Much has been written following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the fury about the nature of his murder shows no signs of abating. His death has become totemic of the injustices imposed by systemic racism and the fear and indignities that Black people live with on a daily basis, which I, as a white woman can only try to appreciate. There may be those who think that there is no room for addressing such questions of race in what is after all a “Green” blog, but my definition of “Green” has always combined ecological with social justice. Even if this were not the case, racism, and indeed all forms of oppression, are connected with our attitudes towards the planet we share.
The concept of “Environmental Racism” highlights the intersection between ecological devastation and race, as evidenced through such practices as locating hazardous waste dumps near African American neighbourhoods, rather than white ones, or the exporting of waste from developed to developing countries. You may remember Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, highlighting mountains of UK plastic waste dumped in Malaysa.
Furthermore, systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, such as that that experienced by disabled or LGBTI people or those with the simple misfortune to be born poor, stems from the same system which is systematically destroying the ecological balance of the world.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, James Cone, wrote
“The logic that led to segregation in the Americas, colonization and apartheid in Africa, and the rule of white supremacy throughout the world is the same one that leads to the exploitation of animals and the ravaging of nature. It is a mechanistic and instrumental logic that defines everything and everybody in terms of contribution to the development and defence of white world supremacy.... The fight for justice cannot be segregated but must be integrated with the fight for life in all its forms.”
A system which considers environmental devastation and human lives as collateral damage in the relentless pursuit of power and wealth, which zealously guards a status quo that only delivers for the privileged few, that worships the market and somehow expects it to deliver a moral framework, and that pretends life is a meritocracy in the face of fundamentally unequal chances, is a system in need of radical reform. It is a system which has resulted in a serious and sometimes fatal dis-ease in the world. The symptoms are manifold, from species extinction, to mass migration, to human trafficking, to violent and unnecessary deaths. Focussing only on environmental issues in isolation from other issues of justice is merely triage, and does not even begin to offer the possibility of healing.
In this week’s Gospel, we read of Jesus “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness” before commissioning the twelve to do the same. Although Jesus‘ society was not faced with problems of climate change, it too, was beset by dis-ease: unequal life chances, the wealth of the many at the expense of the few, life held lightly and death justified as collateral damage to maintain the status quo. The words of Caiphas that it was better one man die than the nation perish, show the human cost of maintaining power bases.
In the face of this, when Jesus healed the sick and diseased, he was showing how much those who society disregarded mattered to God. When Jesus and his disciples preached that “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” they weren’t preaching about going to Heaven after death, they were preaching another kingdom, an alternative to Rome. They were in effect saying “Another world is possible”. This was a political message, too challenging for the vested interests to allow. It is a message for which Jesus and many others have died, but the dream of a better world has not.
That possibility of another world was good news then, and it is good news now, because the world we have, or should I say the system we have, isn’t working. It is the job of Christians to embody this other world, another system, where life is received as a gift from God and valued as such, where the world is seen not as a utility to exploit but as God’s creation, a common home for everyone, and where the suffering of one is the suffering of all - a world where everyone can breathe.
To find out more about environmental racisim click here.