Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Red, Black and Green

This article by the arts activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph on the Common Dreams website discusses the limitations of ‘green politics’ and some of his observations are worth reproducing.

“As environmentalism goes mainstream, corporations are marketing the word “green” as a panacea for the world’s climate crisis. Today the word describes a set of prescribed, mostly consumerist actions: buy local, organic and fresh; go vegan; eat in season; skip the elevator; take the stairs. “Green” has come to mean shopping at Whole Foods and possessing a Prius. Meanwhile, leading corporate polluters like BP and Exxon Mobil place commercials on CNN advertising their “green” practices.

It should come as no surprise, then, that “green” lifestyles don’t resonate with low-income communities; being “green” involves a set of behaviors that are financially or culturally inaccessible to millions of Americans. This presents a major problem for the environmental movement. If it is going to be successful, environmentalism simply cannot afford to be demographically segregated or isolated from the pathos of economic disparity.

The environmental movement needs to do a better job of connecting issues of race, class, poverty and sustainability; in short, it has to become a broader social movement...

....For communities of color plagued by high rates of homicide, hypertension, cancer, HIV and imprisonment, it is far more urgent to ask people to sustain life than it is to pitch them green politics. In my adopted hometown of Oakland, an African-American male is as likely to be the victim of homicide as he is to graduate from high school at proficiency levels for a California state university. This tragic situation is both systemically entrenched and historically rooted (the destruction of the black home and family was integral to chattel slavery, as was the denial of literacy), making the present prospects for anything but survival bleak in our harshest urban environments. If we’re to talk about the environment in a city like mine, we must examine the impact of the death of another promising black boy on a local, social ecosystem.

Given this fact, it is naive and inappropriate to try to convert everyone to “green living.” We can’t ask struggling communities to change their values; we have to rally them in a different way. Mainstream environmental groups don’t tend to see underresourced neighborhoods as forward-thinking, but poor and working-class people have an intrinsic conservationist ethic, born out of necessity. They need only to develop their own vocabulary so that their actions aren’t dismissed as insufficiently “green” but are valued for their intrinsic merit. This notion goes back to the kind of pedagogy practiced by Paulo Freire, who helped members of oppressed Brazilian communities find new meaning in their everyday actions and use these insights to transform their own lives. The nonprofit-industrial complex, by contrast, too often imposes a set of values that is not easily transferred to the people it is meant to serve...

...Once we let go of “green” politics, a single, crucial question remains: what sustains life in a community? ...With the sustainability of our planet hanging in the balance, it would be wise to continue to turn to the arts as a vessel for kindling empathy and inspiration in historically disenfranchised communities. If the environmental movement practices a more diverse, community-based form of sustainability, then all of us will ultimately benefit, even if it takes a generation. Forget green; let’s figure out how we can all live better together.”

SOYMB blog would add a post-script that is the socialist movement which has joined all the dots and offer the umbrella under which the myriad of single issue advocacy groups can operate under.

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