Resilience, Race, Equity, and Justice

The following op-ed by Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome might be of interest to those thinking about the nexus of systemic racism, environmental justice, and equity in relation to Covid and climate change.

The starting definition of resilience is the “ability to bounce back from trauma and harm with renewed capacity and purpose” (from the Healing Justice Toolkit page 11, the link in the article was broken for me so I’ve re-linked it here). Though this doesn’t mention key elements of reorganization and adaptability, the author goes on to provide context for the definition:

The purpose of resilience is not to build the capacity to endure more harm. We build resilience because we deserve safety, connection and wellbeing. We build resilience to be more skillful in confronting the systems that have harmed us, and to build the necessary power to end the traumatic nature of state violence. … Real resilience demands that we recognize structural racism and rectify the injustices that rob black and brown people, and poor people, of agency and power. It demands that we rethink our responses to climate change and COVID-19, by remaking the systems that have harmed us.

In these past months I’ve seen extensive writing on the disproportionate impacts of Covid on black communities and indigenous communities in the U.S., and, long before Covid, similar work on race and climate change. The op-ed helped me by linking these critiques with popular discourse on resilience at a time when, in terms of Holling & Gunderson’s adaptive cycle, we’re hopefully in a period of release and dismantling oppressive structures and violent behaviors in the U.S., and heading towards a period of renewal.

This continues the transformative conservation theme of linking personal transformations of how we perceive, think, and act, with societal transformations of our institutions and cultural narratives.

On that point, for many white Americans including myself it’s a time of not only critically reflecting on our complicity in systemic racism, but acting in our homes, schools, businesses, communities, cities, and innumerable other places to change society. Robin DiAngelo’s work on white privilege and fragility (the link is a superb starting point for her work) has been formative for me, so I’ll close by sharing:

  • As a result of being born and raised as a white person in this culture, I have a racist worldview.
  • I have deep racist biases.
  • I have developed racist patterns.
  • I have investments in a system that has served me very well and is very comfortable for me.
  • I also investments in not seeing any of that, for what it would mean for my identity and what it would require of me in action.

It’s now a question of what I do from here. While I’ve done a lot of work with California Native American Tribes in the past, yesterday I reached out to a colleague of color in my agency who has agreed to join me in crafting a statement on race, equity, and justice in conservation (we are a state conservancy), and a racial equity action plan (the link is to a great example from the State of California’s Strategic Growth Council), for our agency.

Three other recent conservation-related pieces that might be of interest:

For those that are involved in similar issues, for my part I would love to hear of initiatives or information that you feel has value.

Although the road ahead remains long, at least I and many more of us have started walking alongside each other.

Stay safe, take good care until we talk more, thank you.

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