Four Ways White Supremacy Culture Hinders J.E.D.I. Progress
 
 
WhiteSupremacyinColor.jpg

Within the past year, an increasing amount of J.E.D.I. teams are learning about white supremacy culture and how it shows up in their organization. Often the topic surfaces when teams analyze their organizational culture and evaluate what needs to change as the organization transitions from exclusive practices to inclusive practices.  

In the dRworksbook, white supremacy culture is defined as “the idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.”  Some of you may be thinking, “why the ‘white supremacy’ term? Isn’t that the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists?” I think it’s important to differentiate white supremacist individuals and organized groups from white supremacy culture. Stand Up for Racial Justice provides a great explanation:

We believe it is important to use the term "white supremacy culture" because the norms, values, and beliefs that our culture reproduces act to reinforce the belief that "white" and people attached to "whiteness" are better, smarter, more beautiful, and more valuable than [people of color]. We think it is important to name what is really happening, which is that we live in a culture that reproduces -- sometimes overtly and sometimes very subtly -- the idea that white is supreme. Those of us who live in this culture, including those of us who fight against racism, swim in this culture… and unintentionally and unwittingly reproduce these norms, values, and beliefs.

One of my go-to resources on white supremacy culture is a written piece by racial equity trainer, Tema Okun. One of the many things I love about the article is that Tema practices collectivism rather than individualism (a white supremacy culture characteristic) by acknowledging the work of over 20 individuals and organizations who influenced her article. In the paper, Tema describes white supremacy culture characteristics that are commonly found in organizations, which include:

  1. Perfectionism

  2. Sense of Urgency

  3. Defensiveness

  4. Quantity over Quality

  5. Worship of the Written Word

  6. Only One Right Way

  7. Paternalism

  8. Either/Or Thinking

  9. Power Hoarding

  10. Fear of Open Conflict

  11. Individualism

  12. I Am the Only One

  13. Progress is Bigger, More

  14. Objectivity

  15. Right to Comfort

I want to pause to acknowledge that those of you unfamiliar that these characteristics are a part of white supremacy culture are probably agasp right now, thinking “OMG this is my workplace!” Maybe not all traits but, at least a number of them, describe your organization. It’s perfectly normal to think this. I did the first time I read Tema’s paper.  

Tema continues to explain that these characteristics are:

… damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group. They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. Because we all live in a white supremacy culture, these characteristics show up in the attitudes and behaviors of all of us – people of color and white people. Therefore, these attitudes and behaviors can show up in any group or organization, whether it is white-led or predominantly white or people of color-led or predominantly people of color.

In the article, Tema describes how each characteristic presents itself in organizations. She also provides “antidotes,” or approaches to counteract each characteristic. Building on her approach, I would like to share how four white supremacy culture characteristics show up in J.E.D.I. work and slow down progress. I will also provide antidotes to overcome these obstacles and help shift to a more free-flowing J.E.D.I. culture.

Quantity over Quality

You may hear: “We measure J.E.D.I. by the number of people of color on our staff and board. Let’s direct our time, energy, and resources towards recruitment.”

What this means: This characteristic often shows up in a diversity-only approach. Numerous organizations today focus their J.E.D.I. efforts on adding people of color to staff and board. The measure that guides these efforts is numbers. I have never found these diversity-only approaches to be successful because even if an organization succeeds at recruitment, the gain is usually temporary. If people of color are at the organization to merely pad the numbers, they will experience many forms of oppression—such as exclusion, tokenism, microaggressions, and feeling devalued—and eventually leave. This quantity focused approach does not take into account the quality of experience, which is crucial for the inclusion, equity, and justice elements of J.E.D.I. work.

You may hear: “We are doing great at J.E.D.I. Do you see all the J.E.D.I. activities that we have completed?”

What this means: The checkbox approach to J.E.D.I. (i.e., we did a training—check; we hired a person of color—check; we have black people on our website—check) also lends itself to valuing quantity over quality. It incorrectly demonstrates that the act of doing something is more important than how well you do something. For example, the most important part of staff trainings is what staff learn, how they grow, how they apply their learning to their work, and how they build knowledge and competencies that lead to more effective J.E.D.I. outcomes (quality)—not just merely providing the training (quantity), which can be beneficial or detrimental to staff, based on the approach and experience of the trainers.

What you can do to counteract this characteristic: Measure people of colors’ quality of experience. Value qualitative data higher than quantitative data. Focus on the effectiveness and impact of the work. Create time and space to debrief after J.E.D.I. activities to analyze lessons learned (what you stop, start, and continue). Put most of your effort and resources into creating a culture based on inclusion and equity, not on increasing the number of people of color. I have found when organizations do inclusion and equity well and continue to grow, they become desirable workplaces for people of color.

Only One Right Way

You may hear: “This is just the way we do it” or “We can’t do that because it’s not the way we do it.”

What this means: This characteristic is a common inhibitor of inclusion, and is commonly seen in predominantly white environmental groups who want more staff of color but expect them to conform to the current culture. Current staff do not want to change their approach, which has always been the way (and mistakenly adopted as the only one right way). Often, “this is just the way we do it” approach is unclear to new staff and board members, which is where paternalism overlaps with this characteristic.

When I first heard a trainer say that there are many right ways. I was taken a back. I said to myself, “What do you mean? I thought my way was the only right way.” This new approach has since influenced the way I lead, supervise, coach, and co-create teams and has led to way more effective outcomes. A culture that allows for many right ways invites co-creation and a diversity of approaches (usually drawing from a diversity of experiences) to achieve the goal. Allowing for creativity leads to innovation, which we desperately need if we are to find solutions to the biggest environmental and J.E.D.I. challenges that we have ever faced.

What you can do to counteract this characteristic: Understand that there are many right ways to achieve the goal. Co-create—do not set your agenda or goals before you work with your team or partners. Allow time and space for the co-creation process. Always invite more than one approach. Adopt brainstorming sessions to think of multiple ways for accomplishing goals and to support outside-the-box thinking. Co-create “pilots” to experiment with new approaches. Adopt a growth mindset (individually and organizationally) that allows for mistakes and constant improvement. Practice listening to understand rather than listening to respond.

Sense of Urgency

You may hear: “We can’t do J.E.D.I. right now because we have more important things to work on, like solving climate change and species loss.”

What this means: Environmental organizations are often run by a sense of urgency to save [insert cause here] RIGHT NOW. They believe that if they delay, they will fall behind the curve, so they need to be “laser focused” with all hands on deck. This characteristic feeds into either/or thinking as people are forced to decide between false choices immediately with no time to consider other options. Funders exacerbate this franticness when they expect organizations to boil the ocean on tight timelines and follow time-consuming reporting requirements. This sense of urgency approach is dangerous because: (1) it leaves people (especially people of color) and new, more successful approaches (like J.E.D.I.) behind for the sake of a quick fix, and (2) the organization will continue to follow institutionally racist practices and approaches, which is the norm when doing nothing or very little on J.E.D.I.

J.E.D.I. work will actually slow down other work since staff and board will need time to learn, build capacity, and integrate J.E.D.I. into all aspects of the organization. However, the temporary pause will make the organization better, and in the long run will allow the organization to reach a higher level of success at achieving its mission. “Go slow to go far” is a common saying and approach I share with organizations.

Additionally, as demographics continue to shift, working with people of color will be inevitable. If organizations are not prepared and equipped to work effectively across difference, they will make mistakes. They will end up spending more time repairing damage and rebuilding trust than if they took the time to build a successful approach grounded in J.E.D.I. from the get-go. The real question is: will the organization do the work now or later, or do nothing and settle for failure?

What you can do to counteract this characteristic: Adopt a both/and approach by integrating J.E.D.I work with current work (many J.E.D.I.s share that they grow quicker when they apply J.E.D.I approaches to their current work). Educate funders by letting them know they need to make long term investments because short term grant cycles don’t work in the J.E.D.I. space and may actually cause more damage than good. Adopt realistic and manageable timelines and work plans that include J.E.D.I. Are deadlines self-imposed? Why? Can they be extended if you need more time to process? Adopt a “go slow to go far” approach. Include J.E.D.I. in performance evaluations.

Fear of Open Conflict

You may hear: “I don’t say anything about my oppressive experience for fear of being labeled a trouble maker and losing my job.”  

What this means: This characteristic commonly prevents people of color from fully sharing their often oppressive and racist experiences. If they say something, they feel they will be ridiculed, seen as the problem, and risk their job and emotional well-being. White people, especially those that have not intentionally built any J.E.D.I. competencies, often do not handle conflict about racial issues well. White people will feel they have a “right to comfort” and may retaliate against the person of color who raised the issue, believing they are the cause of the discomfort. This characteristic also prevents organizations from deeper J.E.D.I. work since they are preoccupied with who to blame or scapegoat rather than addressing the root causes of the issue raised. Also because of these fears of open conflict and retaliation are so prevalent across the movement, we don’t fully understand how widespread of an epidemic these oppressive and racist experiences are. The environmental movement’s culture is unsafe for people of color to talk about their experiences openly. Fortunately (or unfortunately) in my work, I am privy to many of these stories, and I would like to share a few staff of color quotes collected from another project.

I wish I could find a way to share how the many small microaggressions have affected me. I'd love to… share in a way that will not result in retaliation… my experiences can really shine a light on what institutional racism looks like every day and how those little things that we should ‘just let go of’ add up to real harm.

The organization feels like it needs an actual honest conversation and more diverse voices on leadership teams. But the last couple of people of color that pushed for this were put on work improvement plans and pushed out. So I struggle with the discomfort of conforming and feeling bad or speaking out and losing my job.

While I was made to use my social capital with other people of color and social justice advocates to build coalitions for the organization, my work was not taken seriously and at times that capital was squandered. I was also bullied when I spoke up.

What you can do to counteract this characteristic: Learn about white fragility and how it affects the organization. Consider strategic messengers to raise difficult issues. People of color and white allies could collectively bring up issues or white allies could be the voice to reduce the risk of backlash. Create a people of color only space, a white ally space, and a safe integrated space. Hire a consultant to collect J.E.D.I. data confidentially and share recommendations. Create systems for staff to share sensitive concerns. Build trust. Learn ways to communicate effectively across difference. Reward staff for raising difficult issues.

As I mentioned earlier, these are only some examples of white supremacy culture rearing its ugly head in our J.E.D.I. efforts. When looking for these 15 characteristics of white supremacy culture, you will find them everywhere, often intersecting in a multitude of ways. These characteristics have helped me name and apply language to difficult J.E.D.I. situations, and the antidotes have helped me think of ways to productively address these situations.

You will also find yourself displaying these characteristics. I do. I suffer from perfectionism, especially writing these blog posts. If you find a mistke, then it actually may be a good thing for me. Also, when someone dismisses J.E.D.I. work, often my immediate reaction is defensiveness. This is my craft, to which I have committed my career. In these situations, I calm myself down, acknowledge my emotions and triggered-state (if I am triggered), and open myself to the conversation with love, empathy, humility, and curiosity.      

While it is disheartening to observe and experience white supremacy culture characteristics even while doing J.E.D.I. work, there are countermeasures. The first steps in shifting this culture lie with you and me and our commitment to building our awareness, knowledge, and skills on a personal level (as I have described in my blog post, The Crucial Importance of Me). As we build our competency and increase our agency, we will know when white supremacy culture characteristics appear and then have the skills and approaches to counteract them.  As we do this, we will create an inclusive culture where we all can prosper.

Do any of these examples resonate with you? How do white supremacy culture characteristics show up in your organization? How do they hinder your J.E.D.I. work?  Have you implemented any antidotes?

Personally, how do white supremacy culture characteristics show up in your behaviors?


 

 
Did You Miss a Blog Post?
 
 
Images from J.E.D.I. Heart’s first five blog posts

Images from J.E.D.I. Heart’s first five blog posts

Hi J.E.D.I.s!  Over a month has passed since I launched J.E.D.I. Heart. Exciting! I never expected that it would be so well received, and I want to thank all of you for your support. I am particularly grateful for your engagement in the comment section beneath each post.

Since the blog readership has grown quickly over the last month, I am re-sharing my first five blog posts in case you missed reading some or all of them.

Before I start, I have a few requests :

  1. Thanks to all of you J.E.D.I.s who have written in the comment sections. Just another reminder to please ask questions, add your thoughts, and share stories in the comment section at the end of the blog posts. Also, comment on the comments. It is highly encouraged! This is your opportunity to engage with other J.E.D.I.s, learn from each other, and draw from our collective wisdom. Some sample questions may be, “Hey Glenn, I loved learning about your JEDI journey. Can you tell me more about how you involved your board? We are having challenges.” Or “Hi Rob and Scott, when you convince others to start with personal work, what approaches have worked best?” Or “Hey David, why do you always goof off in pictures?”

  2. I started this blog to support all of you and the growing community of J.E.D.I.s. I want to be as helpful as possible so please email me any suggestions. What do you like? What do you dislike? What new topics should I cover? What do you want to learn more about?

  3. I do not have a communications department, nor does this blog make money. I rely on word of mouth from all of you wonderful people. Therefore, please share the blog with five people who would find these posts valuable. Ask them to subscribe. You could say something like, “Hi [insert colleague’s name], I just discovered this great blog. Since you are working on J.E.D.I. issues, you might also like it. I found this [insert link] post particularly helpful, and I love the rich discussions in which the readers engage. Check out my comments [insert links]. You should subscribe.”

J.E.D.I. Heart Blog Posts (April-May 2019)

A Multicultural First Earth Day?

April 22, 2019

Welcome to J.E.D.I. Heart and thank you for reading my first blog! I created this blog to help those of you working in the environmental, conservation, and climate movements navigate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) with love. Since today is April 22nd, I figured I would provide an Earth Day themed piece.

Today’s Earth Day celebrations are multicultural, global, and diverse. People of all walks of life celebrate and take action to protect the planet we call home. When the topic of the first Earth Day is raised, often images of throngs of white people and white leaders come to mind because

these are the images commonly shared. One less known fact is that the first Earth Day included a call for a broad-based, multicultural environmental movement and included a diverse speaker line-up. I recently reached out to Denis Hayes, the main organizer of the first Earth Day, to learn more. This is what I gleaned from Denis’s first-hand account and several key speeches that he shared (Thank you Denis!):

Read More →

Why J.E.D.I. Heart?

May 1, 2019

Thank you for reading my first blog post and being incredibly supportive. Your receptivity and gratitude are more than I could ever imagine. If you find value in these blog posts and know of others that may benefit, please share far and wide (and with love).

This week I am providing background and context for the blog. Since I am a big fan of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why—which will be the topic of a future blog post—I would like to share why I created J.E.D.I. Heart, including why I chose the name and the meaning of the logo.

The overarching reason why I created this blog is simple: to support you and the ever-growing number of J.E.D.I. change agents in the environmental movement, especially those of you who are shaking up the pervasive white dominant culture and co-creating a racial and ethnic J.E.D.I. culture.

Read More →

In the Midst of Unprecedented Change: J.E.D.I. Progress in the Environmental Movement Since 2007

May 8, 2019

As always, thank you for reading my blog posts and for continually being so supportive. Because you all loved the logo description from last week’s blog post so much, I added it to the “About” page. For those of you who are still wondering what this blog is all about, please read Why J.E.D.I. Heart? Today, I will share my insights and observations, regarding J.E.D.I. progress in the environmental movement over the past 12 years.

In Spring 2007, the late Charles Jordan—the first African American to serve as board chair of a national conservation organization—and I submitted our chapter, “Diversifying the American Environmental Movement” in Diversity & the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement. The book of over 14 invited authors reflected on various aspects of diversity in the environmental movement in the 2000s.

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The Crucial Importance of Me

May 15, 2019

And when I say “me,” I mean you! I am talking about you J.E.D.I.s, and the courageous and vulnerable personal work each of you do to effectively create the broader change in your organizations and the environmental movement. You are at the heart of this J.E.D.I. transformation and you are crucially important. The environmental movement and a healthy Earth depend on what you do today, what you do tomorrow, how you embody J.E.D.I. values, how you respond to challenges and mistakes, how you grow and become more effective year to year, and how you do all of this work in service to the whole.

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People of Color Support Networks are Trampolines that Bolster J.E.D.I.

May 22, 2019

In a report that I am currently writing about assessing J.E.D.I. capacity building in environmental organizations, I asked staff of color, “what has been the most crucial effort that has helped you survive and/or thrive in the environmental movement?” The top answer was support from other people of color. Support was described in different forms: formal and informal networks, networks internal or external to an organization, organizational people of color affinity groups, supervisors, and conferences for environmentalists of color.

The data I collected from staff of color also demonstrated that a person of color working in the environmental movement may experience hope, feeling valued and supported, and excitement working on issues about which they are deeply passionate, while also experiencing microaggressions, exclusion, being devalued, and feelings of invisibility. The same person of color may experience all of this in one week (as recently evidenced by a courageous person of color I spoke to this past week).

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Which blog post do you like most and why?

 
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People of Color Support Networks are Trampolines that Bolster J.E.D.I.
 
 
Chanté Coleman & David Lamfrom—two important people in my support network who hold me up and empower me. Who are the important people in your support network?

Chanté Coleman & David Lamfrom—two important people in my support network who hold me up and empower me. Who are the important people in your support network?

In a report that I am currently writing about assessing J.E.D.I. capacity building in environmental organizations, I asked staff of color, “what has been the most crucial effort that has helped you survive and/or thrive in the environmental movement?” The top answer was support from other people of color. Support was described in different forms: formal and informal networks, networks internal or external to an organization, organizational people of color affinity groups, supervisors, and conferences for environmentalists of color. 

The data I collected from staff of color also demonstrated that a person of color working in the environmental movement may experience hope, feeling valued and supported, and excitement working on issues about which they are deeply passionate, while also experiencing microaggressions, exclusion, being devalued, and feelings of invisibility. The same person of color may experience all of this in one week (as recently evidenced by a courageous person of color I spoke to this past week).

This dividedness and oppression are shared experiences that may commonly bond staff of color together, which is why support networks are essential. A support network offers comfort and camaraderie. It’s a place where people of color can breathe, be vulnerable, and bring their true selves. It’s a space of trust, laughter, joy, hope, tears, and cathartic release. In a support network, a person doesn’t need to say anything or do anything; he, she, or they can just be. A support network is also a place of fortification, rejuvenation, empowerment, and innovation because unique ideas are supported and built upon rather than being shut down.

Support networks are like trampolines. They keep us from falling, help us bounce back, and catapult us to a higher level.        

Support networks have been crucially important in my life. When I worked for a national conservation organization in the early 2000s, I was the only person of color on the conservation staff. It was incredibly isolating as I was exposed to all types of racisms (individual, systemic, and institutional). For someone who was a high achiever, overperformer, and naturally secure, I underachieved, underperformed and was suddenly unsure of myself. Even though I was fresh out of graduate school, and I knew cutting edge approaches to conserving biodiversity, my suggestions were often shunned. It wasn’t until the second in command repeated my idea that the work was adopted. I was also exposed to microaggressions, like overhearing a coworker call Asians "little Orientals" and my supervisor telling me not to build relationships with communities of color because "we don't do environmental justice." Unfortunately, I did not have a grasp of what was happening and how I was being treated. I had a feeling that something was really wrong, but I did not have a J.E.D.I. lens or the vocabulary to express what was happening. I was a J.E.D.I. baby.

After four long years, I left the organization on bad terms. I felt chewed up and spit out, and I could not find any entity to hold me up and support me. My experience was so demoralizing and debilitating that I didn’t want anything to do with the environmental movement ever again. However, I realized I could not abandon what I knew I loved—piping plovers, cougars, otters, and biodiversity as a whole—and my new found love—all my brothers and sisters having similar oppressive experiences within environmental organizations. Since the environmental movement could not be successful and sustainable until it got this J.E.D.I. thing right and I wasn’t finding what I needed, I took the initiative in creating what I thought would be helpful for me and others in similar predicaments.

I didn't have a support network, so I connected with a few others who were the only or one of the few people of color at their environmental organizations and started the Environmental Professionals of Color (EPOC) network. EPOC has made all the difference in everything that I have accomplished in the environmental movement. EPOC was a place where I could commiserate, laugh, and cry with others. EPOC re-energized me and provided me with the confidence to pursue what I felt was right.  It was through EPOC where I met three extraordinary leaders—Tony DeFalco, Desiree Williams-Rajee, and Chuck Sams—and co-created an organization, the Center for Diversity and the Environment. A support network brought us together, and the resulting synergy coalesced into an organization that has forever changed the landscape and make-up of the environmental movement.

EPOC was my trampoline. EPOC kept me from falling and leaving the environmental movement. EPOC helped me bounce back to a healthy level of operating. And EPOC catapulted me into the type of work I never imagined I would be doing—operating in a space that helps both people of color and the planet survive and thrive. EPOC members fortified me and helped me find my way so I can help others find their way. EPOC was a space where I discovered my full slate of gifts and talents and how I could best use them in service to the environmental movement. I am grateful for knowing how I fit into the whole, so I can fully step into the role for which I was made.

If it weren’t for the EPOC support network, I likely would not be working in the environmental movement. And I might actually be a person that dislikes environmentalists and opposes environmental protection (not because I don’t love our planet), but out of spite because of my crushing experience. Even more telling—the overall experience was not because of bad people intentionally trying to hurt me. It was because of the very culture and systems that we in the environmental movement operate in and are complicit to daily. We all are pawns to the power of institutional and systemic racism that cause seemingly good and well-intended people to reinforce negative impacts for people of color over and over again. This cycle must be stopped, and the core of this change lies with you (which is the topic of last week’s blog post). I am so grateful for those of you who are working diligently to halt, dismantle, and replace this oppressive cycle.

I share my story as an example of how influential a support network was in one person of color’s trajectory in the environment movement. My story is not the only one. There are many spaces for people of color support networks in the environmental movement today, including Green Leadership Trust, Diverse Environmental Leaders, PGM One summit, funders of color via the INDEEP Initiative, Latino Outdoors, and Outdoor Afro. Often unfunded or underfunded, the amount of people of color support networks grows yearly, which demonstrates how crucial and needed they are.

Below are voices of staff of color sharing their high value for support networks:

Thank you… for a network of friends/colleagues that catch me when I fall, support me when I’m weak and give back 2x what I put in. It's like a reality check.

[The] conference… put me in touch with dozens of talented, intelligent, and trail-blazing people of color from around this region and allowed me to develop partnerships that can help the environmental movement strengthen its impact in this region and across the country.

It has been so important to find other people of color to bond and build support for each other.

Support networks allow people of color to survive and thrive and are fundamental to creating a sustainable and successful environmental movement. Organizations and funders that are serious about J.E.D.I. and successfully protecting our planet must invest significant resources in these formal networks. Support networks for people of color are the trampolines needed to catapult the environmental movement to the next level.

 

People of color, what support networks (formal or informal) do you participate in, and why? How has the network helped you survive and/or thrive?

White allies/accomplices, how have you supported (and how will you support) people of color networks and other people of color only spaces?  

 

 
The Crucial Importance of Me
 
 
Center for Diversity & the Environment's Theory of Change with individual change at the center.

Center for Diversity & the Environment's Theory of Change with individual change at the center.

And when I say “me,” I mean you! I am talking about you J.E.D.I.s, and the courageous and vulnerable personal work each of you do to effectively create the broader change in your organizations and the environmental movement. You are at the heart of this J.E.D.I. transformation and you are crucially important. The environmental movement and a healthy Earth depend on what you do today, what you do tomorrow, how you embody J.E.D.I. values, how you respond to challenges and mistakes, how you grow and become more effective year to year, and how you do all of this work in service to the whole.

The key to change is centering your work and growth on the personal level. At the beginning of your J.E.D.I. journey, personal work should be close to 100% of your focus—to build awareness, knowledge, skills, agency, and overall competency. In later stages, as you advance J.E.D.I. externally in your teams, organizations, and spheres of influence, your personal work must continue to maintain and strengthen your J.E.D.I. muscles. I love the Center for Diversity & the Environment’s theory of change (in the image to the right), which depicts the personal work as core to the change process. You cannot effectively change your organization without personal change. Your organizational J.E.D.I. prowess will only be as effective as the J.E.D.I. competency and agency of the individuals that make up the organization. If all staff and board are fours (on a scale of one to ten) in J.E.D.I. competency, then the highest the organization can be on J.E.D.I. is a four. If you want the organization to be a ten, then each person that makes up the organization must be a ten, which means the organization must invest in transformational J.E.D.I. development of each person.

Since you are core to the overall J.E.D.I. transformation of the environmental movement, you have the potential to be both the problem and the solution to the J.E.D.I. crisis. Let me explain.

So why might you be the problem? The biggest impediment to the J.E.D.I. challenge is you and me—the people who make up the environmental movement. We are our biggest challenge. It’s been right in the mirror the whole time. Many have missed it because we are looking beyond the mirror, searching for an elusive oasis in the distance that will solve all of our J.E.D.I. problems. Yes, we are working within a system and within institutions that continue to reinforce damaging, unjust and undeserved outcomes for people of color. Institutional and systemic racism are the root causes of the J.E.D.I. challenge. However, who reinforces and participates in these institutions and systems? You, me, and each and every one of us. We often participate without thinking or being intentional. This is the power of institutional and systemic racism—the illusion that doing nothing is good because of the widespread lie that racism only happens when malignant intent is present. Mistreatment of people of color are embedded in the systems and approaches in which we participate on a daily basis. Therefore, you and I become the problem when we do nothing because we are allowing racism to continue. You and I become the problem even when we take very little action because we are still not doing enough to stem the constant flow of racism. You and I become the problem when we take J.E.D.I. actions (albeit with good intentions) without properly and sufficiently building our knowledge, skills, and overall competency to be effective at J.E.D.I. On the other hand, you and I become the answer to this problem when we focus on growing and using our J.E.D.I. knowledge, skills, and agency to intentionally dismantle these systems and co-create something new and more powerful.

Since we are the biggest impediment, we are also the solution. Isn’t that empowering? It has been for me. When I get frustrated and start complaining about the movement being racist, about individuals and leaders reinforcing systemic racism while people of color continue to have crushing experiences, I point fingers at people and blame institutional and systemic racism. Does this change anything? No! I wish it did. I can’t point to institutional and system racism and say, “change!” Nothing happens. It simply keeps me in an unhealthy place of self-pity and makes me sadder, angrier, and more frustrated. It’s a place that dwells in division to appease my ego. When I remain in my ego, I push you to your ego, and we regress—or at best go nowhere—standing in a place of defending, dividing, advocating, and not listening.

However, when I stop searching in the distance for the illusory solution and turn my pointed finger 180 degrees, I know what can change—me. The beautiful thing about J.E.D.I. is that there is always something to learn because the work is so complex. I always find areas to cultivate, whether it’s growing my heart, my mind, or both together. This work has been the most challenging and also the most fulfilling of my career. This is life work for me and should be for you.

Undeniably, J.E.D.I. work has made me a better person. When I stand with love, empathy and compassion with all of my brothers and sisters, I am then the solution. I see and feel the true part of myself—the one that can change, that can feel, and that stands in hope. This is the true part of me that sees the true part of you. Sometimes these parts are buried within. To unearth it in another I must first unearth it in myself.

I am the solution because the only thing in my life that I can really control is myself. What I can control, I can change, and the most effective way to influence, inspire, and invite others to the beauty and benefits of J.E.D.I work is by modeling the way.

In a Harvard commencement speech, Muhammed Ali, shared a poem. “Me, We.” So short and yet so brilliant. I believe Ali ordered these two words in this way for a reason. The poem tells me that once I realize the crucial importance of me, I can then effectively step into and fully understand the we—my role, my gifts, where and how I best fit into the whole, and when to step up and when to step back. My role is not to change everything. (Whew! What a relief.) My role is to do the work I was made to do really, really well (to be one of the best at it) and trust that you do the work that you were made to do really, really well. Just like nature we each play a key interconnected part in creating a healthy ecosystem. When the me becomes the we, we enter into harmonious community. It is in this space where synergistic transformation may occur on a more powerful and broader level than any of us can achieve on our own. In the end, is that not really what we hope for?


When in your personal work have you felt you were the solution?

When in your personal work have you felt you were the problem?


 
In the Midst of Unprecedented Change: J.E.D.I. Progress in the Environmental Movement Since 2007
 
 
Diversity & the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement (edited by Emily Enderle, 2007)

Diversity & the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement (edited by Emily Enderle, 2007)

As always, thank you for reading my blog posts and for continually being so supportive. Because you all loved the logo description from last week’s blog post so much, I added it to the “About” page. For those of you who are still wondering what this blog is all about, please read Why J.E.D.I. Heart? Today, I will share my insights and observations, regarding J.E.D.I. progress in the environmental movement over the past 12 years.

In Spring 2007, the late Charles Jordan—the first African American to serve as board chair of a national conservation organization—and I submitted our chapter, “Diversifying the American Environmental Movement” in Diversity & the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement. The book of over 14 invited authors reflected on various aspects of diversity in the environmental movement in the 2000s.

In our piece, Charles and I analyzed the diversity crisis, argued that a J.E.D.I. environmental movement was badly needed to successfully protect our planet, and recommended strategic next steps for J.E.D.I. growth on the individual, organizational, and movement levels. The written piece was a call to action. We wrote:

In ten years, if we find ourselves in a similar place, facing the same diversity issues as today, then we have failed miserably and the sustainability and relevance of our movement will be gravely at risk.

Those ten years (and then some) have passed, and I have been itching to provide an update. Have we failed or have we progressed? The short of it is the mainstream environmental movement has progressed on J.E.D.I., arguably more in the past 12 years than in the previous 150 years combined. This is really good! However, we have not journeyed far. A long, long trail is still ahead of us.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented change process. As we evolve from a racially exclusive movement to a racially equitable and inclusive movement, we are experiencing highs and lows, accomplishments and failures, and pain and healing. We must own both successes and mistakes and support each other with love, compassion, and empathy to successfully navigate towards transformation. Since we are at the beginning stages of growth, we are both advancing in some areas and also “facing [many of the] the same diversity issues as [2007].”   

While I will dive deeper into the complexities of J.E.D.I. in future blog posts, for now, I’ll provide insight into some areas where J.E.D.I. progress has occurred (and not occurred) in the environmental movement since Charles and I first put pen to paper 12 years ago. Although some facts are based on studies, most of the information is based on my experiences and observations.   

Holistic J.E.D.I.  In 2007, much of the J.E.D.I. discussion and effort was around increasing the racial diversity of staff and board (i.e., a diversity only approach). While this dialogue still tends to dominate early stages of J.E.D.I. efforts, more organizations focus on inclusive, equitable, and just approaches to their work.  This more comprehensive approach may be in part due to the rise of “equity” and “inclusion” in the J.E.D.I. lexicon over the past decade.

The Why, How, and What of J.E.D.I.  In 2007, when I was in spaces with staff and board of mainstream environmental groups, I mainly shared why J.E.D.I. was important to their work (to the point of sounding like a broken record). Today, understanding why J.E.D.I. is more commonplace, so I find myself often discussing how to effectively do the work. Still common in 2007 and today, groups just starting their J.E.D.I. journey want to jump into the what of the work without first preparing themselves, building capacity, and clarifying why J.E.D.I. is important to them. Beginning and leading with the why is a core skill and approach for successful J.E.D.I. work.

Effective J.E.D.I. Action Matters.  In 2007, a big challenge was convincing organizations to start doing something on J.E.D.I. Much of the inactivity stemmed from apathy, pushback from one or a few people in the organization, and not knowing what to do and how to do it. Although J.E.D.I. activities are much more prevalent, today’s main challenges regarding actions are three-fold: (1) inactivity stemming from leaders verbally supporting J.E.D.I., yet not taking action; (2) inactivity originating from the fear of making a mistake; and (3) for those ready for J.E.D.I. work, convincing organizations to first invest time and resources to build J.E.D.I. capacity, knowledge and skills on the individual level before they take actions that can result in negative or positive impact for people of color. Doing something with good intention does not guarantee progress and often means regression if unprepared.

More Grantmaking Programs for J.E.D.I. Capacity Building.  In 2007, I knew of zero. Today, I discovered seven while writing a report on J.E.D.I. capacity building in the environmental movement. This number will increase in upcoming years as more funders, especially foundation trustees, understand that J.E.D.I. is crucial to solving our planet’s most challenging environmental problems, such as climate change and mass biodiversity loss.

More J.E.D.I. Consultants & Staff Supporting Environmental Organizations.  With an increase in J.E.D.I. capacity building activity and funding, the number of J.E.D.I. providers and dedicated J.E.D.I. staff has grown. In the last couple of years, all of my consultant colleagues and I have been extremely busy—being booked out 6-9 months has been normal. Since funders are realizing this uptick in demand, they started a collaborative effort, called the Racial Equity to Accelerate (REACH) Fund, to support the growth and capacity for J.E.D.I. consultants. In addition, a growing number of environmental organizations have J.E.D.I. directors and managers. In 2007, I knew of one environmental institution with a J.E.D.I. director. Today, there are dozens if not hundreds of J.E.D.I. dedicated staff.

Slightly More People of Color on Staff and Boards.  In the 2000s, studies (including a 2002 Natural Resources Council of America report, 2008 Training Resources for the Environmental Community report, and a 2008 article in The Oregonian) showed 4-12% of environmental groups were people of color. A Green 2.0 report authored by Dr. Dorceta Taylor in 2014 showed an increase to 12-16%.  From 2007 to 2019, people of color in the U.S. increased from 33% (about 100 million) to 39% (about 130 million) of the population. While people of color representation in the environmental movement has slightly increased since the 2000s, it is being outpaced by the rapid national growth and is still a far cry from the overall U.S. population.

Slightly More White Mainstream Environmental Groups Achieving Consistent Equity Outcomes.  This is increasing slowly but surely. In 2007, there were not many. In 2019, there are more but not a lot. Most white mainstream environmental organizations committed to J.E.D.I. are at the beginning stages and investing resources on inputs (i.e., training staff, creating strategies and plans). While there is more J.E.D.I. activity and raised awareness, effective equity outcomes result from people becoming knowledgeable, skilled, and well-practiced in J.E.D.I. (not merely more aware). Building this capacity takes time. Today, environmental justice groups and people of color led environmental organizations are achieving most of the equity outcomes in the environmental realm. (However, these organizations are not immune to the forces of white dominant culture influencing their operations and approaches, and many have work to do internally.)

Inaccurate Narratives.  While some narratives are shifting, others continue to prevail. In 2007, one of the most common misperceptions was “people of color don’t care about the environment.” This narrative is shifting, especially with dozens of polls and surveys that consistently demonstrate people of color care more than white people about the environment.  

In 2007, “J.E.D.I. has nothing to do with our mission” was a common perspective. While I still hear that perspective today, becoming more common is “J.E.D.I. has everything to do with our mission.”

Today, a very common inaccurate narrative from white environmentalists is, “because I am liberal and believe in J.E.D.I., I am effective at J.E.D.I.” This narrative is extremely destructive and causes roadblocks to progress, especially when a white, liberal person is a gatekeeper to opportunity, power, and resources for people of color. This narrative is not something that is said but more so believed. This belief causes well-meaning people to not take action, be satisfied in the little action or progress they are achieving, and not achieve self-transformation.

While it’s obvious that these lies (and many others) are oppressive and damaging to people of color, they are also destructive to white people because they continue to reinforce the lie of superiority and self capability that one race can save the planet, which has never occurred and will never happen. (This statement may sound silly to some; however, this often implicit belief or mental model guides who holds power and privilege and how and where resources are invested.) Moreover, these misperceptions continue to prevent us (all of us) from successfully protecting our land, air, water, and biodiversity. Outcomes will continue to be mediocre, at best, until transformation occurs. The only way forward is to strip off all that is holding us back, so we can achieve the very mission that many of us dedicated our lives to accomplish.

Racist (Individual, Institutional, and/or Systemic) Experiences Remain.  In 2007, I would say that almost all people of color working for white mainstream environmental organizations experience racism. Today, I would say something similar, “almost all, if not all”. As the co-founder of the Environmental Professionals of Color, people of color often share painful and confidential stories of racism with me. These stories are not shared broadly because: (1) of the personal and traumatic aspects and (2) the environmental movement has not yet created a safe, supportive and inclusive culture for people of color. The amount of stories has not decreased, and we must courageously work to increase the safeness of our space.

As long as institutional and systemic racism are prevalent in our movement, people of color will continue to fully bear the resulting brunt, negative impacts, and trauma. As many mainstream environmental groups are at the beginning stages and a few are in the middle stages of J.E.D.I. change, consistent positive impact will take time. We will not be able to undo our centuries-old racially exclusive culture overnight.  

More People of Color Led Environmental Organizations and Efforts.  Some of these groups include Latino Outdoors, Soul River, Outdoor Asian, The Climate Justice Initiative, Green 2.0, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO), Diverse Environmental Leaders, Center for Diversity & the Environment, Green Leadership Trust, and Verde. These groups (in addition to the numerous people of color led environmental groups established prior to 2007) are filling an important gap and supporting and creating dedicated spaces across the variety of environmental issues for the strongest environmentalists in the U.S.—people of color.

More Organizations Working at the Intersection of J.E.D.I. and Environmental Protection (Broadly Defined).  In addition to the many new people of color led environmental organizations, mainstream environmental groups working on J.E.D.I. are increasing. There is also a growing amount of racial justice organizations involved in environmental activities, such as climate change policy, environmental education, and green job creation. I am talking about an increase of hundreds in 2007 to thousands in 2019.

Overall, an exponential rise in awareness and commitment to J.E.D.I. in the mainstream environmental movement (broadly defined) has opened up a new era for the movement—a time period that we have never experienced before. The mainstream environmental movement has experienced an upsurge of J.E.D.I. activity (especially in the last 4-5 years), and yet we still have a long way to go. These are very exciting times. We are experiencing an unprecedented evolution of the movement, and with this transformation comes growing pains. Some change will be easy and much will be challenging, just like all new endeavors. As we are stretched, we are learning and growing. In the end, the work will be rewarding because we will support a thriving planet and thriving people. Aren’t these communities interconnected after all?

What progress (or lack of progress) have you observed or experienced in the past 12 years?


 

 

 
Why J.E.D.I. Heart?
 
Photo of a sunset that inspires part of this blog’s logo.

Photo of a sunset that inspires part of this blog’s logo.

Thank you for reading my first blog post and being incredibly supportive. Your receptivity and gratitude are more than I could ever imagine. If you find value in these blog posts and know of others that may benefit, please share far and wide (and with love).

This week I am providing background and context for the blog. Since I am a big fan of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why—which will be the topic of a future blog post—I would like to share why I created J.E.D.I. Heart, including why I chose the name and the meaning of the logo.

The overarching reason why I created this blog is simple: to support you and the ever-growing number of J.E.D.I. change agents in the environmental movement, especially those of you who are shaking up the pervasive white dominant culture and co-creating a racial and ethnic J.E.D.I. culture. Through blog posts, I will share concepts, approaches, tools, resources, and  ideas that have been helpful to me as I navigated my own 20 year J.E.D.I. journey. My hope is to learn as much from you as you do from me. I expect the blog to evolve as we learn from each other and push our collective thinking (and as I continue to learn and grow as a blogger). You are the change agents, the J.E.D.I.s, that are actively creating a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive environmental movement. Our movement is already so much better because of you. Thank you!  

Here are the four reasons why I created a blog for J.E.D.I.s (beginner to advanced change agents who are actively advancing J.E.D.I. in their spheres of influence):

1.    A rare dedicated space for J.E.D.I.s in the environmental movement. In 2017, I noticed for  the previous decade many articles, reports and written material about J.E.D.I. in the mainstream environmental movement (broadly defined) focused on the overwhelmingly white representation and the importance of increasing racial and ethnic diversity. While these topics are important to convince people to start taking J.E.D.I. action, they are not particularly helpful for people who are already committed, understand the why of J.E.D.I., and are actively working to advance  J.E.D.I. Regularly written material to support J.E.D.I.s who are in the middle stages of this work and struggling with “the how” is not readily available. Today, thousands of people and organizations are working at the nexus of protecting the planet and people of color, and my hope is to provide some of the support they seek and need to be successful.

In addition, when helping and coaching J.E.D.I.s, I often hear about the same roadblocks and stories of the same “rookie” mistakes, such as jumping from awareness to action without building skills and capacity to be effective at J.E.D.I. and not practicing the values of equity and inclusion when doing J.E.D.I. work. This blog is a platform to more broadly share those lessons learned, especially to avoid the rookie mistakes, and to support you all in your J.E.D.I. journeys. Mistakes in this arena have a higher negative impact on people of color (unfortunately, the opposite effect of the good intent), and the environmental movement must cut down on those mistakes considerably, especially since we have a horrendous track record.  

2.    A home for collective J.E.D.I. wisdom. Navigating J.E.D.I. is complex and no one approach fits all. If there was a panacea, we would have discovered it by now. My goal is to share lessons learned and to pass on the wisdom I have gained over the years by providing approaches, tips, tools, and ideas that have worked for me and others in the J.E.D.I. space. However, I do not have all the answers (and never will), which is why I hope this blog will be a place to explore, learn from each other, engage in critical discussions, and draw from the collective wisdom of the community. In the comments section of each blog post, you are strongly invited to share what has worked for you, not worked, where you have been stuck, and/or how you became unstuck. Please share stories, add a perspective, and pose questions if you desire. We will all benefit from your valuable voice.

3.    J.E.D.I. on a regular basis. For many mainstream environmental organizations and leaders, J.E.D.I. is treated as a separate effort, or a “side project,” that is not yet fully integrated into the culture, policies, and practices of the organization. Therefore, competing interests, “business as usual” activities, and the forces of white dominant culture may take us away from J.E.D.I. This blog will help us keep J.E.D.I. front and center because it will be published every week going forward and serve as a reminder to keep focused on this important work.

4.    The love aspect of J.E.D.I. Love is the only approach that has worked 100% of the time for me. In this work, love often comes in the form of seeing others, especially in their struggles and hopes. For me, love is about seeing the heart of the other person, touching and validating their humanity, no matter who they are, whether they are a person of color or white, an ally or an enemy, someone who loves me or hates me, or anywhere in between. I know there are people for whom I struggle to have compassion, especially people who have hurt me. In these situations, I utilize agape love—selfless, unconditional love—which is the toughest form of love for me. This type of love is given even, and especially, when it is undeserved. I need to remind myself that the person I have difficulty loving has a heart and despite the hard exterior—the tough, heady façade they are portraying to the world—they too, are human and need to be seen. I have learned that when I first see another's humanity, then they too can see mine, which I have found to be the core ingredient for a breakthrough recipe of working across difference.   

Another beautiful aspect of love is that it is an infinite resource. We can use it as much as we want, and it will never run out. Also, love is the antidote to hate, and the world really needs love right now—a lot of it.

Why the blog title, “J.E.D.I Heart”?

While “heart” simply symbolizes love, the term, J.E.D.I. (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) came to me in 2016 when I was working with the newly formed Healthy Environment Portfolio at Meyer Memorial Trust (an Oregon-based private foundation). J.E.D.I. is a term that encapsulates the foundational, internal and external work that needs to happen on an individual and organizational level to create an environmental movement that effectively speaks to, listens to, invites, and validates people from all races and ethnicities. In Spring 2016, I was tasked to organize a gathering of Oregon leaders who had experience in environmental justice (EJ) and/or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the mainstream environmental movement. The Healthy Environment Portfolio included two goals—an environmental justice goal and a diversifying the mainstream environmental movement goal—and we sought feedback from experienced community members to guide our activities beyond grantmaking that could positively support Oregon’s environmental movement. As I thought of a title, I tried to combine environmental justice (EJ) with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The words strung together were too long for a title, so I thought of creating an acronym. Since the gathering was for environmentalists, I figured I could eliminate one of the “E”s, which left me with JDEI. Re-ordering the letters, I came up with J.E.D.I. (to some of my colleagues’ excitement and to others’ dismay: “You’re welcome”, and “I’m sorry”). The final gathering title was J.E.D.I. in Oregon’s Environmental Movement, held on August 15, 2016. One participant ended up renaming their DEI committee to the J.E.D.I. Council. The first time I used the acronym in a keynote speech was in May 2017 at the Oregon CONNECT Conference in Pendleton, Oregon. The talk was entitled, “Dancing with J.E.D.I.”

The J.E.D.I. Heart logo in name and design connects to the purpose for this blog.

The J.E.D.I. Heart logo in name and design connects to the purpose for this blog.

About the J.E.D.I. Heart logo

The heart represents love.   

The stars that connect the lines in the heart refer to navigation as in navigating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Observing the position of stars was a form of navigation utilized by numerous indigenous cultures from around the world. I am also giving a shout out to indigeneous peoples many whom have lived sustainably with nature for centuries.

The middle star is the North Star that continues to guide my message and work. The North Star also symbolizes freedom as it was used by slaves in the 19th century to navigate their way to freedom.

Lastly the ombre colors provide a double meaning: sunset and sunrise, which denote the evolution of the environmental movement, the cycles of nature, death and birth, constant change and renewing, emptying and filling, and letting go of the old and receiving the new. The sunset is a metaphor of the old way, setting in glory, celebration, and gratitude. The sunrise is a metaphor for the empty night sky being filled by the brilliance, beauty, inspiration, and co-creation of something new and more powerful. Originally, the colors were inspired by the radiant sunsets I would soak in as God deeply supplanted this blog idea into my heart.


 
A Multicultural First Earth Day?
 
 
“Cerulean” by one of my daughters, Stella — my family is a huge part of why I do this work.

“Cerulean” by one of my daughters, Stella — my family is a huge part of why I do this work.

Welcome to J.E.D.I. Heart and thank you for reading my first blog! I created this blog to help those of you working in the environmental, conservation, and climate movements navigate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) with love.  Since today is April 22nd, I figured I would provide an Earth Day themed piece.

Today’s Earth Day celebrations are multicultural, global, and diverse. People of all walks of life celebrate and take action to protect the planet we call home. When the topic of the first Earth Day is raised, often images of throngs of white people and white leaders come to mind because these are the images commonly shared. One less known fact is that the first Earth Day included a call for a broad-based, multicultural environmental movement and included a diverse speaker line-up. I recently reached out to Denis Hayes, the main organizer of the first Earth Day, to learn more. This is what I gleaned from Denis’s first-hand account and several key speeches that he shared (Thank you Denis!):

According to the intent of many of the organizers of the first Earth Day, the modern day environmental movement was meant to be a J.E.D.I. movement. On April 22, 1970, a diverse set of speakers from across the U.S., including many civil rights leaders, recognized the need for a broad-based, multicultural movement in order to succeed. At Harvard University, a young African American leader, George Wiley—the Director of National Welfare Rights Organization—delivered a speech entitled, “Ecology and the Poor”. Addressing environmental activists, he stated:

[I]f you are to develop strategies to… deal with all of the myriad problems of the environment, you are going to have to recognize that you must deal initially with the problem of racism in the United States of America.


Meanwhile in Chicago, another African American leader, Charles Hayes—Vice President of the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen of North America—declared:

Our program to protect and reclaim the physical environment must include feeding the hungry, healing the sick, building homes and schools, eradicating racism and discrimination, and finally make the national welfare program adequate to lift people forever out of the degradation of poverty…This is what the fight to preserve our environment really means—it is a fight to preserve and protect humanity. And all of us, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, must enlist this fight NOW! WE SHALL OVERCOME!


Lastly, Reverend Channing Phillips addressed a Washington, D.C. crowd,

But now that White America is being threatened, perhaps we can deal with black needs and white needs – human needs – in a united effort to remedy the value system that has brought us to this Earth Day.


Back then as today, many environmental leaders of color have an integrated, complex perspective of the intersectionality of environmental protection and other aspects of society, including racial equity. Protecting our air, land, and water cannot effectively be achieved in isolation. These crucial elements to our survival are interwoven into all aspects of how we live, work, and play just as all aspects of nature are interconnected.

Demonstrated through these speeches, a call to create a J.E.D.I. movement was evident. Unfortunately, a J.E.D.I. environmental movement did not result, and we have suffered the repercussions ever since. As commonly happens in the J.E.D.I. space, intent is never good enough to ensure a positive outcome. So what happened (or did not happen) after the first Earth Day? 

Denis pointed out that the first Earth Day was about two years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and while many Civil Rights leaders supported environmental protection and participated in the first Earth Day, the environment at the time did not rise above the plethora of priorities, like jobs, education, housing, and health care. Denis shared that “environmental racism was [treated as] ‘tomorrow’s issue.’”   

Maybe the environmental movement would have looked and operated differently if white activists co-created a strategy to intentionally live out this strong recognition and need for a multicultural movement. Charles Jordan and Donald Snow, in their 1992 article, “Diversification, Minorities, and the Mainstream Environmental Movement,” added further analysis as to why an integrated movement did not stick after the first Earth Day:

Yet soon after the bright green banners of Earth Day had been taken down, the white activists who had put the whole event together from coast to coast seemed to disperse quickly into organizations that then did little to develop thought and action around the interlinks joining poverty and racism with environmental harm.  Having heard from the communities of social justice, the white leaders of the budding environmental movement still re-created and perpetuated the same inadvertent, unspoken polices of exclusion that characterized their conservation forerunners.


According to Jordan and Snow, it sounds like white mainstream environmentalists fell back into “business as usual” mode, which is often code (at least in the mainstream environmental movement) for succumbing to the forces of institutional and systemic racism. Even by doing nothing and with no intent to do harm, following these systems and structures (often times blindly) results in division, exclusion, and negative impact for people of color. We all fall prey to these forces, which are the legacy of an American environmental movement founded in a time of overt racism (the late-1800s).

In summary, the interplay of well-meaning intent not leading to the preferred outcome, civil rights leaders forced to choose from competing priorities, white activists not sufficiently taking effective next steps post-Earth Day, and the forces of institutional and systemic racism led to no immediate progress on the J.E.D.I. front.  Although this outcome was a disappointment, I want to uplift a few things:

  1. The day in of itself was a multicultural event. Can you imagine attending the First Earth Day and listening to the amazingly diverse line up of speakers and leaders?  Simply reading some of the speeches inspired me. Being physically present would have been even more powerful and inspirational.

  2. Thank you to the Earth Day organizers, including Denis Hayes, for the behemoth effort to coordinate and set up a multicultural environmental event on a national stage- a rarity in those days for sure.

  3. Much love and gratitude to George Wiley, Charles Hayes, Reverend Channing Phillips and other leaders of color who showed up, dedicated their valuable time, courageously acknowledged the need for an integrated movement and shared the interconnectedness of their environmental values. I would like to point out that 1970 was not only two years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination but also six years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act.  Civil rights leaders could have, rightfully so, spent their valuable time elsewhere. I am inspired by the choices they made.

  4. Over a decade later, the civil rights movement gave birth to the powerful environmental justice movement, through which much progress has been made protecting communities of color from the ill effects of environmental degradation and pollution.

As I have experienced, J.E.D.I. work is often complex with numerous issues and perspectives at play. For example, I know there is more to the answer of “why didn’t the first Earth Day result in a multicultural environmental movement?” In these J.E.D.I. spaces, how do we uphold multiple truths, valuing each other’s voices, seeing each other, while also being okay with and balancing disappointment, frustration, celebration, joy, and the myriad of emotions that are felt when working across difference? This is the reality of the work. I have found learning from mistakes, replicating successes, and continual improvement as main ingredients for J.E.D.I. progress. This growth mindset will serve us all well as we analyze our distant and near past and co-create a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive environmental movement together.   

(Thank you for reading my first blog!  Please share below any comments or additional perspectives, especially regarding the multiculturalism and speakers of color at the first Earth Day and/or your experience growing your J.E.D.I. capacity.)