Q: I got into an argument with a friend of mine who is a person of color. They were mad at me because I feel very passionately about protecting the ocean and they said that made me a bad person because I should only care about is social justice. I do care about social justice and I stand up to racism where I can, but how do I reply to that? How do I explain that it’s important to me to speak up for something that can’t speak for itself?
So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since your question was submitted. I’m not sure that this is the complete, or the best answer but Ill take a go at it. I encourage others to join in the discussion through the comment section.
I just posted an article that I found on Salon.com about white people respecting what black people in america are feeling right now. This is very important!
It sounds like your friend is expressing their pain right now. Hearing their pain is important. Listen to what your friend is saying. Are they saying that the ocean isn’t important? I kinda doubt it. It sounds to me like they are saying that right now they are suffering (undergoing pain, distress, or hardship) and that they don’t feel that you are hearing them.
The best thing to do right now is to listen.
Is client change real? Hell yeah! Is the ocean becoming a mass of plastic? Of course. But right in front of you is your friends pain.
Since I don’t know you I also want to make sure to offer up that white people have a horrible track record of racism when discussing climate change. I am not saying this is you personally, just the system that we have created around climate issues has become its own thing and often is very racist in its approach. The way people talk about “food deserts” for example (which are almost always lower income communities of color) implies that there is not a food culture in those communities. Also, the fight against plastics has oddly become a consumerist model. By which I mean, the idea that you can change the system by buying something new, like a stainless steel water bottle, or a new bag to bring your groceries home in.
Naomi Klein wrote about the connections between #blacklivesmatter and climate justice for The Nation in December 2014.
One of the tricks here though is to keep fighting for climate justice and protecting the oceans while not ignoring your friend, and people of color, here on land. All of this shit is interconnected. The same system that is oppressing people is oppressing the ocean.
Naomi Klein said, “If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis. It will manifest in the continued refusal to provide serious climate financing to poor countries so they can protect themselves from heavy weather. It will manifest in the fortressing of wealthy continents as they attempt to lock out the growing numbers of people whose homes will become unlivable.” and then she went onto explain that, “If we committed ourselves to responding to the climate crisis on the basis that black lives matter, and that requiring people of color to shoulder even more of the burdens of uncontrolled emissions is morally unacceptable, it would demand these types of hopeful transformations. In practical terms, that would mean unprecedented economic and technological investments in some of the most neglected parts of the world—from Kenya to Ferguson to Pine Ridge—bringing greatly improved services, increased democracy and self-determination, real food security and countless good jobs. In short, a justice-based climate mobilization would do more than end the way neglected communities are policed; it might just help end the neglect itself.”
If we center black lives in our work then we will have to discuss climate issues, and the ocean. Listen to your friend and maybe what they are saying is that this type of centering in your work around oceans is needed. Maybe it is their not so subtle way of saying that they feel ignored in the larger climate and ocean movement?