We need to seriously rethink the dominant discussion around climate change activism.
Why am I seeing tons of protests centered around protecting scientists in relation to climate change, without one mention that people of color are the most affected? Yes, scientists do need protection from censorship by the Trump administration and the threat of limited funding. That is a real crisis. But there needs to be at least a mention (or more, to be honest) of the disparate impact environmental issues have on people of color.
This awful administration’s climate policy and its reality of decreased pollution regulations, more corporate greed, and fervent white supremacy will hit poor communities of color the hardest. These communities tend to be located near the biggest polluters, such as power plants and highways. According to studies, POC experience 38% more NO2 pollution than white Americans. This is higher than the disparity between rich and poor, which indicates the pollution you may endure has more to do with race than income.
Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP Climate Justice Initiative provides a few answers. Corporations may have built polluting facilities before the communities existed, or they moved into poor areas for economic reasons. However, they may have chosen to pollute nonwhite areas in particular because of the lack of “political pushback”.
In short, harming the most marginalized creates little outrage in the country at large.
This reality is reflected in past events. Think about the most famous recent events surrounding the negative impact of climate change. Hurricane Katrina, Flint, and Standing Rock all affected people of color disproportionately. And neither issue got anything close to a happy ending.
These are the people that need and engage in climate change activism the most, yet they are marginalized at rallies and national conversations on climate change! How can we build any sort of equitable climate justice without including people of color?
If you are white (like myself), you can start by decentralizing yourself from the issue. Sure, it sucks that your favorite subject in school is being threatened, but maybe that isn’t the most important thing right now.
And, looking more broadly, the dominant discourse around climate change has a lot to do with the beauty of nature, i.e. the forests, the oceans, the rivers, rather than the indigenous and poor communities that are dying because of it.
If you are an organizer (props to you), make sure to not further marginalize people of color by excluding their issues from your protest. Even more, reach out to POC to help you organize. If you are marching for science, mention how nonwhite Americans are the most affected. And join their protests.
Something we can all do is stay informed about new efforts by people of color to combat environmental issues. Residents in Flint, Michigan have just sued the EPA, and those at Standing Rock are taking a similar approach. Support their efforts! And let us not forget the unique struggles of nonwhite groups in the US.
It is easy for the privileged to get caught up in personal outrage and neglect the most victimized, but we must remember. Any sort of lasting, inclusive movement must be built from the bottom up; from the margin to the center.