Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter has given a huge hopeful impetus to resistance.
Started by three women in 2014, in the US, in response to the death of a black man at the hands of police, the movement has caught alight in numerous countries in the world, where racist police violence oppresses. It is also about much more than police violence: an inclusive movement for racial justice amid ‘growing recognition that systemic racism denies people of color equal access to economic, social, environmental and climate justice … as well as health equity, political power, civil rights and human rights’.
Why has BLM caught alight now and what has this got to do with climate change? In answer to the first question, asked on British channel 4 news, the Rev. Al Sharpton (who delivered the address at George Floyd’s funeral) said he thought it was because, during lockdown, when people were confined with little to occupy them, the footage of George Floyd’s death over such long minutes was replayed and shared endlessly, harnessing all the outrages that preceded this one. CeLilliane Green, African American poet, put it more beautifully, ‘When you see a man being killed like that, I think it does something to your soul’.
Police racism is familiar to most black people in the UK too, people who are at last getting more serious media attention, but in the UK BLM comes to roost in the context of many specific layers of racism, from the imperialist history of the nation to Grenfell Tower and the bureaucratic persecution of the Windrush generation. The moment when BLM protesters dumped the statue of Edward Colston, slave trader, into a Bristol dock coincided closely with the moment when the report on disproportionate BAME deaths from COVID was suppressed. This report had been fanfared as led by a black academic but when government did not like his findings about the part racism played in these deaths, they released a whitewash instead. This sort of action is what BLM means when its website says that ‘Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise’.
The case of air pollution is exemplary. Rosamund Kissi-Debra, whose daughter died from asthma on a day when there was a sharp spike in air pollution in London, is one of many critics of the Public Health England review that failed to consider air pollution as a factor in the higher rates of coronavirus deaths among BAME groups: even a small increase in previous pollution exposure is linked to an 8% rise in Covid-19 deaths. In the absence of truth-telling research findings, a genetic reason for BAME Covid deaths has been mooted, despite the racist logic of categorising under one ‘genetic’ umbrella the diversity of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people who have died. The idea is reminiscent of the race and intelligence debates that raged in the 1970s, when black people purportedly scored lower on IQ tests than white people. When air pollution and other effects of deprivation are left out of the equation, causes appear elusive and it is convenient for an embarrassed government to use race rather than racism as an explanation. When air pollution is factored back in, it becomes evident that, rather than BAME communities being more susceptible to coronavirus, they are put in harm’s way by living in more polluted areas - and being overrepresented amongst frontline workers.
Such tangled areas of discourse that amount to lying are symptoms of systemic racism. And they are more significant for having a documented historical footprint in the British ruling classes’ dealings with black and brown people of empire. Such are the white male imperialists whose monuments cover English and Scottish cities. Colonisation is where racism began, in the expropriation of resources by white people, which British history has systematically covered up and lied about. George Monbiot trenchantly documents the case of genocide scale massacre of the Kikuyu people of East Africa in the early 1950s. Ironically Monbiot was responding to the British prime minister’s opinion that removing statues is “to lie about our history”. In the case of the massacre of almost 1.5 million Kikuyu for a black uprising that stood in the way of white expropriation of land and labour, British officials systematically disposed of the traces. To bring the systemic racism up to date, in 2010, the disembarkation cards of the Windrush generation of immigrants from the Caribbean were destroyed by the British Home Office, making it sometimes impossible to prove their status as British citizens.
Credit: Mary Robinson Foundation. Climate Justice.
Climate justice is framed by the recognition that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer most from its effects. The website of Climate Justice Alliance recognises the many intersections that create the current crisis, emphasising the need for a regenerative economy that renounces extractivism, defined widely to include the exploitation of human labour as well as natural resources. ‘Sacrifice zones’ are communities of ‘poor and working class Black, Brown, multi-racial, white, and Indigenous Peoples whose health, wealth and lives have been sacrificed to advance corporate profits, creating the numerous pollution hotspots around ports, transportation centers, fossil fuel, chemical, manufacturing, mining, and industrial agriculture industries’. A current instance is the huge meat processing plants (for example in Northern Ireland and Germany) that have become Covid hotspots. Their profitability is based on the exploitation of poor, immigrant labour, living in overcrowded conditions. Instead an economy is needed that is based on the value of life. The term intersectional environmentalism is similarly inclusive, identifying the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.
Invigorating has been the way protest has gone beyond black people and how British institutions, public and private, are looking to their own racism. Internally, CPA, energized by the conjunction of racial and climate justice, encouraged by BAME members, are now more actively looking at our own practices. Organizational priorities are to develop membership pathways that reflect the principles of climate justice and dismantling of white privilege, to clarify accountability and frame the exploration of white privilege in the context of dismantling racism and to reform CPA power structures, language and presentation. If, for example, CPA continues to do what sections of the environmental movement have long done, which is to talk about the ecological and climate crisis without mention of social inequality or consideration of race – to talk about an undifferentiated “humanity” - then CPA is not sufficiently transforming itself and would probably not succeed in attracting a larger and more active BAME membership.
‘White fragility’ puts the focus not on overt white racism but the response to black challenges by the so-called well-meaning white liberals named by Robin DiAngelo, who coined the term. This is now an active topic of reflection amongst white people within CPA, for example in Through the Door workshops and the Discussion Forum. Defensiveness and denial of racism at individual and systemic levels parallel the denial of climate emergency. Hopefully the resources of reflection, self-exploration, containment and group support characteristic of CPA culture will stand us in good stead, as they continue to do in processing current grave news on the climate emergency.
Top image credit: GayatriMalhotra, Unsplash.
Credit: WilliamDaigneault. Unsplash.
Changes to the monthly Digest
Now that CPA has become a Community Benefit Society, with all that means for more membership involvement, it seems a good time to rethink the process of newsletter writing.
I took this over last Summer from Adrian Tait (who had been writing it since the foundation of CPA). With the seismic shifts in the global recognition of climate heating and species extinction, it seemed necessary to shift the focus from ‘news’ to reflections on what was happening as a result, psycho-socially. These Digests have been going for about eight months now. They go out to nearly 1600 readers and are available to members and non-members on the website.
New developments for a transitional time
I am consequently making a call to all members who are interested in contributing to the newsletter to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You don’t have to be up for writing a whole newsletter in order to join a steering group, but it would be great if you were! The most important quality of this group is to represent and expand the diversity of perspectives that CPA needs for its monthly communication. This should take in ethnic, geographical and age diversity as priorities.
At our members’ day on June 6th, we recognised how white CPA is and BAME members spoke about their experience. Because BAME representation is small in CPA’s membership, I would like for this call to go out via those who are reading this by asking you to suggest the names of any BAME person who you feel would be interested in making a contribution to this Digest. Guest editorship would be a possibility for those who are not members and do not wish to join.
The geographical spread of CPA now includes Scottish and North American sections. We have links also in Australia and the Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Columbia, Portugal, South Africa and Scandinavia. The value of perspectives from these places has been huge already. I would hope that these – and other – groups, such as regional groups in the UK, could adopt a forthcoming Digest and take responsibility for it.
CPA needs the influence of younger members on the steering group and to take the lead on the Digest from time to time. Please will younger members express their interest in influencing directions by joining the steering group and taking over the Digests from time to time. Again, the call needs to go out via present membership so pass this on to young people who might be interested.
Finally, visual artists. There is scope for more input of this kind in the Digests. Can you help?
What would this involve? It is a work in progress. Once I have gathered names of individuals and groups, I will arrange a Zoom meeting and we can work it out collectively. Please contact me at