Sow Good Seeds: The deep, long-standing connection between racism and environmental justice

Sow Good Seeds is a column devoted to environmental issues, gardening, cooking, and anything else connected to the natural world that has so graciously hosted us on this earth. It is the author’s hope that it will encourage you to see the world around you in a different way, to make incremental changes in your daily living, and to treat our planetary home such that we honor the generations of life that will follow.

In a recent conversation, a friend and I shared a feeling of overwhelm – there’s so much going on in the world. Injustice, division, suffering.

(Reality check, Deborah: there has always been so much going on. Maybe I just haven’t had ears to hear it and eyes to see it until now. Now, the volume is on high and the colors are bright, and rightly so.)

We shared a feeling of wondering — as white people — how to respond, where to go with all of this, what avenues to go down. There is a myriad of resources out in the world; there’s so much listening and learning to do; so many good organizations to give time and money to. 

So: where to start?

Start where you are. My friend and I shared encounters where we’ve found our own interests, hobbies, and passions intersect with issues of justice. We’re learning about layers, perspectives, and parallels that we hadn’t previously considered. 

I’ll speak specifically, since abstract ideas and vague statements can be a method for delaying action while saving face. 

For a long time, I’ve been concerned about climate change and environmental issues. I only recently started learning more about the deep and long-standing connection between racism and environmental justice. Hop Hopkins with the Sierra Club outlines the effect that white supremacy has had on people of color as well as on the planet we all call home. When we pollute and extract, “we have declared parts of our planet to be disposable. …In order to treat places and resources as disposable, the people who live there have to get treated like rubbish too.” Mary Annaïs Heglar (link contains strong language), a climate justice writer, traces the connection between climate change and racism even before the Industrial Revolution: “It started with conquest, genocides, slavery, and colonialism.” 

When land, air, and water are devalued and exploited for their resources, the people living in those places (more often people of color) are dehumanized and exploited as well. Conversely, when the earth is cared for, the people on that earth are cared for. 

I also love food, cooking, and cookbooks, and justice issues in that realm run deep and wide. My friend recommended that I watch “Taste of the Nation with Padma Lakshmi,” in which Lakshmi highlights foods and culture brought to the U.S. by immigrants that have shaped American identity. I even found out my favorite food blogger is leaning into her role as a mother to speak on issues about working parents in the time of COVID-19. Taking a deeper dive into food media (which is a thing! Think Bon Appetit, food critics, popular food blogs, etc.), I’ve come across writers speaking out against the white-centric nature of recipes and cultural portrayal in print and web content today. Food justice is a multi-layered topic which affects everyone, and I found this resource very informative.

I’ve always been fascinated by connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. The web of life is endlessly interrelated, and there are links everywhere you look if you have the eyes to see.

Granted, watching a TV show or reading an article isn’t going to change the world. It is a way of widening my horizons and turning up the contrast — making the picture a little sharper, a little brighter. 

It’s not the end of the journey, either: it’s the beginning.

Deborah Haak-Frost is grateful for every ray of sunshine that reaches her skin. She is the Caretaker for Community Engagement at GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers. 

Any views or opinions expressed in “Sow Good Seeds” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.