Black History Month & King’s
Although Blackness is not limited to one year of the month, Black History Month represents an important moment to highlight the Black community, including the incredible things they are doing, as well as the struggles many are still facing.
Across King’s, many events around Black History have been taking place this month. This includes the Visible Skin exhibition focused on Black portraiture and events organised by different faculties including The Black Heroes of Mathematics. You can also read amazing blog posts from the King’s community, including Helena Mattingley’s blog (Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) reflecting on what makes the cut into history curricula; Sarah Guerra’s poem (Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) about what she is proud to be; and Kirsten Johnson’s poem (Student Experience Manager in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities) about being proud to be intersectional. The IoPPN Race Equality Network also developed this amazing self-directed learning programme to encourage the community to dedicate 5-20 minutes every day to reading, watching or listening about often intentionally forgotten Black History. Check out what else the university is doing around Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and follow @KCLdiversity to stay up to date.
Black History Month & Sustainability
How are Black History and Sustainability connected?
Non-white people are currently experiencing the worst environmental problems in our world. Black and brown communities are more likely to live near toxic waste sites, live in communities with fewer environmental amenities, be harmed by climate change, inhale fine particulate matter and more. Globally, indigenous people and people living in island nations and Central Africa are facing the brunt of climate change and waste dumping. A study in 2016 showed that London’s Black, African and Caribbean communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more likely than white people to breathe in illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful pollutant responsible for increased rates of respiratory problems, particularly asthma in children. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the first person (9-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah) to have air pollution listed as a cause of death was black.
Why is this the case? Francisca Rockey offers a straightforward answer: environmental racism.
“Systemic injustices translate into environmental and socio-economic inequalities. It is not coincidental that inner city areas, heavily populated by black people are also found to be subject to long term exposure to pollutants. Environmental racism is when neighbourhoods, densely populated by black and brown people, are burdened with a disproportionate number of environmental hazards such as toxic waste and other sources of environmental pollution that lower the quality of life.”
But this is not the only way the black community is being impacted by the climate crisis. King’s PhD student Elias Yassin wrote an eye-opening blog post last year about the struggle to centre racial justice in the climate movement. He shared his experience as a Black climate activist, formerly with Extinction Rebellion (XR), and the challenges to make climate movements truly inclusive of activists of colour.
“Being a climate activist of colour in an overwhelmingly white climate movement is exhausting. Consistently, I have found myself pushed to the margins of XR UK because of a persistent disregard for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPoC).”
Indeed, people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds are often invisible in climate protest. According to Kids of Colour – a platform for young people of colour to challenge the everyday, institutionalised racism that shapes their lives – climate protests are not always aligned with the realities they live. While thousands of school students around the world went on strikes as part of the Fridays For Future movement, not everybody had this privilege. “The school strikes have been fantastic to witness, but it is also a privilege to be able to skip school,” said one representative of Kids of Colour. For protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, economic inequality also plays a key role: “Can you imagine giving up 10 days [of work] to sit in central London? It is absolutely not feasible for those in low-paid jobs,” said Ms Kissi-Debrah.
Despite this sad side of the story and the urgent need for climate justice, there is also a lot to celebrate around black history and climate this month. The World Economic Forum shined a spotlight on the following five Black heroes of the environmental movement:
- Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
- Robert Bullard, who has campaigned against harmful waste being dumped in predominantly Black neighbourhoods in the southern states of the US since the 1970s.
- John Francis the ‘Planetwalker’, who stopped taking motorised transport and walked everywhere for 22 years.
- Dr Warren Washington, one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change.
- Angelou Ezeilo, who set up the Greening Youth Foundation to educate future generations about the importance of preservation.
This is only a snippet of the incredible black people in the climate movement. Some are more in the spotlight, while others carry out a lot of hard work and great initiatives in the background. But they are all equally important.
Although Black History Month might be coming to an end, on 1st November Black History will be equally as important to think about and celebrate, including in the climate movement. Real sustainability and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion are inseparable.
Check out this blog post Sarah Gold wrote last year about why environmentalism needs to be intersectional. This includes a range of inspiring resources to learn more about the topic such as 17-year old youth striker Isra Hirsi’s 7-minute TED talk on being the ‘Angry Black Girl’ in the climate justice space and the Intersectional Environmentalist platform full of information on how to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement. This climate risk map shows people’s exposure and vulnerability to climate change across Greater London.
Please note that this blog post draws on some examples from the XR movement, but the issues of lack of inclusivity are present in many movements – whether climate-related or not. XR puts in a lot of effort to make the movement more inclusive, and the fact that it might not always feel that way shows the importance and stubbornness of the problem at hand. XR highlights under-represented voices from across the world and there are specific XR groups working on this. “Extinction Rebellion is young, old, black, white, indigenous, of all faiths and none, of all genders and sexualities and none: being alive on earth now is all the qualification required.”