By-and-large, the mainstream environmentalist movement in the U.S. is decidedly white. This is in spite of the large body of activists of color attempting to combat environmental injustices. On the ground, environmental degradation disproportionately impacts working-class people of color, but such concerns over the actual, immediate impacts of environmental damage remain marginal to the mainstream movement. Instead, the popular environmentalist discourse seems to be more focused on the planet than the people on it (“Save the planet!,” “Protect the environment!,” etc.).
Perhaps the worst case of this is in the conversation around climate change. Those of us invested in this discourse have come to recognize a few tropes, the worst of which is “humans are destroying the planet.” Scholars, ever enthralled by the prospect of using a big, new word to unnecessarily label a phenomenon, the age of climate change has come to be referred to as the “Anthropocene”; simply put, the term refers to the time in which humans have been a geophysical force on a global scale. The issue with this label is perhaps best capture by Nicholas Mirzoeff’s essay, “It’s Not the Anthropocene, It’s the White Supremacy Scene.” What Mirzoeff’s essay highlights is not simply that the current environmentalist discourse is misguided in its focus, but that the causes of climate change have its roots in the white supremacist enterprise of colonialism. Foregrounding the connection between colonialism and climate change means that environmentalism that does not focus on issues of race and (neo)coloniality is not simply misguided, but entirely inaccurate.
Recently I came across a new Netflix mini drama series that will be coming to Netflix at the end of May. Enticed by the title of the series, I clicked on it in curiosity. What I watched lead me further and further into learning about the cases of the Central Park Five and how unjust and terrible their experience was. The Central Park Five case is a 1989 case involving a white jogger who was beaten and rapped while jogging in the park at night. Around the same time, a group of youths who were in the park were suspected of assaulting other joggers, throwing rocks at bicyclists and harassing a homeless man. The police department wrongfully assumed that five boys from that group were the ones who raped and injured the jogger. What unfolded was a series of alleged mistreatment towards the five boys charged with her assault, depriving them of necessary resources like food and water, interrogating them without their parents in the room and forcing them to corroborate their stories. After a series of trials and (in my opinion) unfair trials, the boys were convicted. In 2002, all five (now) men were vacated of their charges.
I hope that this series will shed some light on the issue of racially charged police treatment and corrupt justice systems that were happening then and are still happening today. I also hope it shows how quick people are to negatively judge youths who are not white. I think that this series will educate a new generation of youth about the Central Park Five and their stories. I was born and raised in New York, but I didn’t know about their stories and cases of wrongful (and extremely unjust) convictions until this year. It will be interesting to see how the public receives the series and if it leads to more discussion and action towards corrupt and racially motivated police cases.
On April 29th, Delaware State University announced their plans to open up a Center for Global Africa. The center is going to focus on re-educating the descendants of slaves in the United States. It is also meant to “renew and strengthen descendants connections to their continent of their ethnic origin. Doctor Ezrah Aharone, a professor at the university, commented that it would connect HBCU scholars with scholars in Africa. The article also states that “The new center already has plans to conduct an African economic development project involving asset mapping.”. I think that this topic is especially interesting in todays political and racial climate. While it is an opportunity for African Americans to connect with something I believe our country is still trying to stray away from recognizing, I do have my doubts. I wonder if people will be able to connect with the countries their ancestors were taken from like the Center hopes to. I remember reading about how hard it is for some African Americans to feel like they belong when visiting the country of their descendants. Still, I think that the center will be a great place for people who want to re-explore their descendants history to do so.
One article I looked at in the journal “Sociology of Education” examined how racial bias intersected with school choice. They conducted a survey that asked white parents if they would send their children to the hypothetical schools described in the survey. There were several independent variables in the described schools including the ratio of white to black students, security presence, academic rating, and the state of facilities. Then respondents were asked if they believed whites and blacks to be equal on a number of factors such as criminality and intelligence.
What the results showed was that race played a significant role in whether or not the family chose a particular school, even when controlled for all other factors. White favorability dropped by around 30% when the hypothetical school became 65-80 percent black for those who stated that black and whites were equal and 50% for those who stated that blacks and whites were not equal. The other factor white parents were unusually responsive to was a security presence. Generally speaking it is a useful study because it quantifies unstated biases. It is also important because often times discussions about school segregation deemphasize personal biases. It is also important due to increasing presence of school choice due to the rise of charter schools.
For the class “Education in the Socio-Cultural context” we spent some time learning about modern segregation in American schools. One source we looked at was the 562nd episode of “This American Life” which looked into the Normandy school district in Ferguson Missouri. As the events around Michael Brown’s murder and the later protests took place, the Normandy school district lost its state accreditation. Normandy had not been up to state standards in decades and had been on probation for 15 years. Upon losing accreditation a relatively unknown law was triggered where the school had to provide the option for students to commute to another school district, with Normandy paying the cost. The school chosen to take the students who decided to transfer was Francis Howell, a wealthy mostly white school more than an hours drive away from Normandy. The Hope was that very few students would choose to transfer but instead 1000 students opted in to the program. Overall it was both interesting and disheartening to see the same patterns desegregation, resistance and resegregation occur in the 2010s as opposed to the 1960s or 1970s. Just like with earlier generations of busing, the parents of Francis Howell were strongly opposed to the students, showed racial stereotypes, and used dogwhistles. The main difference was that the Francis Howell parents claimed to not be racist. I would highly suggest listening to the episode for the full context, as well as informative interviews with some of the participant in the case of accidental desegregation.