Much Ado About Cecil

My good friend Karen and her partner Jamie just returned from three weeks in Africa where they went to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, whose mission is to rescue elephants. Mostly they rescue babies who are orphaned because their parents are hunted for their ivory and then left to die with the babies also left there, witnessing the whole thing. And, if you know anything about the recent research regarding elephant intelligence and social bonding, you know what this means for these babies. Upon her return, she shared the details about the situation regarding elephants throughout Africa and beyond – one is killed every 15 minutes somewhere in the world (see www.iworry.org for more information).

Shortly after her return Cecil the Lion was killed by Dr. Walter Palmer, a Twin Cities dentist and big game hunter. Two days after the news broke Karen joined 250 other people protesting at his office, effectively shutting it down for two weeks. As the furor over Cecil was shared globally and nationally some interesting dynamics arose, the most common of which was a critique that went something like this: “With all of the incredibly important and substantial issues both globally and locally, isn’t it odd that we are caring this much for one lion? How many people starve every day on this planet? Or, how many men of color are killed by the police every year in the U.S.? Aren’t those more important issues?” Another friend’s priest offered up this exact critique from the pulpit just a few Sundays ago.

To be sure the range of pressing needs domestically and globally are substantial. And, in comparison to the horrors many folks trying to migrate to Europe face, the ongoing systematic murder of Black and Brown folks by structures of power in the U.S., the concerns regarding climate change, and the economic reality that by 2016 1% of the world’s population will hold more wealth than the rest of the entire world (see Oxfam International’s report “Wealth: Having it All and Wanting More“), Cecil’s death as an isolated incident can seem almost trivial. And yet, while we hold in balance the magnitude of need for our human community, it seems problematic to dismiss out of hand the concern regarding Cecil. I say this because for me the issues surrounding Cecil connect to so many of these other issues demanding our attention, and thus his death (as well as the inevitable death of his six pups that the new alpha male will kill to establish his dominance, meaning that Dr. Palmer actually killed seven lions that day) can serve as a vehicle for a more deeply and broadly interconnected conversation and analysis of our global reality. After all, this is fundamental to our work as social justice educators – unpacking siloed content to make connections to the many intersections and interdependencies found with systems of oppression. And in that spirit I’d like to share a few thoughts about Cecil.

First, let’s interrogate the thinking behind the death of Cecil. It should not be lost on anyone that Walter Palmer is a White, U.S. male with substantial economic access. Thus the meaning of a man with these social identities and resources, heading to Africa and knowingly poaching in order to obtain his sporting desire is one of countless examples of the hubris and disregard fostered by White, Western, imperialist hegemonic ideologies. I say Walter Palmer knowingly poached, because he cannot simultaneously assert that he is “an expert big game hunter and always hunts within the bounds of the law” and suggest that he did not know they were poaching or breaking the law. And so, in reality this is one small example of the broader scope of 500 years of Western countries running roughshod over the lives, laws and lands of Africa and people of African descent. I’m not saying Dr. Palmer was intentionally coming from this space. What I am saying is that the arrogance that made him think he could do it and get away with it, and the very notion that the laws of Zimbabwe or of nature do not apply to him, make him one of endless manifestations of the ethos of Western colonialism and imperialism. This is the conversation I would like to be having with respect to Cecil the Lion’s murder. Why not talk about the fact that Western, market-driven, neo-liberal and neo-colonial forces are in play with the extermination of Cecil and countless species on this planet and that human actions are fundamentally threatening this planet’s ecological balance? Why are we not talking about the ideologies of dominance that support Dr. Palmer’s actions and make his worldview normative to so many in the West? This, I think, would make the death of Cecil and his cubs at least not be in vain.

Second, to suggest that the conversation about Cecil is somehow separate from other social issues belies the deep and complicated interconnectivity of so many of today’s major social concerns. For example, part of the reason those two guides were knowingly breaking the law was that they were facing difficult economic times and needed Dr. Palmer’s money – money they would get if he in turn got what he wanted. You just have to take one step back to then connect issues of poverty and the way the wealthy West (and increasingly in recent pan-African history, China) has used its economic, political and social resources to maintain an economic hold on so many parts of the continent and thereby brazenly absconded with so many of its resources. It takes only one more step back to see how this poverty has arisen in part from the IMF and World Bank, and the neo-liberal economic systems they represent, which have forced countless nations in Africa, Central America (and more recently in Europe) to cleave to consumptive, “developed”, and tiered economic policies and programs which inevitably lead to systems of “have’s” and “have not’s”. One more step back will then locate how these long-standing economic realities impact women and children, inform the AIDS epidemic throughout the continent, shaped the world’s lethargic response to the Ebola crisis, informed Europe’s reaction to the massive waves of migrants attempting to enter, and shaped an overall paternalistic and dehumanizing approach by the West to Africa for the last 500 years. In this way, the death of Cecil could have helped us all go more deeply into a conversation about the profound interconnectivity of various issues as opposed to placing them in competition with each other. Pope Francis demonstrated the former disposition in his recent encyclical when he made direct connections between climate change and poverty, the trafficking of women and children, and mass migration (thereby demanding a deep reevaluation of immigration law). All social justice issues are related and we would do well as educators and activists to remember that and work harder to make those connections. There is room for everyone and every movement, and we will be most effective when we stay connected.

Third, Cecil’s death can help us all consider our relationship to the natural world. His being hunted as trophy and “sport” is emblematic of Westerners’ view of the natural world as a whole – that nature is meant to be dominated, controlled, and is there simply for the use of humanity. This idea is not new, but Dr. Palmer’s approach to big game hunting as a whole echoes this brazen arrogance toward the natural world. Shortly after the story broke he mentioned that he does not talk about his big game hunting with his dental patients because it is often a controversial and emotionally charged issue. Unfortunately, that realization did not give Dr. Palmer reason to consider whether what he was doing was right, it just made him do it less overtly. Similarly, the carbon industry has known for decades that the climate scientists are completely correct in their assessment of what increased CO2 will do to this planet, and yet instead of ceasing or reworking their industry, they simply become less and less public about the destruction they are wreaking. Short-term financial gains (and the subsequent destruction of the planet) strongly outweigh the long-term consequences. Similarly, the short-term desires of Dr. Palmer hugely outweighed any chance at conscience, humility or accountability that might have helped him see the absurdity of what he was doing.

There are still other points to be gleaned from this case but I do not want to belabor the point. Simply put, Cecil the Lion’s death could have served as a touch-point not only for animal conservation but an incredible range of other topics and issues, all of which demand our attention and resources. Unfortunately, mainstream corporate media chose not to address these connections and instead kept his death as a siloed issue, replete with drama and sensationalism, but devoid of depth and complexity. The onus, therefore, is on all of us to not let any incident such as this be reduced to its barest of meaning and instead seek out complexity and connections so that we can strengthen all of our social justice work.

Why Not D & I

by Heather Hackman

I was on the phone with a client the other day explaining the difference between Diversity and Inclusion (D & I) and Equity / Social Justice (E/SJ) work and was reminded yet again of how important it is to be clear on our language and the conceptual frameworks we are employing as we engage in E/SJ work in our various organizational settings. D & I phrasing is used extensively in a range of contexts and yet rarely is the efficacy of such an approach questioned. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs and newsletter postings, “diversity” work is focused on developing an “awareness and appreciation of difference” with the presumption that this will translate into substantial organizational change. Unfortunately, this is inaccurate as there is no direct link between becoming more “aware” or “appreciative” of a difference and the dismantling of systems of power, privilege and access to resources. Presuming that building relationships across lines of difference through activities that engender awareness and appreciation is the solution serves to reduce structures of oppression to mere “misunderstandings of each other” or in educational vernacular, prejudice. And while these are indeed elements of how oppression operates, they do not even begin to touch on the complex and yet nuanced history, systemic realities, and structural functioning of systems of oppression. Nothing in a diversity approach implies or guarantees that issues of power, access and privileges held by the dominant group get addressed. In fact, many organizations spend years and years on diversity work and never get to systemic oppression because diversity work simply cannot get to there – it’s the wrong tool for the job.

Similarly, “inclusion” is problematic in that by its very nature it implies assimilation and the reification of the dominant group’s framework. Put simply, who is doing the including? What are folks being included in? A superficial example would be two friends who make plans and then say to each other, “we should include Chris and Pat”. By default it is understood that these plans are not going to be a co-creation among the four of them, nor will much feedback from Chris and Pat be welcome by the two instigators. Instead, the first two are open to include Chris and Pat into plans that are already established, into an idea that is already laid out, and into ways of being that are already prescribed e.g. “come with us to a show we have already chosen / plans we’ve already made.” Thus, when an organization seeks to be “more inclusive” it is really saying that we want to find ways to get more People of Color, more women and trans* folks, more LBTQI folks, more People with Disabilities, etc. into our workplace or organizational structure. There is no real intention of having those groups of people help craft and shape the core elements of how the organization operates, nor is there any intention of yielding power to those relative “newcomers”. Instead, the organization is looking to find people from those groups who are willing to go along with plans that are already prescribed and behave in ways that are already expected (often called “organizational culture”). On occasion this is not wholly terrible given that some organizations might be so wonderful that the costs of doing this for these “included” folks are not too high. However, to presume that this effort at inclusion is Equity and Social Justice work is a huge misstep because not only are systems of power and privilege not examined, but they are actually reified but the unwritten rules of the inclusion process.

Taken together a mere awareness of and appreciation for “diversity” and an effort to “include” marginalized groups into an organization is a far cry from what is called for when addressing deep and long-standing issues of inequity. Moreover, these approaches can often lead to higher levels of assimilation pressure for members of marginalized groups while keeping the very systems that are responsible for that marginalization intact within the organization.

Take for example, LBGTQ rights and specifically the issue of marriage. Research from a range of LBGTQ political groups demonstrated that when heterosexual folks got to know LBGTQ folks, they were more likely to support marriage equality (depending on where their opinions originally resided). Reading these studies, one would think that D & I work actually is the solution to issues of LBGTQ oppression. And that would be true if the goal were mere “inclusion” into the dominant group’s paradigm. What I mean is, so long as LBGTQ people didn’t do anything to change the fundamental processes of marriage or impact its meaning in any real way, the heterosexual allies in these studies were in favor of LGBTQ people “having the same rights as I have”. What these allies did not attend to was the fact that many queer people (as evidenced in research done by progressive queer organizations) did not want to simply be “included” in a system that they believe actually limits the ability of LGBTQ people to define and express their relationships and families outside of something that is modeled on traditional heterosexual relationships. In this way we can see how a D & I approach to LGBTQ liberation might actually get in the way of broader LGBTQ equity and justice goals. Additionally, an inclusion lens does not require heterosexuals to identify what systems and structures lead to the oppression of LBGTQ folks in the first place or dig deeply into the question of what needs to change with respect to heterosexual privilege and notions of heteronormativity. A focus on these deeper issues, issues not addressed in D & I work, is necessary for true systemic change regarding oppression to take place and is why a D & I approach is insufficient when working for social justice.

Despite the substantial limitations, a D & I approach (to what are really E/SJ issues) is the current preferred pathway in many organizations for a range of reasons. First, D & I is easy. Most D & I activities, trainings, and implementation schemas do not take much time, do not require extensive learning on the part of participants, and have a low level of emotional risk. I have attended countless D & I trainings over the years and they have never elicited much resistance, anger or frustration on the part of those in power within organizations precisely because they do not challenge those systems of power, and instead often make those in power feel comfortable. However, for whichever marginalized group is the topic of the D & I training, limitless frustration and discomfort arises because it is painfully obvious that the small steps outlined in D & I trainings are insufficient in addressing the deep and important issues affecting them daily.

Additionally, as mentioned above, D & I work does not deeply and critically address systems of power or access to resources, and therefore requires no change on the part of the dominant group. A while back I was conversing with a district superintendent who was more committed to “letting everyone on the leadership team grow in their learning” than honestly addressing issues of whiteness and their impacts on the overall staff’s efficacy. Implicit in this leader’s comments was the deference given to softer diversity-based approaches that did not require any change on the part of the White leadership. The effect of this focus on “team building” was to make it an easy place for White folks regardless of how the People of Color / Native people felt about the “equity” direction of the district, what was happening on the team, or their levels of feeling safe and supported. D & I approaches have the tendency to cater to the patterns and processes of the dominant group often at the lived expense of the marginalized group.

And finally, leaders often choose D & I over E/SJ based on an inaccurate understanding of the developmental processes involved in learning about E/SJ issues. To be sure, leaning into E/SJ work is a developmental process no matter what the issue or one’s identity. For people who identify as women and trans*, addressing internalized sexism and gender oppression is as developmentally important as it is for those who identify as men to examine their own privilege, power and sexist beliefs and actions. Unfortunately, too many people believe that D & I is the initial developmental step in this process when in reality it is a sidestep. In trainings I often give the analogy of fruit when talking about D & I and E/SJ with the former being oranges and the latter being apples. If an organization wants to address its apple concerns (equity issues) and make all kinds of apple products (take equity and social justice actions), it simply makes no sense to put oranges into the recipe. In fact, you could truck in every orange in the state of Florida and no amount of them would produce apple pies, sauces and ciders. The point being that yes, learning about E/SJ issues does have a developmental component to it, but the steps of that reside within the E/SJ framework and are not facilitated by a D & I framework.

In sum, I want to be clear that D & I work can have its uses, but that it must be engaged in with a clear eye toward this framework’s actual capacities. D & I cannot and will not ever be a sufficient substitute for E/SJ work, and for reasons mentioned above it is often consciously or unconsciously used as a way to deflect E/SJ work from happening well or at all.

Living a Tradition

By Heather Hackman

I had the incredible privilege of being able to travel to Bodh Gaya in late December and it was amazing. If you are not familiar with this place, it is the home of the Bodhi tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was constructed by Emperor Asoka 2,250 years ago (the current temple is from the 5th -6th c. CE). It is said to be the most important, most reverent place in the world for Buddhists and the reasons for that were evident as soon as I walked in. The Mahabodhi Temple itself is not terribly remarkable as structures go – roughly 55 meters high, a basic stepped design, and a range of tiers surrounding it that have trees, grass and ample area for practitioners to gather. Overall, it seemed to me like so many parks, public squares or communal gathering spaces all over the world save for one thing – the intention and earnestness with which people were practicing their devotion to Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. The vibe coming off of the countless monks and nuns practicing there made this temple utterly compelling, energetic, enlivening, and full of hope.

I do not identify as “a Buddhist”, because that has the air of Western “try this cool thing out”-ness to me and so I simply say that I have a deep love and reverence for Buddhist philosophy and find great personal and professional value in so many of its tenets. Despite my attempts at being reserved and cautious, I completely and unabashedly fell in love with the Mahabodhi Temple and the practitioners around it. I could feel myself long to be among them. In fact, I visited a total of four times in the very brief time we were in Bodh Gaya. I wanted to better understand this place, but more so I wanted to soak up what felt like its unbounded hope, possibility and peace. In trying to comprehend what the essence of this feeling was I realized that it emanated from the fact that I was among folks who had completely surrendered to their “faith” and were not “practicing” anything but instead were truly living their tradition with their full selves. Their bodies, their minds, their hearts and their daily activities were completely bent toward following the Eight-fold Noble Path, thereby making their contribution to peace in the world. Buddhism suggests there is an end to suffering but it requires facing the depths of fear (aversion), greed (attachment) and delusion (false perception). I’m sure you can see the parallels between these and other traditions where they are labeled differently, perhaps, but speak to the same core elements of what makes us suffer within ourselves and certainly what makes us create suffering for others.

This living the tradition is the basis of the Dalai Lama’s invocation for peace, his tireless work for the freedom of Tibet from the oppressive and violent rule by China, his support for LBGTQI equal rights, his deep and increasingly pronounced call for environmental justice, and his work within his own tradition around gender liberation and equity. Buddhism, when lived, gives him no other option than to commit his life energies toward the end of suffering, and more specifically the end of oppression. Buddhism suggests that in oppression not only those targeted are hurt but those who are doing the oppression are also fundamentally dehumanized and thus liberation for some liberates all. Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Winona LaDuke, Cornell West and Gloria Anzaldua also put forth that base notion that everyone caught in systems of oppression are diminished and dehumanized by the very existence of oppression. This is not a new idea, bumper stickers abound with the slogan “no one is free when others are oppressed”. But, there is a profound difference between the tokenizing and weakly offered way that dominant group members often say this versus the way that people who are truly living their tradition actually commit their whole selves to this.

And in fact, that is what social justice is going to take. In racial justice trainings I often offer up the very simple point that if racial oppression is happening “this much” (and I fully raise my left hand into the air), but White people are responding only “this much” (and I hold my right hand at shoulder level) then a simple bar graph analysis should help us see that if the solution is not proportionate to the problem, the problem will persist. And so, what does it then take for White folks to move their part of the bar graph up? I suggest that it is the move from “doing racial justice work” to “living racially just lives” and that is where “living one’s tradition” can (not always, of course, depending on the tradition) be of assistance.

Case in point – I have been working with a group of Unitarian Universalists over the last two years and I have to say that this is a pretty earnest group. Historically, White Liberalism has abounded at this overwhelmingly White church, and so there was no dearth of projects and activities they have been doing to address issues of Race and help communities of color fight Racism. Importantly, however, that is not at all the same as doing racial justice work (which rigorously looks at White Privilege and White Supremacy as much as it does Racism), nor is it a pathway to living a racially just life. But, this is right where living their UU tradition of love, love and more love comes into play – many of them have come to a place of realizing that if they do not do RJ work, they cannot fully experience their faith. Conversely, by leaning more deeply into their faith, they will find the support and motivation to dig more deeply into their own Whiteness and work to dismantle it. In short, they will move to being White people who are living their tradition because they are actively seeking to live in racially just ways.

Similarly, I have been doing work for almost a year now with a Catholic University and it is through their commitment to Catholic social teachings and the guidance of their commitment to the tenets of Christianity that they have been able, as a roughly 90% White campus, to lean more honestly into racial justice work and move away from the seduction and safety of tepid and easy “diversity” work. They, too, see this movement as a way to live their tradition and in turn have their tradition support their work.

I am not naïve enough to think that these assertions are not fraught because of the historical use of “faith” as the simultaneous tool of and cover for racial oppression on the part of White people (as well as almost every other form of oppression globally – the Burning Times in Europe, Christian hegemony and colonization, and the denial of rights to LBGTQI folks to name a few). The work of Paul Kivel on Christian hegemony and its role in systems of oppression is well worth exploring on this point. Alongside these hugely problematic uses of various systems of faith and religion we can see the ways that these belief systems have the capacity to provide strength and hope and guidance in the quest for human rights and peace among living beings on this planet. Thus, I am not talking about doctrine or scripture, nor am I talking about the distortions of any belief system to serve the needs of dominant power structures. Having said this, I have seen in my own life and in my work with communities of faith that there is great power in the reciprocal nature of one’s tradition reinforcing one’s commitment to living a racially (socially) just life, and then the realities of living that life breathing substance and grace into one’s tradition. In fact, I think it would be quite refreshing if those who identified as Christian and “anti-racist” worked a little harder to reclaim the territory some in their faith have colonized in the name of Racism (and other forms of oppression) over the years. Not being a Christian this is an outside opinion, but I cannot imagine Jesus would agree with any of the marginalizing, oppressive and violent talk espoused in the name of being a good Christian, nor would he have been cool with “liberal” Christians’ tolerance of such claims.

Put simply, I have had the privilege of working with more and more communities of faith over the last few years and I can see that these traditions are indeed powerful sources of change, hope, and ultimately peace when they are lived in accordance with values of justice, equity and the lauding of core human dignity over all else. This is what I was able to experience at the Mahabodhi Temple as my friend Michael and I took half an hour to “sit” alongside the monks and nuns who were so deeply engaged in their practice. The shared commitment to growing and changing, the shared struggle embedded in that process, and the wisdom and compassion at the heart of it all was so inspiring I was crying tears of gratitude on more than one occasion while there. I want to connect to that power and source of strength within myself more, and so being in the presence of such wise and committed practitioners gave me increased hope and energy to suit up and show up in an effort to live a racially just life.

Pushing Back on the System of Fear

By Stephen Nelson

Since the New Year and my writing about my fears of people of color, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. As I re-read my blog post about my upbringing and the instillation of fear of people of color, especially black people, it strikes me as somewhat hopeless. Especially the part where I say:

“This fear is ingrained. It is automated. It is immediate. It is engaged even if we are not conscious of it. We don’t have to do anything to make it happen. It just does. Just like my car doors locking; my stereotyping, bias, and fears play out automatically. Sometimes I’m aware of this, and sometimes I’m not.”

This feels like maybe we can’t do anything about it. This is absolutely not the case. This is not the case because the patterns I’ve identified within myself are the product of intensive socialization on the part of a White-dominant system. This system miseducated me by creating false narratives about people of color through mainstream media and by segregating me from people of color to decrease the chances that these narratives would be disproven through my own relationships with people of color. This is not just “happenstance”, but rather a calculated and intentional move on the part of the White dominant structure in order to make sure that White people go along with the system and keep it in place. So, my fear only SEEMS ingrained because it is meant to feel that way. Thus it will also feel unchangeable in the minds of Whites.

This past November I was presenting at the Overcoming Racism Conference in St. Paul. We had a lively group in our workshop with approximately 20 participants. I presented on the social determinants of health as well as institutionalized racism and how it affects health care delivery. I focused quite a bit on stereotyping and unconscious biases of all of us, specifically health care providers. Here is one of the slides I showed during that presentation:

Nelson Blog Image 1

 

After the workshop was completed and I was leaving the building to trudge through the snowy cold streets of St. Paul to get to my car, one of the participants of my workshop flagged me down. She was a person of color. We talked for quite a long time and she was very complimentary about the workshop. She did give me one piece of advice. She suggested that I change but one-word in the entire presentation. As I pondered her recommendation, and I continue to do so, she is absolutely right. Since then, I have changed the above slide. This is how the slide reads now when I present on the topic of health care provider bias. See if you can see the subtle but so important and impactful change.

Nelson Blog Image 2

A single word can have such profound meaning. One single word. Saying that unconscious biases are normal lets White people off the hook in a sense. White people cannot help it. It is just the way it is. There is nothing Whites can do about it. My use of the word normal essentializes unconscious racial biases.

One single word. Using the word common helps to illustrate the frequency with which White health care providers rely on stereotyping during work with patients and families. I do feel that it is important to stress the important role of health care provider bias in the persistence of racial health inequity. Using the word common does this without essentializing biases for the listener and for myself.

I am so very thankful for the advice I received. One simple word.

My fear and biases are not normal. These are not an essential part of my being. They are not permanently ingrained. As I stated in January: “So, if I am honest with you I will say that I still have some fear of black people.” But what might be more accurate would have been to say, ‘if I am honest with myself, I am still plagued by the socialized fear of black people I was given throughout my youth and into early adulthood’ because this is really what I am struggling with in my daily interactions with patients, friends, family and everyday folks I encounter throughout my day. I did not ask for the messages I received, no White person ever does. And they have taken root and it is a slow and arduous process of noticing the fear, confusion and misunderstanding they produce in me on a regular basis.

And, I work daily to undo this and push against this fear and unconscious bias. Before entering the room to see a patient, I take just a few seconds to check my bias and potential discomfort if the patient is a different race than my own. I focus on our shared humanity. I can find something in common with a person of color as easily as I can with a white upper middle-class suburban family. I find that I spend just as much time with families of color as I do with white families. This helps to break down some of the fear and mistrust of the healthcare system that affects so many patients of color. It has also translated into my offering specific therapies to all appropriate patients without my preconceived notions of their ability to adhere to our treatment plans.

But, I also know that this kind of individual “self-check”, while important, is not enough. For this reason I also try to see how the system of racial oppression is situated at work and do my best to challenge those structures and the ways they deny resources, in some cases life-sustaining resources, to families of color. Working on my own unconscious bias and stereotyping is critical, but I must also work to dismantle racism at the institutional level.

I want to share a specific example of how working on our unconscious biases improves patient trust and outcomes. My hospital has been part of a multicenter NIH study of sickle cell disease, a disease that in North America predominantly affects people of African descent. Participation in clinical trials by people of color has historically been very low. There are many reasons for this that include mistrust on the part of the patient as well as bias on the part of the provider. Because of fear and unconscious bias patients of color are often not approached (by the majority white providers) to participate in clinical trials. Unfortunately, this translates into most evidence-based protocols being developed using outcomes of white patients. This only perpetuates healthcare disparities for people of color.

I am proud to say that the sickle cell trial met its accrual goals one year ahead of schedule. Compliance with the study requirements was greater than 98%. The study was completed ahead of schedule. All of the 121 participants on this trial are of African descent. This was one of the most successful in NIH- sponsored clinical trials in history, and not a single patient was White.

We can improve care for patients of color. We can undo our fear and unconscious bias. We have to push back against the systems of fear that are in place. We can do this.

Adjusting Our Climate Justice Lens

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Below is the text of a sermon that Heather offered on April 19, 2015 at the annual Earth Day Service at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Thank you Justin and thank all of you. It’s good to be with you again. I’m humbled and honored to be here as part of this day, the 45th Earth Day, and participating in this conversation with you.

And what a difficult conversation it is…this is not a topic that will garner friends at parties, nor make dinner conversation light and easy, nor get you invited to speak (most) places. And yet, it is a conversation that is well overdue in far too many circles in this country and so I am grateful that you all are having it and that you will continue to do so.

And yes, the situation is… grim. I’m not getting all Hunger Games-y here, and this is not a post-apocalyptic, Mad-Max moment. However, it is worth noting the enormity of the statistical, empirical, and natural trends we are seeing. The numbers about heat and melt and sea level rise and CO2 are daunting. The strangeness of the weather in North America over the last decade has been disconcerting to say the least. And the state of affairs in our most populous state with a drought the likes of which has not been seen for 1200 years, with sea lion pups washing ashore in droves, with sea bird deaths in huge numbers, and with star fish suffering and dying – all of that is overwhelming. The planet is speaking, louder and louder every day and if we are truly listening, then we will have this conversation.

The typical U.S. response to the topic of climate change is to either stick one’s head in the sand or rush out and “do” something. I get that – particularly the desire to “do” something. And yet that is often a mistake if we have not thought as deeply as necessary and have not learned what we need to learn in order to make the right choices.

And so there’s a danger in “taking action” without the necessary information and perspective in hand. Now, in 15 minutes I’m not going to be able to convey any earth shattering information or give you a deep and complex analysis, but what I do want to do is just shift the lens on the conversation a little bit in hopes of illuminating a path forward in our climate work.

In line with this, I have found that before trying to figure out “what do I do”, it is useful to ask “how did we get here?” – because the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. Let me say that again: the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. And if we do not know how we got here, it is very likely that in our effort to rush out and “do something” we will inadvertently keep doing the very things that led to this moment. And so I am here to offer some thoughts on this question – “how did we get here?” in the service of better answering the question, “what do we do?”

And so how did we get here?

Some argue it’s just human nature and that we are just predisposed to greed, consumption and competition. And yet, the last few decades of neuroscience in the West, and millennia of tradition and wisdom in indigenous communities globally, have agreed that as mammals we “tend and befriend” and that the notion that we are inherently competitive and “survive only if we are the fittest” is a fiction. To be sure it is a useful fiction if you are engaging in colonization and systems of oppression and need everyone to go along with it; it’s a useful fiction if you are trying to convince the masses that extractivist economic systems and ways of being in the world are the only plausible ones; and it’s a useful fiction if you want the majority to believe that any other way of being in the world is economic, social and political suicide. If those are your goals, then casting humans as inherently greedy, competitive, and aggressive is the perfect story. Importantly, however, it’s just not true. Thanks to mirror neurons, the vagus nerve, limbic resonance and countless other aspects of our biology, it is evident that we as mammals are wired for empathy and meant to connect – to each other, to the planet, to all of life. It’s the gift of our biology.

And so how DID we get here?

Quite simply, we lost our way. Profoundly and deeply, we have lost our way.

And so here are four missteps which I think are key factors in us losing our way and leading us to this climate moment. I’m not saying these are the only factors, but they are very powerful ones and so I want to take a moment here to identify them before I talk about the path ahead.

Starting in the Age of Reason (or if you read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael then 12,000 years ago, :)) we watched European thinkers begin to deeply codify the separation of mind from body, followed by the objectification and diminution of the body. So, misstep one – we disconnected from our bodies and thus from the Natural world. We began to see ourselves as fundamentally separate from our natural environment.

Misstep two (still in this general time frame) is the Western framing of Nature in the feminine form within a society steeped in gender oppression. Now please do not misunderstand – the problem is not viewing or relating to Nature in the feminine form. The problem is that when it is done in a society that is so violent against women, the inevitable result is extreme violence against Nature. How could it not? From this Western worldview Nature, like women, is an object to be conquered, mastered, and even violated without conscience. The recent panel at the Women’s Club featuring Winona LaDuke, Eve Ensler, Patina Park, and Louise Erdrich made this connection all too well when they talked about the extreme extraction happening in the Bakken oil fields and the astonishing uptick in violence against women and the trafficking of women in those very same oil fields. As the speakers so clearly put it – as goes the treatment of women and trans* folks, so goes the treatment of this planet. So misstep number two was seeing Nature as something to be dominated, objectified and controlled.

Misstep Three –When you conjoin the two previous points with Europe’s absolutely insatiable appetite for resources via colonization and imperialism and you have the additional element of endless, linear extraction of resources. Thus we saw Europe embark on the colonization of Africa, Asia and the “Americas” and take every possible resource there was in their quest for power and dominance. Today we call this process “globalization”, “neoliberalism”, “free trade” and the like. But when unmasked, as Naomi Klein indicates in her excellent work This Changes Everything, these are nothing more than the endless desire for economic power via the constant extraction of resources – no matter what the cost. The behavior of the fossil fuel industry fits this process to a “T”. They are some of the wealthiest corporations in the world and it is their mission to extract every last drop of oil and gas from this planet no matter what. And so misstep number three is the notion that we can engage in the linear, endless extraction of resources (in the name of economic power) with no concern for the consequences.

So, how do you get away with separating oneself from the natural world, treating Nature in such violent and domineering ways, and engaging in seemingly endless extraction in the name of progress? You explain it away via the vehicle of Race – in particular you create “White” and through it propagate the notion that White people are superior. As a result, what predominantly White societies of people do cannot possibly be questioned because “we” are the superior (racial) group on this planet – we created civilization, we created democracy, we are the great thinkers and inventors, we are moving all of the world ahead. Thus the creation of White four centuries ago and all of its concomitant notions of supremacy and entitlement, has served as the perfect justification for the behaviors that have led us here. And so, misstep number four was the creation of White and its use in explaining away each of the three previous missteps. As we have seen in the UN climate negotiations, the notion of White as superior has allowed those nations largely responsible for this climate crisis to neatly avoid any accountability for it.

Big points, right? I’m sure I’m making you feel even worse than you did before you sat down. But never fear – with an accurate and honest diagnosis there then becomes hope for an effective and truly healing solution. And so this is what got us here, now what do we do?

Step one: Reconnect with the natural world. There is so much information about this and so many ways to do this that I am not going to comment on it here. But, I do encourage you to lean into this reconnection, while realizing that this in itself is not enough. Right? And so though this connection is vital, we cannot pretend that more camping is going to do the trick.

Step two: Replace the worldview of these missteps with a socially just view of the world. And you all are well on your way to doing that by developing a Critical Race Lens through your RJ ministry.

Step three: Take new and different actions regarding climate issues by using this Critical Race Lens as the frame through which climate justice work is done. And this is very important – Climate Justice and Racial Justice do not sit side by side, nor do they “intersect”. Rather, CJ work must be done through a RJ lens if it is to be effective.

Here’s what I’m suggesting:

An example of what it means to be White in this country is rugged individualism. Let me use myself as an example. Because of rugged individualism, I as a White person am socialized to consume for my individual well-being and therefore often consume way too much. I am encouraged to live in a house that is more room than I need, but it’s my marker of success and safety so I won’t give it up. I have possessions that often sit idle but do not share because they are “mine”. I will buy a Prius to save gas, but don’t ask me to consider taking public transportation because I like my independence too much. And so on. In short, the scourge of rugged individualism wants me to organize my life in self-centered, isolated, disconnected, and non-communal ways that are simply not sustainable for 7.5 billion people. Even my activism and climate work is often done in isolation.

The hard work of climate change is not figuring out how to release the choke-hold of the carbon energy sector on my life, the hard work is to realize what got me in that relationship in the first place. What about me as a White person has led me down the path of disconnection from nature, or better yet not even notice that I am? What about Whiteness has led me to believe I “deserve” certain things because I have “earned” them, even if the possession of those things takes an incredible toll on the planet and its life (like flying to distant lands for a vacation)? Whiteness has me live the life of a rugged individual who confuses charity for justice and says I will share resources with others only after I already have “mine”. Whiteness wants me to believe, regardless of my current economic reality, that the accumulation of material goods is truly the pinnacle of success – that it is imperative that I SHOW others I have made it, that I have done it on my own, and that therefore I am “somebody”. In truth, Whiteness is a disassociated, disconnected state – how else could White families go to church in the morning and a lynching in the afternoon? How else can we continually turn away from racial injustice and our climate realities? What else would lead to Black people having to repeatedly tell White folks that Black lives matter? If I was in touch with my own humanity and living in connection with others, that message would never need to be said. But I am not. At the hands of Whiteness I am just a bubble off plumb with respect to my humanity. Whiteness is like a meme seeking to survive and it will do anything to get me to believe that my disconnected, my extractivist life is the only normal one.

Painful? Yes. Hopeless? No!

Enter racial justice. Not merely racial justice work, but instead the promise of a racially just life. Enter the deep knowing that I am interconnected – a knowing that always comes from solid and deep racial justice work. Enter the sense of groundedness that stems from RJ work and that reminds me how much I love this planet, how gorgeous it is, and how desperately I want it to thrive. Enter the reclamation of my humanity because of racial justice, which of course ushers in grief and sadness and regret. But, also brings hope. Not naïve hope, but a hope stemming from the deeper knowledge that people can change, that racial oppression is not an intractable situation, and that as a community of people gathered here, your RJ ministry and bringing that ministry into your hearts and lives just as surely as you breathe the air around you means that we have a chance. Nature knows this, because we are Nature… and our best selves and greatest capacity are not gone, we have simply lost our way. So RJ is a pathway back to ourselves, to an awakened human connection, and ultimately to a strong, effective and expeditious path to climate justice. I cannot hang on to all my “individual stuff” and all my “White consuming ways” and hope for a different climate future. But through the lens of RJ I as a White person stand a chance of being just different enough in the world such that true climate justice also has a chance.

And so in challenging what it means to be White (in challenging Race, Racism and Whiteness) we disrupt the core ideologies that got us here. More specifically, we dismantle the lens that makes this consumptive, extractivist reality “seem normal” and we replace it with one that can lead to just and sustainable mitigation and adaptation.

And so I’ll touch on it again – RJ is not a parallel issue to CJ, nor is it an intersectional one. Rather RJ is the lens through which CJ must be done. For if racial oppression is the lens that makes all of this climate crud seem okay, then RJ must be the new lens by which we work our way out of this mess. I’m not saying you have to be “done” with RJ work before you do CJ – I’m saying that you do your RJ work with diligence and constantly apply this lens to your CJ (and other) work in the church.

Now what about the other two “isms” you ask? Right? What about gender oppression and class oppression? The truth is that if you do exceptional RJ work, meaning if you lean in hard to White privilege, White supremacy and Racism, you will inevitably end up addressing class and gender. At their roots they are so profoundly intertwined that you cannot help but hit the other two if you dig deeply enough with RJ. And so, do not be deterred, nor distracted. If you stay this course of RJ you will find liberation on many, many fronts.

I know that was a lot and so let me close where I began – I am grateful to be in the company of so many people who are passionate about ending racial oppression, and who care so deeply about living racially just lives. And I know for sure that as you embrace the compass heading of RJ you will find a brilliant and effective path for your climate and environmental justice work. I was at a climate change conference in Iceland last June trying to convince a group of climate scientists of this very thing. And instead of hearing me, they almost unanimously said “we do not have time to solve social justice issues before we solve the climate problem”. And this broke my heart for a number of reasons, one because that’s not what I was saying – we do not have to finish one before the other…but more so because of the reality that we don’t have time NOT to do climate justice work through a social justice lens. We have such a small window of opportunity to make significant change regarding climate issues that we really need to get it right. And so I thank you for your courage, your love, and your commitment to doing CJ work through a RJ lens. It is the path out of this mess and I’m honored to be in this work with such noble, kind and courageous people. Thank you.

Renewing Attention

By Kate Eubank

In addition to supporting infrastructure and operations at Hackman Consulting Group and providing expertise on organizational change and development, Kate Eubank has worked as a youth worker, nonprofit development director and community foundation executive director. Kate’s activism, organizing and training work focuses on issues of racial and social justice, resource redistribution, and gender and sexuality.

I’m a January baby. The solstice and the gregorian new year and my birthday arrive one right after the other, asking me every year to make peace with the year that has been, turn my face toward the light, and set my intentions for the year to come. Asking me to do this in between the longest, darkest nights in our hemisphere. Calling me to renew my courage and commitment to justice, connection and change, often in the face of uncertainty, fear and grief. Inviting me to step forward, carrying gains and growth but also the deep losses of the year before.

Ferguson. Eric Garner. #BlackLivesMatter. The turning of this year, even more than many, found me feeling my way through a mix of grief and hope, trying to work my way through my own weariness and fear to action, trying to re-find the combined sense of vision and anger that fed and sustained my work in past years. Fearing for the people I love and the survival of the planet we share, thankful for their courage and vision but feeling at a loss for finding my own.

And spending much too much time wandering Facebook, losing myself in overwhelming amounts of information about ongoing catastrophes (both human and planetary) and up-to-the-minute news and analysis of demonstrations and actions that others were organizing and attending.

And as I was wandering Facebook a few days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, paging through tragic details and ignorant-to-hateful anti-Muslim comments, a post from my wise and thoughtful friend Claire popped into my timeline:

“As the mainstream media and a majority of this country continues to pay disproportionate attention to certain world happenings, while ignoring Nigeria, and on-going systemic threats to our own nation’s security (i.e. institutional racism, health disparities) I keep thinking of what Marge Piercy said, Attention is love. Attention is love……bless whatever you can, if you can’t bless it, then get ready to make it new. …”

Something shifted and clicked. Claire’s reflection was an unexpected gift – it got me thinking not only about what I want to pay attention to going forward, but also how I pay attention – to both the things that give me hope for justice and joy, and to the things that challenge and scare and sadden me. I loaded the full text of the quote she was citing:

“Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”

Marge PiercyThe Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme

There are many things from big to small that I am still not very good at – constructively interrupting racist comments, finding my words in the middle of conflict, cooking anything other than chili without burning it. But I think, I hope, that one of the things that I am good at (most of the time) is loving. Loving in a way that is active, that is both sustained and fierce, realistic and hopeful. Almost fifteen years ago, I stumbled on bell hooks’ brilliant and accessible All About Love. Her (re)definition of love not as a passive emotional stance but as an active act, an ethic of justice, freedom and responsibility, a constant practice that was a necessary and powerful force for liberation and growth gave me a vision and words for what felt intuitively right.

I’m not talking about the squishy definition of love – the one that prioritizes “feeling the love” and the uncritical satisfaction of wants and desires. The privatized love that exists only in individual lives or romantic couples to the exclusion of larger communities of responsibility and accountability, challenge and action. Quite the opposite. The kind of love that hooks is talking about – the kind of love I want to practice – is the kind of love that translates directly into action, that is a collective practice against domination, that precipitates daily transformation.

Fierce love. Patient love. Brave love. The kind of love that reminds us “your heart is the size of your fist – keep on loving, keep on fighting,” that pushes us to take a hard look at our own privilege and dysfunction and strive to transform and heal them, that calls us to listen and speak and write and demonstrate and organize, the kind of love that helps us speak and act even when we are tired and afraid (thank you, Audre Lorde.)

So if attention is love – and love is an ethic, an action, a liberatory practice, a way for me to move beyond the fear of getting hurt, of not getting it right, of my contribution not being enough, of failing – then I want to commit to use the resources of my attention and my love well in 2015. I want to throw my attention and my love and my action toward our shared survival, toward justice, transformation, healing and compassion, toward my own humanity and liberation. I commit to (re)turning my attention, my love and my action this year to the world that I’m dreaming of.

And so, for my own accountability and sustenance, here is the list that I have started of what and who I am attending to this year – both things I want to bless and the place I want to pick up a tool and help make change – with space at the end for some more additions. Because – as the best birthday card I received this year reminded me – another year is coming, and another world is possible.

Where will you be focusing your attention this year?

Kate’s Renewed Attention List:

  • Queer & trans* youth & elders of color and indigenous communities, and all those who stand in solidarity with them, organizing and healing for a different world. I’m going to be attend to campaigns and groups like undocuqueers and the Youth Empowerment Performance Project and Fierce, the leaders from the Trans Youth Support Network who are closing forward with such integrity and others I haven’t had the gift of encountering yet.
  • Other folks with privilege who are working to shift systems, share power, give over and give up resources. I’m going to keep attending to pulling apart my whiteness and class privilege and finding/learning ways to shift, leverage, heal, talk about and/or deconstruct them. I’m going to be learning from organizations like Resource Generation and the Catalyst Project and at places like the White Privilege Conference.
  • People and organizations doing the messy, honest, hard and true work of organizing and building community across difference to create change and transform all of us. I’m looking forward to paying attention to and learning from organizations like Southerners On New Ground, Minneapolis’ new People’s Movement Center, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and Freedom Inc.
  • Alternatives to policing and punitive models of “justice” and social control. I’ll be paying attention to organizers and practitioners in healing justice, prison abolition, transformative justice and community organizing, people like Angela Y Davis and Dean Spade, Cara Page and Susan Raffo, Critical Resistance and the TGI Justice Project.
  • Responses to our climate change and environmental destruction that advance environmental justice, shift our basic understanding of our relationships to each other and the planet, and are envisioned and led by those who already are and will be most impacted – and the ways that my own behavior and consumption can and must shift. I’m going to start by attending to the work of the Center for Earth Energy & Democracy, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and reading more Naomi Klein.
  • Organizing happening in small towns and rural spaces where resources and relationships and liberation look different – and take different skills and capacities – than the more urban organizing that is more familiar to me. I’m going to be attending to the work of some of the awesome Upper Midwest folks I had the privilege of working with at PFund Foundation and paying more attention to the organizing going on in central Maine where I’m living now.
  • The people in my life who call me in and call me up – the people who teach me, who remind me what I believe in and who I want to be, who challenge and support me to continue growing into the person that I believe in being, who help me move to action when it feels hard. I’m not going to name all of you here, but I promise to pay attention.
  • Finally, I’ll be attending to me – my role, my power, my courage, and where I can be of most use. I’ll be attending to the places and moments where I need to change and shift, where I need to be brave and take risks, where I can do more, let go, give up, give more, and where I need to pull back. I’ll be attending to what sustains me and calls me to be better, and how I can live out love in action to help make another world possible this year.

Naomi, India and My Home Town

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Author’s disclaimer: Since I have not posted in a while this is a long one, so hang in there. :)

I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was not born there, mind you, but I lived there from the age of 6-18 and so it obviously had a significant influence on me. I often share this at the beginning of trainings to help folks understand that I was not raised in a place where I would be naturally predisposed to social justice work. The tag line for the city does not say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…and we are totally committed to race, class and gender justice!” Nothing of the kind. In fact, it is quite the opposite – it is a city that is predicated on taking your money and having you smile while we do it, almost never really knowing what hit you. We alter the lighting in casinos, we make sure you never see the shift changes, and we hide all clocks so you have no sense of time passing. We have endless sources of food and drink so you are always sated. We make sure no real culture expresses itself but will fill the horizon with facsimiles of culture like Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt and New York. And most of all, we make sure that there is nothing visible that would give pause to hedonism – no homeless, no hungry, no examples of racism, and when we show you women almost completely naked taking your drink order, we make sure they are always smiling so as to offer the impression that working in a thong and pasties for eight hours is enjoyable.

Las Vegas is often a reference for me in my training work when talking about my own gender awareness (I hated the depiction of women in that city), my lack of racial awareness (it was a place representing the most extreme results of colonization and exploitation and so there was simply no mainstream conversation about race at all, at least not one that was connected to racial justice), and my experience regarding class (make it seem like you have money at all costs because that is the only parlance this city understands). Though I had no substantive political consciousness, these gender, race and class dynamics often left me uneasy, confused or on the outside looking in.

But after reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014), I can see one more reason why that town never felt like home to me – it is the penultimate example of extractivism over nature, of humanity’s desire for “more” falling in direct conflict with what is and should be possible in the middle of the desert. And that’s the key point – Las Vegas does not sit in the middle of a lush, green landscape with water readily available for its 61 golf courses. Nor does it reside in a temperate climate that does not require constant air conditioning. Nor is it located in an area where food is locally grown in plentiful amounts. No. It is in the middle of the desert. Dry, hot and what does grow there is not what we want in our “world’s biggest buffets”. But that has not stopped the developers from turning Vegas into the most impossible of spaces and forcing it to be green, forcing it to be cool, and flying, trucking and “training” in all manner of foods to assuage the palates of the entire world.

 

As you can imagine, there was very little of the city I liked as I was growing up, but I did have a fondness for its heat, its vast terrain and the challenge its isolation posed. On occasion we would head up to Mt. Charleston or drive out to Red Rock Canyon and each and every time I felt more alive and more grateful and more at home than I ever felt in the city itself. Maybe even as a young person there was something in me that knew that Vegas was ultimately a deeply flawed and likely failed proposition. Building such an edifice in a place where not a single aspect of it should ever be seems to be the ultimate testament to the hubris that has led us to this current climate moment – the mere notion that we can completely, indefinitely, and without any consequence bend nature to our will, no matter how obscene and unnatural it is. Only by connecting to the natural world via those excursions outside of Vegas, was I able to understand how problematic my home town was and is.

 

I know many people who “love Vegas” but not a one of them is engaged in the struggle for climate justice and the creation of a social, political and economic framework that is sustainable. Their love for Vegas might, on its surface, simply be a love for sun and fun. But, in truth the love that members of extraction societies hold for Vegas is likely because of the role it plays in being the ever-present reminder of our dominion over nature and that life can seemingly be abundant and enjoyable in the process. Vegas is an escape, like most vacation destinations, but it is a particular escape into the fantasy that humanity can consume at rates unthinkable (in a rational world) and somehow still be okay.

 

I rarely go back to Vegas, but was there last April for my brother’s wedding and while driving with my mother, I looked around at the mall expansion and the fact that the city has built and built and built right up to its very edges, and I said to her, “there is nothing that would ever have me come back to this place.” So smug, right? So self-righteous. So “above it all” in cool judgment and educated condemnation…except for the fact that you can take the Heather out of Vegas but not the Vegas out of Heather (at least not without some serious work). And so I have had to look at (thanks again to Naomi Klein’s book) the ways I carry the Vegas mentality with me – how I consume in absurdly racist, classist and ultimately imperialist ways. How I engage with the world as if it is made of infinite resources. How I create space and places and ways of being that simply have no business being where they are. And within this where I am truly just ignorant, and where I am willfully choosing not to see.

 

Let me be more specific – I was recently traveling in India for four weeks and the concrete, recurring question bumping up against my inner-Vegas was, “what on earth am I doing traveling for pleasure?” The carbon footprint we laid down as we went from Mumbai to Kathmandu to Varanasi to Bodh Gaya to New Delhi to Hampi to Fort Kochi to Thekkady to Alleppey and then back to Mumbai with me then returning home to Minneapolis was absurd. No other word for it. I was not there for work, I was not there for research, I was not there for any social justice reason at all, I was there because two friends live there and I wanted to see India and so going while they were there seemed like a good idea. Hello Vegas.

 

This past week TED posted a sweet, and if you listen closely, deeply poignant talk by Matthieu Ricard about altruism and climate change where he posited altruism (a path to climate justice) in opposition to selfishness (the path to climate disaster), and I had to face the fact that traveling the way we did (flying, driving, and hotels with such an extensive carbon footprint!) for pleasure is and was simply selfish. This bucks right up against the “but I’ve earned it” and the “I need to relax a bit and unwind, what’s selfish about that?” refrain so often uttered by middle-class U.S.-ers. It even can bump up against those who espouse the “deep growth and change of worldview that travel can bring” argument, and while this learning is often true and has almost always been true for me, it pales against the reality that we are very quickly passing critical planetary boundaries and we must steeply curb, swiftly change and substantially adapt if we are going to have a shot at a sustainable future.

 

And that means that travel for pleasure is likely on the chopping block for me. Notice how I hedged my bet there… “likely”. Even as I write this I cannot quite bring myself to fully commit. And yet, I hope that by being more public it will help me connect with others who are at similar places regarding truly unnecessary consumption, but caught in the throes of a neoliberal, globalized, colonial mindset. The class category I am identifying here is clear, right – U.S. middle, upper-middle and professional middle class folks who have disposable income but who are not the 1%. I see myself as a member of that group and in a nutshell we consume like mad.

 

And even though the bulge in CO2 emissions is shifting to the Global South, do not be fooled by that. Carbon emissions are recorded for the country they are emitted in, not the causality of those emissions. So, China, India and others in the Global South release much of their CO2 in the process of producing goods that we consume in the Global North. Thus, it is our consumption in the Global North that is still driving rising CO2 in a literal sense via what we purchase, consume and throw away. But, it is also driven by the illusion of power, prosperity and “happiness” that we have exported in connection with this level of consumption – the cultural imperialism of consumption. As I was driving the roads all over India I could not help but notice the mark of Western advertising promising happiness if only you eat this (vegetarian) Whopper, drink this Coke, or try this Jolly Rancher (these folks looked particularly happy, actually). This form of ideological colonization, by conflating happiness with consumption, will kill us all if we do not see through it, rigorously critique its impacts, and offer alternatives.

 

One of the most slippery ways “consumption” defends itself, however, is by saying that if we stop consuming, all of the folks in India, China, Mexico and Brazil who are making these products will lose their livelihoods. That is true if the only source of life is the maquiladora. However, what I quickly understood as I was in India is that if I took the money I waste on my useless consumption and instead offer it up as payment for the Global North’s climate debt, I would be making an amend for the havoc my consumption has wrought, I would be supporting green and truly sustainable development, and I would be interrupting the ideology of consumption and extraction and replacing it with a more global vision of stewardship and climate justice in response to the crisis we are in.

 

I’m not talking charity here, I’m talking about wealth redistribution and putting substance to the IPCC’s “equal but differentiated responsibilities” framework. There are truly countless organizations all over the world (many of them indigenous) working locally to replace the extractivist worldview with something much more sustainable. For specifics, go to Naomi’s book and the references in the back. Better yet, read her book and come to understand some of the work these organizations are doing globally.

 

And so that is really why I am writing this – not to do the solipsistic, passive aggressive lefty thing where we cynically criticize ourselves and call ourselves hypocrites in order to actually shame and blame others, nor am I trying to induce guilt and shame and point a finger. Instead, I am openly sharing what has come up for me since I left for India in December and how I intend to apply these lessons to a hopeful and sustainable solution whereby we ALL can live on this planet. By some studies / measures as a middle-class U.S.-er I consume 80% more than is allowable if we are to try and keep planetary warming limited to two degrees centigrade. While many think we have missed that two-degree mark, it is no reason to not then shoot for two-point-five degrees. And while there is no guarantee that any of this will matter or work, it is absolutely certain that if the West does not curb its consumption by somewhere around 80%, and stop exporting this way of life as laudable, we will most surely suffer deeply and badly as a planet for a very, very long time.

 

Please do not hear my words from a place of guilt or shame. Brain research has shown that that is a weak place of motivation and stops learning (see, for example, the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel in The Mindful Brain). Rather, if you are a middle-class U.S.-er, make the changes you can and do this work from the place of altruism. Do it for the love of the natural world. Do it because it truly is the right thing to do. Do it as an amend for the colonization and genocide that created this wealth. Do it for future generations of all life on this planet. Do it as spiritual practice. Do it for a host of possible reasons or combinations therein. Whatever your motive, let us begin to do it now – to dig deep, to cut deeply, and to move quickly to a worldview that is in resonance and not dissonance with this planet.

 

One of Klein’s last points in her book, to light the way perhaps, is an analysis of various social movements that have achieved significant political, social and at times even some economic change – and of course the overarching theme was the word movement. We cannot do this alone, but if we are not practicing it as individuals it becomes difficult to authentically participate in those movements, and almost impossible to keep them alive over the long haul. One of the slogans of the People’s Climate March was, “to change everything, we need everyone” and so please join in climate justice work, please talk to others, please engage politically and socially, and if you are someone with economic access, please dig deep and work to make the changes necessary for this movement to lead us into a sustainable future. I thank you for your partnership on this path and hope to learn from you as we all do our level best.

A System of Fear

by Stephen C. Nelson, MD

In addition to training and consulting with Hackman Consulting Group, Stephen Nelson is currently a physician specializing in the treatment of Sickle Cell Disease at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Nelson received a Bush Fellowship in 2009 to study the role of racism in the treatment of patients with Sickle Cell Disease, and regularly trains and presents on racism in medicine, provider bias, and transforming racial disparities in health care.

As I listen to conversations about the events surrounding the homicides in Ferguson and Staten Island at the hands of the police, I am struck by some similarities that I encounter in healthcare. Too often, it appears we get stuck on single, isolated incidents at the expense of appreciating the “big” picture. By focusing on individual acts, we lose sight of broader systems that may be affecting these individual acts.

I was especially disheartened to hear a particular conversation on NPR on the way home from work the other evening. I was listening intently to the interview on December 5th with civil rights attorney Constance Rice on how she built trust with police. I was particularly frustrated to hear her say:

“Cops can get into a state of mind where they’re scared to death. When they’re in that really, really frightened place they panic and they act out on that panic. I have known cops who haven’t had a racist bone in their bodies and in fact had adopted black children, they went to black churches on the weekend; and these are white cops. They really weren’t overtly racist. They weren’t consciously racist. But you know what they had in their minds that made them act out and beat a black suspect unwarrantedly? They had fear.”

I was frustrated to hear her use the word” racist” when talking about these individual white cops. This makes racism an individual act and not a broader system of oppression. What I believe she really meant to say was that these white cops were not prejudiced. By focusing on the individual police officers, she failed to acknowledge the systems of racism and white supremacy in our society that led these police officers to fear black men. I absolutely believe that many white cops fear black men. But, she didn’t discuss why this is true.

White people are scared of black people. Just admit it. We are. We are not proud of it.

This is how we were raised. This is how we were taught. This is “just the way it was”, especially in the South, especially in Virginia where I grew up in the 60s and 70s. But this miseducation didn’t stop in the 60s and 70s. It continues today.

So, if I am honest with you I will say that I still have some fear of black people. Think about it… Use the “dark alley” scenario, or “walking down the street alone” and you hear foot steps behind you. Are you relieved in either situation when you realize the person behind you is white?

As with many of us, we learn this fear at a very young age. For me, it was when our family was in Atlanta visiting friends. I had finished 7th grade. It was the summer of 1973. Dad got tickets for us to see the Atlanta Braves play the New York Mets. He was especially excited because Tom Seaver was pitching for the Mets that night. We were driving to Fulton County Stadium and some neighborhood children had placed a detour sign to force traffic down their street. The goal, as I discovered, was to give you directions to the parking lot and then ask for money. When we turned down that dark street, my mother reached around and locked all of the doors to the car. She was afraid. So I was afraid. The boys giving us directions were black. We were in an all black neighborhood at night in Atlanta in 1973. It was subtle. It was very quiet. But, it reinforced a feeling deep inside me that I carry to this day. I was to fear black people.

We have a college friend who apparently does this a lot. Every time she would lock her car door her husband would ask “Did you see a black person, Linda?” My husband Peter and I would start asking each other the same question if we locked our door. “Did you see a black person, Linda?” We’d ask friends or family when they locked their car door “Did you see a black person, Linda?” We thought it was funny. This was before I started recognizing my white privilege, before I started to understand how racism really works in our society, and before I began to look at my world with a critical race lens to see, to really see how people of color are treated in our country.

This fear is now automatic. Thanks to the ingenuity of the American automobile industry, we don’t have to think about it anymore. Our car doors lock automatically. Sure, this is for our own safety, right? Or is it so we don’t have to ask “Did you see a black person, Linda?”

This fear is ingrained. It is automated. It is immediate. It is engaged even if we are not conscious of it. We don’t have to do anything to make it happen. It just does. Just like my car doors locking; my stereotyping, bias, and fears play out automatically. Sometimes I’m aware of this, and sometimes I’m not.

Stereotyping, unconscious bias, and fear have affected, in such profound ways, the care that I have given to my patients and families of color. Like my car doors, I was unaware. It just happened. I never even noticed it.

Turns out, my patients and families noticed. How do I know this? Dr. Hackman and I asked. Race matters. Race and racism affect the delivery of health care. To learn more you can read our manuscript published last year: “Race matters: Perceptions of race and racism in a sickle cell center.” Pediatr Blood Cancer 2013;60:451–454 as well as our chapter “Dismantling racism to improve health equity” in Health Disparities: Epidemiology, Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Risk Factors and Strategies for Elimination. Nova Publishers, New York, 2013, Chapter VI, 147-160.

Physicians and health care providers, for the most part, are good people. We go into medicine to give quality care and to help patients and families. We like to think that our healthcare system somehow functions in a vacuum, outside of our highly racialized society. We are not taught how the structure and systems of our society (racism) affect the social determinants of health such as poverty, education, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment and insurance. The disparities seen with these social factors in people of color are partly to blame for the profound racial health inequities seen in the United States.

Some of the blame also lies with us, the healthcare system itself. We are overwhelmingly white. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Minnesota is now 5.2% black and 4.7% Latino/Latina. However, of the 13,083 licensed physicians in Minnesota only 261 are black and 313 are Latino/Latina. The numbers are even more disparate when looking at the nursing workforce. Of the 57,639 RNs in Minnesota, only 105 are black and 30 are Latino/Latina. And, of the 220 graduates from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2013, one was black.

The education and miseducation I received growing up that led to my fear of blacks was not very different from my medical education. Who teaches us in medical school? Whites. Only 4% of American medical school faculty are from under-represented minorities (black, Latino, Native American). What are we taught? Evidence-based protocols developed by majority white researchers, using majority white patients, carried out by the majority white health care system.

What are we not taught? We are not taught about the social determinants of health and how racism affects these as well as health outcomes. We are not taught to see our own unconscious biases and stereotyping.

Just as police officers may fall prey to their own biases, stereotyping and fears; so too may the health care provider. In both cases, the result may be deadly for people of color. While the presence of more significant training for providers regarding racism may help to lessen the racial disparities in health care, the opposite is also true. The absence of substantial training on issues of race and racism will serve to perpetuate and potentially exacerbate racial health care disparities. Until racial issues are honestly addressed by the health care team as well as the judicial system, it is unlikely that we will see significant improvements in racial disparities for Americans.

Fear is real. But, we can lose it.

Here’s wishing for a less fearful and more joyful 2015 for all of us!

Guest Blog: The Belief Gap

by Maria Graver

Maria Graver was born and raised on Chicago’s south side and currently spends her days with fifth graders in Edina, Minnesota. Ms. Graver is the mother of two young children and a proud mestiza.

I have been reading to my children since before they were born, stroking my burgeoning belly and sharing both poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the first shade my daughter ever felt was that of a picture book, held overhead, as we sat outside together. Sure, I enjoy reading. Yet, that’s not the full story here. The full story goes more like this: Having grown up in my own brown body, I have come to know that – in order to be perceived as intelligent – people of color have to be noticeably brighter than our white peers, and we have to be this way nearly all of the time. Otherwise, our flashes of intelligence can be explained away by fluke or circumstance – neatly rolled up and pushed into the corners of multigenerational white American consciousness – to make room for the barrage of media-generated stereotypes insisting that people of color are…criminal, oversexed, violent, deviant, unclean, drug-selling, drug-using, alcoholic, bilking the welfare system…I could go on, but I’m sure you can see where I’m headed.

I read to my children in the hopes that they will never be incorrectly classified, so that the light of their intellect shines brightly enough to stun their teachers, rendering them temporarily unable to remember all of the derogatory racist drivel with which Americans are overtly and covertly inundated. Their brilliance has to eclipse the belief gap.

By my estimation, the belief gap is the most detrimental facet of our nation’s racial achievement gap. On the off chance that the belief gap is a new consideration for you, let me flesh it out a little bit. The belief gap is characterized by society’s lack of faith in the intellectual abilities of people of color. Now, before you head off, content that the aforementioned lack of faith isn’t possibly something that you could have internalized, let’s ponder recent American history. Certainly, we have all been saddened and horrified by events in Ferguson and Cleveland, and rightly so. I wonder, though, how many of us have been surprised?

I wasn’t.

If there’s one thing that I know about my perceived place in the American social hierarchy, it’s that I am both distasteful and disposable…and, guess what, this is how we have all been taught – both consciously and subconsciously – to regard our children of color, as well.

So, I ask you, how do you think this informs our nation’s beliefs about the intellectual competencies of people of color?

How might it inform your own beliefs?

 

At HCG, we are honored to be part a community of thoughtful, committed and courageous educators, organizers and thinkers. As our community continues to grow, we’re also honored to share guest blog posts from our friends and colleagues in this work.

A People’s Climate March

I was at the People’s Climate March this past weekend in NYC and it was an amazing experience. I have had the privilege of attending many marches over the years but this one was different in some very important ways and for those reasons, in addition to the fact that there were 400,000 people there, it felt historic.

The foremost reason it stood out to me was that it was the first march I have ever been to where there were no “allies” to the issue or group being focused on (e.g. heterosexual allies working for marriage equality without a clear sense of how they will benefit from it as heterosexuals). Instead, it was crystal clear that everyone there felt deep ownership regarding climate justice and could see the connections of our current climate crisis to their own work. Labor unions were clearly articulating the relationship between classism, exploitation, and economic inequality and the conditions that have led to climate change. Students and youth were clearly making the connections between the situation we are in and the reality of their future. Various Communities of Color and Native Communities (along with Whites committed to racial justice) were identifying the explicit ties of racial oppression, colonization and endless exploitation to what got us into this dire planetary situation. Feminist groups were connecting the dots between gender oppression, misogyny and the violent assault on the earth. In every way, deep and complex links were being made between health and climate disruption, education and climate change, food justice and climate justice, and so on. And I think this is what gave me a sense of hope I did not expect – 400,000 people all understood (granted to varying degrees) that we truly are all in this together, that standing on the sidelines is nowhere near an option, and that the stakes have never been higher for our species. Moreover, there was substantial consensus on what the solutions are: the need for a zero-carbon economy and an immediate switch to renewables, a restructuring of our economic systems such that human needs trump corporate, neo-liberal capitalist needs, and that we must think as a whole planet and not national fiefdoms some of which are privileged while others suffer.

The second aspect of the march that was noticeably different than any environmental work I had seen before was that it was led (both physically the day of as well as in the months of planning) but Native Peoples and People of Color. One of the most pernicious problems with mainstream environmental groups over the last five decades (I’m marking this from the time of publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to today) is the predictable whiteness, middle-classness, and all-too-often maleness of “the movement”. To directly challenge this history, and to give prominence to the voices that have been ringing so loudly and clearly for so long, the first major contingent of the march included Native Peoples, People of Color, Island State (OASIS in the COP configuration) representatives, and migrants from all over the globe. This contingent stretched from 59th to 65th streets and its centrality to the overall message of the march signaled a sea change in the leadership and organizing around climate justice nationally and internationally. My hope is that the largest climate justice march ever being led by Native Communities and Communities of Color will mark a permanent shift in future organizing and activism from U.S. and international environmental justice organizations. Specifically I am hoping that historically white-led EJ groups will deeply and consistently rethink tired “business as usual” ideas such as political expediency and move to a racial justice, class justice, and gender justice lens for their work.

The third and final aspect of the march that stood out for me was that this gathering and how we all engaged with each other felt like not only the blueprint for how we are going to organize for climate justice, but also a hint at how we could all live on this small, blue dot together. There is no question that the clock is ticking and this can have the tendency to exacerbate fears that lead to separation. On this day, however, the sheer gravitational force of our commitment to push back on the carbon lobby and to jar the political leaders from their torpor was so substantial that it held us all together despite the wide variation in who we were, where we came from and what our stories were. At the end of the day (and throughout the day) we were just this one family, fighting like hell to end this utter madness. And that is exactly what it is – to destroy one’s source of life in the name of short term profit is such a profound departure from reality that it cannot be described as anything else. And there we all were – shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see demanding with our bodies that we be heard.

Given the anti-corporate, anti-war, critical race/class/gender analysis of the event, I am not at all surprised by the paltry coverage in mainstream media. I often hope that slightly left-leaning folks like Rachel Maddow will give at least a cursory nod to climate change issues but she spent her entire Monday show covering the bombing of Syria with not even a minute of coverage of the march. The other networks were not much better. NPR did an abysmal job covering the march and spent much more time this week on what they must think is “legitimate” climate content – the U.N. conference. Democracy Now, however, did pre-march stories and interviews, ran 3 hours of live coverage on Sunday, and then followed up with numerous additional interviews and coverage Monday and Tuesday. For this reason I want to thank Amy Goodman and the folks at DN and ask that readers who care about climate justice make a small donation to DN via their web site.

There is a reason that a massive number of U.S.-ers don’t “believe in” climate change (as was the case with a flight attendant on a recent flight) and much of it has to do with the cowardice of mainstream media. In lieu of media doing its job, we must take it upon ourselves to fill in the information gaps and educate our peers. For my part, over the next two months I am hosting two workshops at my house to help educate friends and colleagues and I invite others to do the same. Just start with those you know, begin wherever each person is at, and work to deepen the discussion around climate change and climate justice. If we make it part of our everyday conversations then it will move from margin to center in our political landscape and we stand a chance of making larger, structural changes that will match the scale of the problem. I know it seems overwhelming and “what can one person possibly do” with respect to a problem that is planetary in size, and yet what else is there for us to do but try? I hold no delusions that if we all just come together we can “save the planet”. I know too much of the climate science data to hold out for that. But, I also know that morally, spiritually, ethically, and professionally there is no other option for me but to turn toward the fear and pain and grief, be with it, and do everything I can (as one among many) to address this crisis. This weekend I was reminded what large groups of people can do when we come together. The energy from the march is still with me, a low-grade hum whose power is palpable and whose signature is pushing me onward. I know you all have busy lives, but in a time such as this please make space to lean in and take up this shared charge with your words, with your actions, with your donations, with your vote and with all your heart. As cliché as it sounds, all of our futures depend on it like never before.

* Note: To watch the pre-march video (52 minutes) go to www.watchdisruption.com.