I’ve been thinking quite a bit on the topic of discrimination, justice, and race throughout the course of this semester. When I think of justice, the concept of environmental justice and discrimination comes to mind nearly every time. This is likely due to the fact that environmental issues are often at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been struggling; however, to visualize what this sort of justice looks like. What does it mean to have a just society in the era of climate change when the injustices of refugees and marginalized populations alike are built upon the same foundations as the very issues that are further causing or even perpetuating the climate crisis and their lives within it. Last week, I attended an “environmental justice dinner and discussion”. As soon as I stepped foot in the Barrister club, a space used for business-style dinners and events, I knew that I would be met with disappointment for the duration of the evening. The keynote speaker, Stacy Kranitz, an Appalachian photographer, showed images of people, towns, villages, and homes tattered with difficulty stemming from toxic waste dumps, industry, etc. This is one way in which we can see the holes environmental justice belongs. I couldn’t seem to imagine what that would look like other than communities fighting large corporations, politicians, the media. Mostly, I could not fathom the intention of hosting a predominantly white, “business casual” dinner that simply exemplified the comforts that work to overshadow and deviate our attention as well as our resources from the very populations we were discussing.
I thought this week on Citizen by Claudia Rankine— a book I’ve read for several classes during my undergraduate career. As I replay this scene in my mind, I hear the words of Rankine transform into a significantly more symbolic nature: “because white men can’t police their imagination black men are dying.” I think of the Westernized, modernized lifestyles led by predominantly white men, the technology industry that is dominated by whites in blue suits, and the waste these livelihoods produce. Then I think back to one of my favorite books, Slow Violence by Rob Nixon, and I visualize Claudia Rankine’s words to signify not only police brutality but the fetishization of control and domination over other beings as a small fragment of this entire planet that is imaginably conquerable. I imagine this domination slowly, as Nixon explains, causes the violence of marginalized populations susceptible to the effects of environmental discrimination.
We must shift our tone. We cannot be comfortable in these discussions. We cannot simply utilize the same formats to convey messages and facilitate discussion with a wider audience. Simply because we have the privilege of ignoring the conversation for a brief moment to discuss our day or our weekend plans over a piece of tiramisu does not mean we should.