Shock. Despair. Action. People are lining the streets, filled with grief and rage, and justifiably lashing out against the institutional and systemic injustice burdening people of color – most especially Black lives.
The senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are just the latest horrific examples of racial hatred in the United States, and they have shaken our country to its core during an already tragic pandemic crisis.
It’s vital for us in the environmental movement to stand with our counterparts fighting for social equality to confront and defeat hatred and injustice in all its forms. And for me, it’s also personal.
When I was nine years old, I remember riding my bike with neighborhood kids in my suburb of Atlanta, during the days when children roamed free before dinner. I heard an angry mom call out, “Come into the house right now! I thought I told you never to play with those awful colored kids.” My heart raced as I looked around…then I realized she was warning her child against playing with me.
In an instant, those hateful, hurtful words caused me to redefine my place in the world. And I recognize that first innocence-shattering moment – and the discrimination I’ve faced in my life since – are just a fraction of the ugly hatred experienced by people of color across the country.
Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities continue to face injustices every day. Open violence at the hands of the police and the legal system. And systemic injustice, where social and economic factors force more people of color to live in polluted neighborhoods, next to oil refineries and coal yards – including right here in the Bay Area.
One’s race remains the single greatest indicator of whether you live near toxic pollution, and one’s zip code correlates directly with the health challenges you’ll face. This deadly dynamic facing frontline communities is something I also experienced growing up, living next to an industrial site dumping toxic pollution on my neighborhood that caused my family and I to all suffer from cancer and severe asthma.
Racial and environmental injustice have existed for too long, around the country and in our own neighborhoods. And the line between protecting the environment and confronting systemic racism has become invisible.
This pivotal moment is teaching me that I can more bravely call out injustice when I see it. And we at Baykeeper can more actively partner for change and stand in support of all those who are fighting for justice in all its forms.
Photo by Chloe Aftel