Conventionally, the brown and black people have been excluded from environmental policies and environment conservation. This is one of the blind spots perpetuating inequality.
TykeeJames, the governmental affairs coordinator for the National Audubon Society, said that he’s used to interrupting issues about race and equity when a conversation regarding environmental conservation is happening. He spoke about comments like ‘Let’s yield the floor, Tykeehas a statement to say about race. Everybody calm down.’ He also revealed how he must be alike Martin Luther King just because he wanted to establish the fact that black people must be cared for in policies.
But Tykee welcomes the role and is one among the group of growing young and diverse black leaders who examine how white supremacy and racism have long excluded the indigenous people, the black and the brown from policies of environmental protection and conservation and issues of public health. These young leaders work towards examining systemic racist practices and policies. As the idea of equity progresses, the black scientists and research personnel at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speak out about years of dismissive treatment and hurdles in the way of race-based advancement.
As the world is faced with an unprecedented health crisis, it is disproportionately affecting people of colour and as per observations, excluding the black and brown people from positions of leadership, is a method of cooking failure. “When you don’t address with justice, the environmental issues of today, you are perpetuating the root causes of that inequity,” says Tykee who has also worked as a legislative advisor for the state senator of Pennsylvania, a wildlife guide and an educator. He says, “You are stipulating who is going to be sacrificed to make those decisions”.
Viral Message by Leah Thomas
For Thomas, the link between environment and social justice emerged in summer of 2014 when an unarmed black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by police. The protests and national dialogues post this incident stayed with Thomas when she went back to study environmental science and policies.
She reveals that the incident of Mike’s killing and as she began studying environmental injustice, she started contemplating on intersectional theory and it’s an application to environmental movements. As per the intersectional theory, oppression affected certain groups on several levels including class, race, religion, and other aspects of identity.
Thomas decided that preaching connections of nature to humanity and turning a blind eye to racial and economic injustice is hypocritical. She had been working with the communication and PR team of Patagonia on corporate sustainability issues. After being furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, her Instagram post on environmentalists embracing the Black Lives Matter movement went viral. She revealed that whenever she protested or help her colleagues voice their opinions, she became increasingly clear about how little did people think about racism and often she found herself to be the only black person and invisible in meetings regarding environmental policies.
As we move towards environmental conservation, it’s needless to say that racism and developmental policies cannot go hand in hand.