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  • Writer's pictureMichael Malcom

Quit "Othering"​ US!

Updated: Jun 23, 2019

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the American Climate Leadership Summit 2019 "Breakthrough: Solutions + Leadership." I found myself surrounded by executive leaders, denominational leaders, and government officials. It was predominately white and male. There were a group of us there who were environmental leaders of color. We were provided access to this opulent event by the Kresge Foundation, for that, I am grateful. However, I was completely floored by the lack of diversity and the subject matter, or lack thereof. It wreaked of white privilege. Then, they wonder why we are losing the fight against climate change, sad. I left there that first day saying, don't ever invite me to anything like this again.

It was all about trying to influence policy and legislation. It started with two all-white male panels. The third panel did have a woman as the moderator, but it was still all white. After lunch, there was a plenary on Breakthroughs on Climate Justice, Inclusion, Just Transition. This panel was a little more diverse in color. However, the panel was saturated in privilege. Here's where I had enough, and (as Rev Dr Gerald Durley told me) my insides just wouldn't let me be on the inside. Prior to the plenary, they stood all the scholarship recipients up to recognize us as rising stars in the environmental space.

On the plenary for Climate Justice, Inclusion, Just Transition they had an executive leader in the Sunrise Movement, a director of The Nathan Cummings Foundation, an executive director of a Peruvian based environmental organization, and an executive director of another big green that works with land trust for farmers. I stood and asked, "Why is it that you all are up there, and I'm down here?" "Why am I not on the panel, and you all are listening to me?" I was thinking, you had us stand up to recognize our work, but you don't know our work. I felt "tokenized." You used me to fill a box. Then, you ask, "What can we do to get into communities of color, rural and under-resourced communities?" How about you quit "othering" us!?! When you can see that Flint Michigan not having water after five years is an “our” issue, then we'll know you get it. Until then, you are othering us. When you can respect us enough to allow us to come to the planning table, then you can invite us to the show. We are not your trophy nor your experiment. We are doing the work, and we aren't validated.

It would have been better to have us on the stage so that you could hear what is happening on the ground. You missed a golden opportunity to highlight real climate injustice and inequity, because the programming was unjust and inequitable. Had we had a space to be heard, they would have known what to put their resources and energy to combat climate change. Had we been heard, they would have known how to write policy to deal with human right of clean air, clean water, clean energy, and clean jobs. Then, you wonder why we are losing, quit othering us. There I said it!



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