09 Jun Black Lives Matter Discussions
9 June 2020
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
I can’t write about fundraising this week – I – Just – Can’t. Fundraising will be back next week.
I have been interested in recent days and weeks to see all the companies and nonprofits – overwhelmingly white – lining up behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Interested not necessarily because of the words chosen, but because of the perceived importance of choosing them so publicly.
As if absolution were so simple!
Black Lives Matter. Together, we stand in solidarity with the Black community—our employees, customers, and partners—in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.
At Belardi Wong, we are fortunate to work with so many outstanding brands and non-profits, including our longstanding collaboration with the NAACP. During these turbulent times, Belardi Wong is standing in solidarity with those fighting for justice, diversity, and equality by making a charitable donation to our partners at the NAACP.
– Belardi Wong
My in box is filled with dozens of messages like these. And the land trust community is chiming with our own expressions of solidarity:
Conservation is crucial but not sufficient for ensuring that ALL people have the opportunity to live freely and prosper in healthy communities. It is deeply wrong that a Black person has to worry about being accosted and threatened while birdwatching in a park. It is evil that simply encountering law enforcement or jogging while Black can be the cause of death.
The board and staff of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association are horrified by the suffering of countless persons at the hands of systemic racism and injustice. We hope that our outrage and that of others brought on by the killing of George Floyd, coupled with action, can help propel system-level changes and within-system reforms to create a more just society. May we have the strength and wisdom to meaningfully contribute to creating healthy, prosperous, and secure communities for everyone.
– Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
We acknowledge that many of our neighbors and colleagues have known and lived generations of racial oppression – and have been vocally and bodily demanding change all along.
We acknowledge that, as a primarily white staff, our privilege, ignorance, and inaction are all part of the problem. To be an anti-racist organization, we must prioritize the needs and voices of our colleagues and partners of color – without layering the burden of our overdue education on top of their trauma.
– Sustainable Conservation
I can’t add much to this necessary dialogue. As a white male of considerable privilege, the very fact that I am able to earn a living working in the conservation space is testament to my place in our racist culture. I am at once grateful and discomfited.
So I sat down to write about it this morning and failed. Of course, I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. To do otherwise would be unconscionable.
But I have no standing.
What I can do instead is pass along excerpts from two powerful writers I have found particularly motivating. I hope you will forgive my punting this week, and find these two pieces provocative.
Q: Why is it that at the beginning, America got the Puritans and Australians got the convicts?
A: Because Australia had first pick.
My experience has been that when there is a large gathering of people in Australia, it is a common practice to begin, not with their pledge of allegiance or their national anthem, but in what’s called an acknowledgement of country.
A leader addresses the gathered people by saying “I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the (for instance, Ngarro) people, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.”
I cannot imagine this happening with any regularity in America. Why? Because from the beginning of this country, Christians have done evil and called it good. We have used God’s name to commit horrible sins and rather than repenting, just repackaged the evil. (slavery -> Jim Crow -> voter suppression -> redlining -> police brutality -> school to prison pipeline)
I am persuaded that the venom of white supremacy runs deeply in us as a country and a people, for a very specific reason: because the fangs that delivered it were given not the devil’s name, but God’s. When slavery, genocide and land theft is established as “God’s will”, it delivers a poison that can infect the deepest parts of a country while exonerating evil. Because messages that are transmitted to us in God’s name imbed far beneath the surface, all the way down to our original place, our createdness, our source code. And that shit does not just go away because we read a Ta-Nehisi Coates book or happen to have a Black grandchild.
Wokeness and policy change and celebrating diversity are a start, but not nearly enough to dig out the full infection. We must repent of the original sins of this country. Christian sins. Because the toxic heresy of God-ordained domination is a spiritual malady, not a cosmetic one.
This is why when people ask me, “why are you still connected to the institution of the church?” I can only answer, “because I believe that scripture and theology and liturgy are too potent to be left in the hands of those who only use them to justify their dominance over another group of people.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, Lutheran minister and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado, until July 8, 2018.
When our fundamental understanding of racism is transformed, so are our assumptions and resultant behaviors. Imagine the difference in our environment, interactions, norms, and policies if the following list described our assumptions:
- Being good or bad is not relevant.
- Racism is multi-layered and embedded in our culture.
- All of us are socialized into the system of racism.
- Racism cannot be avoided.
- Whites have blind spots on racism. I have blind spots on racism.
- Whites are and I am invested in racism.
- Bias is implicit and unconscious. I don’t expect to be aware of mine without a lot of ongoing effort.
- Authentic antiracism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.
- White comfort maintains the racial status quo, so discomfort is necessary and important.
- I must not confuse comfort with safety. As a white person, I am always safe in discussions of racism.
- Given my socialization, it is much more likely that I am the one who doesn’t understand the issue.
- Racism hurts (even kills) people of color 24-7. Interrupting it is more important than my feelings, ego, or self-image.
Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent. So in answer to the question: “Where do we go from here?,” I offer that we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning. Even if challenging all the racism and superiority we have internalized was quick and easy to do, our racism would be reinforced all over again just by virtue of living in this culture.
Robin Diangelo is an academic, lecturer, and author and has been a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice for more than twenty years. She formerly served as a tenured professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University. This excerpt is from her book White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. She also lectures from the book on a YouTube video here. (It’s an hour and a half, but well worth the time.)
I have not been really touched by much of this on a personal level. I am privileged. I am healthy. My wife and I are both employed and own our home. We have plenty to eat. And our kids are similarly blessed. All products of our racist society.
I have no standing.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to become aware of how what I say, and how I act, contributes to the problem.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to accept feedback whenever and however it comes – knowing that how it comes is not as relevant as the feedback itself.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to understand that this work will never be finished.
As always, your comments, reflections, and stories are welcomed here.
Cheers, and have a great week!
Photo by Bonnie Moreland courtesy Stocksnap.io
RebeccaPosted at 08:29h, 11 June
Thank you for using your weekly blog post as a platform to address the Black Lives Matter movement and becoming actively anti-racist. I believe that it is incredibly important to make DEI work a priority and it is integral to who land trusts are as community organizations.
Now that I’ve gone back and seen some of the great comments on the blog from others, this may have already been addressed but I noticed that the resources you cited, while both incredibly informative and especially helpful for white conservationists (who make up the majority in this field) they were also both written by white women.
Addressing our own privilege and white fragility is imperative for certain, but I fear losing sight of the fact that this movement is intended to center BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) voices and decenter the white experience.
Thankfully, now more than ever, a plethora of resources are free and at our fingertips including articles, books, podcasts, etc. that center BIPOC – I see Dr. Ayana Johnson’s article referenced in the comments which has been a pivotal read for me, as I’ve been diving deeper into this work personally and professionally. (Thanks Lisa for sharing those books too!)
Again, I really appreciate you taking this opportunity to shine a light on the BLM movement and hope you’ll continue to do so, offering a variety of voices and experiences. As a white, cis-gender woman, I appreciate that this is a time and opportunity for so many of us to learn together and increasingly work to do better. I’ve included some more resources below that have been insightful for myself and some of my colleagues.
Black Faces, Green Spaces (Blog) – Amplifying Black Voices in the Environmental Community: https://browngirlgreen.org/blog/black-faces-green-spaces/
NY Times – Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/climate/black-environmentalists-talk-about-climate-and-anti-racism.html?referringSource=articleShare
Green 2.0 – Beyond Diversity Report (and there are many other excellent studies/reports to learn from): https://www.diversegreen.org/beyond-diversity/
Anti-Racism Resources (This document is intended to serve as a resource to white people and parents to deepen our anti-racism work): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/preview?pru=AAABcr5FcJQ*K9PqDRZZ8Lv04owOGJw69Q
Kristen BrownPosted at 15:14h, 09 June
I appreciate you initiating this conversation. From my perspective as a cisgender White woman living in Wyoming and working for a conservation organization, I have been trying to come to an understanding of how our work is impacted by Black Lives Matter and the ongoing racial justice issues that so many are talking about now. My still unformed thoughts revolve around the work that we certainly must do to increase our individual antiracism work, but also organizationally. One step is to understand the history of our public lands (where we focus much of our work) as these lands were stolen from local tribes before they became public lands. Even here in Wyoming, there is a movement to acknowledge the past, present, and future Native Americans of the land. However, this cannot be a performative action where we say a few words and then move on to the status quo. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I am encouraged that my organization has already committed money to training our staff and board and is taking steps in the right direction.
To answer Gal’s question, in my mind you cannot address socioeconomic diversity without addressing racial inequity. While there are certainly plenty of White people in Wyoming who suffer, even more so now with the pending loss of coal and oil and gas industries, the suffering of Black, Indigenous, People of Color is disproportionate. Just my thoughts.
Marci MoweryPosted at 15:00h, 09 June
Thank you David.
Cindy Brown, LTLPosted at 12:05h, 09 June
Thanks for your post, David. I very much appreciate your humility. I have two AA children and grapple with my white privilege every single day, trying as best as I possibly can to understand their perspective. I’ve gotten better (I think), but I’ll never really understand, will I? It breaks my heart.
I appreciate that whites are getting on board but wish more would just be quiet and listen as you are modeling in today’s post!
Thank you, again.
KathleenPosted at 11:39h, 09 June
Thank you David.
Chris LittlePosted at 11:13h, 09 June
Thank you for this thoughtful post, David. Like Gal above, I look forward to working with the land trust community finds ways to contribute to the discussion. Thank you for taking the first with us!
lisahaderleinPosted at 11:00h, 09 June
Thank you David.
I recommend Ibram X Kendi’s and Crystal Fleming’s books on racism. As black Americans who are both academics, their perspective was much more revealing for me than DiAngelo’s. Fleming is a graduate of Wellesley with her PhD from Harvard. She is black and identifies as bisexual and queer. Between Kendi’s “How to be an Anti-Racist” and Fleming’s “How to be Less Stupid About Race,” I started to understand intersectionality. There is also a great essay by Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson published recently in the Washington Post. She is a black marine biologist and recognized climate expert.
I’ve come to believe that the most important work on the planet is making sure that women of color have full equality – socially, economically, educationally, politically. That will improve conditions for everyone else.
Stay safe and well David. Thank you for your good work. Lisa
David AllenPosted at 14:14h, 09 June
Thank you for these recommendations. I love your ending thought, “I’ve come to believe that the most important work on the planet is making sure that women of color have full equality – socially, economically, educationally, politically.”
Gal PotashnickPosted at 10:57h, 09 June
David, thank you so much for this post. The following reaction is a bit raggedy as I’m still working out how to talk about this meaningfully.
Being forced to not only listen, make space for, and elevate voices of those who have been unrepresented, but confront ourselves and our shortcomings in engaging the discussion at all, understanding that in the US our culture is built around inherent white privilege, and so much more that I can not currently put words to is thankfully front and center in many of my recent conversations. Learning to inhabit the discomfort is the tip of what feels like a miles long iceberg of things we, white people, could and should be doing. That said, I am interested in how the conversation will evolve in the land trust community around the US. And, b/c of where I happen to be living, I wonder how those of us in the rural areas of New England and other areas where racial diversity is less apparent can meaningfully take steps to be better when the conversation of diversity steers us toward socioeconomic diversity rather than racial inequity. Are we missing the point if we go down that path?