Why Blacks Should be Down with the Green…

26 Nov

When you hear the all-too-familiar news story about the crazed environmentalist who lived in the branches of a redwood tree for three weeks because the city planned to cut it down to build Starbucks #673, you would probably imagine a young and unshaven guy who wears North Face jackets, carries an L.L. Bean backpack and doesn’t mind the occasional bong hit. A working-class black guy or a single black mother from the inner city doesn’t really come to mind.

There has long been an underrepresentation of minorities in mainstream environmentalism with many tree-huggers and green lobbyists being considered the “white elites” who have a college degree and come from stable financial backgrounds. In the wake of the green age where more and more people are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and how they use resources, minorities are being left behind as mainstream environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth tend to have low minority enrollment.

The reason for this underrepresentation is usually class related. Upper class whites would have the disposable time to devote to issues like wilderness preservation and wise resource management, while working-class minorities would not. Even they did have the available time and resources, all of their activism would rally towards causes they felt had a direct impact on their lives like issues of social justice. No one has time to worry about an endangered species of dung beetle or the Amazon jungle when they’re battling institutional barriers daily. The jungle they’re trying to keep from plunging into chaos is the concrete jungle of their neighborhoods and communities.

However, there is a common thread between environmentalists and working class minorities and this thread has the power to cross class and race divisions. Minorities face environmental threats every day in their community as they tend to live in communities where the land is cheap and are often targeted by corporations for the placement of toxic dumps and hazardous waste facilities. In addition to dealing with decreased air, soil and water quality, these same disenfranchised communities face unequal protection under the law as the government is slower to enforce environmental laws in their communities, facilitating and encouraging environmental abuse by companies. These unequal environmental burdens fueled by racism and structural discrimination disproportionately impact minorities as their health and quality of life is adversely affected.

This unlikely intersection of environmentalism and justice provides a unique opportunity for proponents of environmental justice and environmentalism. The banding together of these two seemingly disparate groups in the fight for a healthy environment, both in the wilderness and in the cities, makes room the exchange of knowledge and tactics that would expedite the solving our environmental crisis. While mainstream environmentalist usually focus on lobbying and strategic litigation, environmental justice leaders use direct action through protest and boycotting as their weapon. The combination of these battle methods could create an unstoppable top-bottom approach in saving the environment and our cities.

For the sake of saving green, let’s hope black and white are colors that go well together.

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