, otherwise it will limp and not know why.

UK – Black Environmental NetWork (BEN)

UK Rural Urban Synthesis Society – self -build ecological affordable house

UK – May Project Gardens

US – Black and into Green

JA – Blue Paradise Farms – Faheema Luqman

US – Green for All – Van Jones:

Article: The Guardian – Ethnic minority groups suffer huge

Article: The Guardian Sylvia Arthur – why is it so hard to be black and green?

Article: Van Jones – The Whitewashing of the Environmental Movement.

Article: These 13 Urban Farms And Black Activists Are Transforming The Industry For The Better!

The Are of Listening: Relevance to Participatory Restoration

Former Black Panther Helps Formerly Incarcerated Through Urban Far

 

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