Racism and Environmental Activism
June 04, 2020
The ongoing police violence against people protesting the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor – all black people murdered by the police – has drawn world wide attention to the struggle for black lives in the USA, as well as closer to home.
It is important that we condemn this violence – it is important that we lean into our outrage and channel it into working towards true solidarity with black people, as well as people of colour everywhere, who experience harm everyday under the system of white supremacy. Scotland played a major role in constructing this system, by exporting slaves and setting up plantations in the USA. This legacy continues today through the lack of accountability Police Scotland has faced after the death of Sheku Bayoh.
For white people true solidarity shouldn’t just be about broadcasting outrage across social media. It should involve looking inwardly, examining white spaces, and the ways in which white people are all complicit in upholding and enforcing white supremacy through behaviours and actions.
Climate activists must not shy away from naming white supremacy as a primary driving force behind the climate and ecological emergencies. White supremacy has allowed for the invasion of indigenous lands, the displacement, kidnapping, and murder of Indigenous people, and the subsequent exploitation and commodification of both land and people. Scotland and the United Kingdom were built with wealth that was generated through colonialism, slavery, and genocide, and our economy remains entirely dependent on the brutal exploitation of black and brown bodies, as well as the continued plundering of Indigenous lands by extractivist industries. The climate and ecological crises have only been made possible by white culture’s willful erasure of black and brown people’s full humanity.
There is no climate justice without racial justice. As a movement that was founded by mostly white people, and designed to make primarily white people feel comfortable getting involved in activism, Extinction Rebellion has often been guilty of diverting attention from this truth. In Scotland people of colour have been pushed out of our movement because of our refusal to fully engage with the realities of colonialism and white supremacy. We have allowed people of colour to be shouted down in our spaces, because we have often been more concerned with not being called out for being racist than we are with unlearning our own racism. These are just a few examples of what everyday white supremacy looks like.
We must do better. We must educate ourselves and each other, we must continue to re-examine our movement’s problematic relationship with the police, we must find ways to protect our fellow rebels from of the greater risks that non-violent direct action pose for black and brown activists, and we must call out racist behaviour when it happens in our spaces. Above all else we must listen to people of colour in our movement, and not challenge them or react with fragility when they speak from their lifetime of experience living in a racist society. If we want to be in true solidarity with black people on the frontlines of white supremacist violence, we should begin by looking at ourselves and by refusing to allow racism to be perpetuated in our spaces.
XR Scotland Media & Messaging team would like to acknowledge that our working group has been a space where many triggering conversations around race have happened over the last year, and we sincerely apologise for the trauma that these conversations have caused people of colour, particularly black members of our team. We are deeply grateful for your contributions, and for the way that your many talents and experiences have led the way in shaping our corner of the movement.
Here are a few suggestions for reading, listening and watching (please feel free to share your suggestions below):
Black Lives Matter UK: https://twitter.com/ukblm
Gal Dem: https://gal-dem.com