Green is not the only colour: Reflections on the state of anti-racist environmentalism in Canada. By Beenash Jafri & Karen Okamoto
Can the environmental movement in Canada continue to organize on an agenda of “green” politics, devoid of any critical engagement with issues of race? Given Canada’s multicultural reality and the long-standing history of colonialism and racism in this country, we think not. The history of environmental justice activism sends this clear message: the movement must evolve by linking environmentalism to counter-colonial, anti-racist struggles. In other words, there is a need to redefine “green.” Eco-feminism has made significant changes to environmental politics, connecting feminism with environmentalism. We want to see a similar transformation towards an anti-racist grounding for the environmental movement.
Since 2003, the Anti-Racist Environmental Coalition has been on indefinite hiatus. Members have changed cities, started work on different projects and movements, and are dealing with the activist burnout that comes from expending energy while getting little in return. This, ultimately, leads to the big question: if people of colour are consistently caught in the role of educating white people on naming and dealing with their privilege, how can we possibly get around to actually building the environmental justice movement we so badly want and need—one that draws on a radical analysis of power, builds community, and is based on respectful solidarity with Aboriginal peoples?
Conversely, it is also imperative for traditional environmental organizations to take a critical look at how they do environmental work and operate as organizations. This might involve:
• moving away from a denial of the existence of racism within environmental movements;
• making linkages between environmental activism and anti-colonialism in order to support Aboriginal struggles for self-determination;
• doing internal work and research that genuinely seeks to change the organization, and creatively strategizing how to do anti-racist, anti-colonial work within the confines of non-governmental organization funding structures and bureaucracies (particularly in the context of limited resources and institutional divisions between environmental work and social justice work);
• learning how to listen and how to be an ally;
• and finally, understanding that uniting our struggles will strengthen our movements, while failing to do so will make our goals impossible.
The article focuses on the history of anti-racism within the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto and the larger anti-globalization movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.