World Trust

'We All Breathe The Same Air': Race and Equality in Green Groups

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on August 14, 2014

paper dolls: shutterstock via grist

Remember the 90s mega-hit song "From A Distance"? Bette Midler sang stirringly about the majesty of the planet and our shared kinship on its borderless, beautiful face. But closer up, this overarching narrative of universal brotherhood - common among environmental groups - obscures some areas that could stand to be explored further.

In a recent post, Brentin Mock at Grist looks at the gap between the dream of oneness and the realities on the ground:

President John F. Kennedy once told an audience of American University grads, “We can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air.”

That was 1963. We did not inhale the same oxygen then, and we certainly don’t now. In 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African-American populations than counties with less pollution. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that black and brown Americans are more often trapped in neighborhoods laden with nitrogen dioxide than their white fellow Americans.

And despite civil rights laws, organizations whose mission is to clean the air don’t seem to have grown much more hospitable to people of color.

Check out the entire piece here. It is an excellent reminder that for deep and lasting change, it's necessary to confront what we might prefer to avoid. That means finding a way to talk about race, about systemic inequity, and about a history of disparate outcomes. If we want to rise together, first we have to make sure that as many people as possible are fairly represented at the table - from sea to shining sea.