The anti-racism movement is growing & we ALL need to join
These past few weeks have been rough.
So many emotions, so many actions and inactions, so much uncertainty, so much scrolling and reading, so much anger and pain, and so much self-reflection.
It’s been a harsh reminder about how much work there is left to do. A visceral, punch-in-the-gut to my faith in humanity.
Even while feeling inspired at the size, scale, diversity and persistence of our protests.
I’ve been clawing at solutions. How do we SOLVE racism?!?!?!
How do we create systemic and cultural change?
Desiring that silver bullet solution that makes all the horribleness go away, right away.
But we know that change is never that simple.
In fact, we know quite a few things about what it takes to create change.
- It’s not easy
- It’s not comfortable
- It’s not a clear and straight path
- It doesn’t happen overnight
- It takes the collective impact of many individuals and groups
- It requires constant effort
Bottom line: change is f’ing hard. And we know this from our own work in protecting the planet and its natural resources.
And the amount of work needed to create change can feel overwhelming.
For those of us with white skin, it can feel tempting to not think about it, or at least to “take a break” from thinking about it.
But this movement is at a critical inflection point and this time NEEDS to be different.
I’ve had to face my own hard truths about this – that being woke and a good person is not enough.
It’s time to do more.
Not just today. Or tomorrow. But every day.
After we stand in solidarity, let’s MOVE in solidarity
Many organizations in our field put out statements standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with commitments to combat racism.
Which is awesome.
We’ve not seen these leaders speak out before and it’s an important intention to set.
Now, it’s time to work towards delivering on these commitments as part of our conservation, sustainability, and natural resource management work.
“If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent).
To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.” – Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in this Washington Post article
We must sustain momentum for both these movements in parallel as intertwined and related causes.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. And we’ll make mistakes along the way.
That is the nature of change.
But that cannot stop us from making progress towards a more just and equitable world.
To help move us forward, I’ve created starter lists of things we, individually (myself included) and our organizations, can do to follow-through on our commitments to create change:
Note: I recognize that this topic is primarily for American-based readers, but each country struggles with its own version of racism and oppression, so hoping this can spark ideas for internationally-based organizations as well, even if it’s not perfectly aligned.
Need a ‘to-go’ version of the below for easier sharing? Then grab this Google doc.
Increase representation of underrepresented groups
We need and want everyone to get involved in environmental programs, activities and behaviors.
Yet images of conservation, outdoor and nature-based activities predominantly feature white, cisgender, straight people.
This makes all other members of society feel like those spaces and activities are not meant for them. (I wrote about this last year in my Let’s Talk About Rihanna article).
Showcasing more diverse audiences isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s also a business imperative.
The demographic makeup of staff, audiences, and stakeholders has changed, and we need to reflect that in order to remain relevant.
“We want kids to see our faces and attach them to the outdoors, and we want our peers to recognize that we belong here too,”
– Alexander Grousis-Henderson in this Mental Floss article on Black Birders Week
To make our work relevant to more people, here’s what we can start doing today:
- Make the content & materials we produce (websites, brochures, promotional materials, etc.) representative of individuals from diverse backgrounds, so everyone sees someone like themselves participating in environmental activities.
- Use our channels and platforms to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, People Of Color (BIPOC) peers to increase access, representation and visibility.
- Need help finding other voices? Then check out:
- The newly formed #BlackAFinSTEM group who recently created and hosted #BlackBirdersWeek on Twitter.
- Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.
- Latino Outdoors connects and engages Latinx communities in the outdoors.
- Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) addressed environmental and economic justice issues.
- Backyard Basecamp introduces BIPOC folks to nature, mainly in the Baltimore MD region.
- Diversify Outdoors promotes diversity in outdoor recreation and conservation.
- List of Black Environmentalists to follow on Instagram and beyond.
- Jerome Foster II, a young climate justice activist.
- Need help finding other voices? Then check out:
- Make concerted efforts to ensure conferences, panels, symposia, virtual events, and more are representative and inclusive of BIPOC colleagues and peers.
- And not only on panels about diversity and inclusion, in all parts of the program.
- Listen closely and openly to the experiences of Black and POC conservationists and environmentalists. Not only to better understand how experiences differ across race and ethnicity, but also so programs, campaigns and solutions can be planned and designed to better meet the needs of non-white participants.
- For example, this panel discussion on Birding While Black, featuring Christian Cooper, explicitly highlights how nature-based activities differ for Black Americans.
Improve diversity and inclusion
“We wanted to draw on what we know about the diversity of biological systems and bring that perspective to social systems,” Grousis-Henderson says. “A diverse ecosystem can stand up to a lot of change, but a non-diverse ecosystem, one lacking biodiversity, is easy to topple.”
Organizations will increasingly get called out for not walking the walk of diversity and inclusion, especially after expressing a commitment to combat racism.
Folks interested in donating, volunteering or working for your organization will be looking at the makeup of your leadership team, your board and your staff, and your policies, to see if actions are following words.
To avoid only paying lip service to diversity and inclusion, here is what we can start doing today:
- Examine and question all hiring, review and promotion processes to identify where implicit and explicit biases exist, and then remove them.
- If you don’t already have one, then create an internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee to move initiatives forward and identify areas of improvement.
- Seek out partnerships and collaborations with organizations working on diversity in conservation to provide support and resources for their members.
- Actively monitor community spaces you manage (online and in-person) to ensure they are welcoming and safe for everyone; intervene when non-inclusive language is used; remove members when hateful language is used.
- Listen openly and be receptive when BIPOC colleagues and peers identify racist, non-inclusive, and offensive language and address it immediately.
- Recognize and observe Juneteenth (June 19th) as an organizational holiday and close your offices. Juneteenth is an American holiday that recognizes the freedom of the last enslaved people in America.
Take actions to protect Black lives and fight racism
We must incorporate the movement against police brutality of Black men and women, and the movement against racism, into our movements to protect the planet and its natural resources.
These systemic and long-standing issues impact our staff, our board, our target audiences, our supporters, our volunteers, our members, our students, our donors and all of their families and friends.
Whether we’ve recognized it before or not, these two causes are intertwined and we won’t achieve large-scale conservation successes while Black lives are being targeted and taken and while racism oppresses all People of Color.
“How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?” – Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Here’s what we can start doing today to support the Black Lives Matter movement and dismantle racism:
- Talk about it with staff and board members. It’s important to acknowledge and name the issue, and identify how it impacts the individuals and groups you work for and with.
- Explore the intersection between social justice and environmentalism. Let’s truly look at creating a world where both people and nature thrive.
- Put money, signatures and votes behind individuals, organizations and solutions actively working to dismantle systemic racism in America.
- Many of us here are data nerds and will appreciate the data-informed solutions to end police brutality proposed by Campaign Zero. A great starting point to learn more and contribute.
- Create internal policies and sanctions to address micro-aggressions and racism within the organization.
- Work to identify potential risks to the lives of Black colleagues and participants during your events, programs and activities and create solutions and protocols that make it a safer space and experience.
- This relates to understanding how situations differ for non-white peers and taking it a step further to explore how events we host can be proactively made safer.
- This article from J. Drew Lanham, written nearly 4 years ago, walks through the ways doing field research alone, as a Black man, feels dangerous and stressful. All panel members in the Birding while Black webinar expressed similar experiences. I can’t help but consider how we can do a better job of keeping our colleagues safe.
End White silence and recognize White privilege
To my readers who are White, it’s time for us to get more engaged and active on these issues.
It’s true that racism is a system that is bigger than us, a system that was created before we were born, a system we may or may not believe we directly contribute to.
Yet, it is a system built to give us an advantage over others and it is our duty to actively dismantle this system.
Just as we ask all people to get more involved in protecting the planet and its natural resources, even if they are already good environmental stewards.
“Since at Preserve our mission is overtly environmental, we have often been tempted (and as a majority White company have had the privilege) to focus on more narrow aspects of the environment. Although we recognize that environmental action is interconnected with social justice, we must broaden our efforts to build a better society.
We cannot seek a better environment if we do not first commit to standing up, showing up, learning, and listening to become better anti-racists – both as a company and as individuals.” – Eric Hudson, founder of Preserve.eco
Here’s what we can start doing today as allies and supporters of anti-racism:
- Become and remain acutely aware of the privileges and benefits-of-a-doubt afforded to White Americans that are not extended to others. This won’t be easy, but we cannot deny that these privileges exist.
- Continue to learn about non-White experiences in America and internationally so we can be informed and empathetic allies.
- Read this article on 4 steps White people can take to fight racism.
- Help other White people recognize their privilege, and guide them towards using that awareness be more anti-racist, more empathetic and more inclusive.
- Being anti-racist may be a newer concept for many folks and it’s a great movement to shift from being passively “not a racist” to being more proactively against racism. Here’s a great primer on this topic from the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
- Speak up to advocate for, fight for, protect and support BIPOC.
- This can feel uncomfortable to do and it’s a discomfort we need to get really familiar with so it doesn’t prevent us from taking action.
- This resource on responding to everyday bigotry can help navigate different situations and best ways to speak up.
- This is a “don’t” and not a “do”, but please, please, please do not use your White privilege as a weapon.
If this step feels confusing or hard for you and you’d like help unpacking the suggestions listed above, then please reach out to me. I’d be happy to exchange emails or have a call to discuss further (for free, of course).
We will make mistakes
Since the pathway to change is never clear or direct, and because it requires unlearning, learning and growth, it is inevitable that we’ll make mistakes along the way.
But that cannot stop us from continuing to press forward to create the change we wish to see.
When we mess up, we need to be open, receptive and humble about it.
It’s gonna suck. We’ll want to defend ourselves.
Yet in those moments, the most important thing to do is listen and commit to growing and doing better through the experience.
I’m happy to help in these moments as well. If you have something you want to say or write, but you’re nervous about making a mistake, then send me an email and I’ll take a look and share my point-of-view (for free, of course).
I’m not an expert and I will also make mistakes, but I’m happy to be another set of eyes to help.
The energy behind the anti-racism movement is palpable.
Yet with any movement, regression is possible if we stop pushing for progress.
If today’s energy gets forgotten over the weekend.
If we get complacent until the next incident happens.
We have to carry the energy, the passion, the dedication to create change forward with us through each day, each week, each year, each generation.
Change is never easy.
But we can do this.
Together. In solidarity. Today. Everyday. For a better tomorrow.