I Have Work To Do

Photo by Joey Brighton Reynolds

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Spensora, a large black woman, who came to iron once a week when I was a child. She’d set up the ironing board in our narrow kitchen, plant her feet wide and dance her arm back and forth across my father’s cotton shirts. My mother was always nice, still I knew from the way her voice lost its warmth and her shoulders locked up that Spensora would never sit down at the table with us.

Then there was the day I saw two girls jump rope in the street, one black, the other white.

‘I’d jump rope with that girl,’ I thought. Imagining myself as some kind of hero.

Like my mother, I’d prided myself on being a good person, nice and well-intentioned. The pride, I now understand was a veneer for my unconscious entitled sense of superiority and desire to ‘save those less fortunate.’ 

Like my mother, I inherited this culture of racism, a structure rooted both in overt acts of violence and covert acts of complicit silence. It’s in my bones, in the air I breathe, in the cells of my imagination. This does not excuse me from my collusion. But it does give me perspective. And reminds me that my unexamined thoughts have the power to cinch the ropes that hold cultural and structural racism in place.

When my judgments solidify, I mistake them for truths. (‘What’s the (black) man doing next to that car?’ ‘Wow, that (black) woman is really smart.’ ‘How did that (black) man become so self-assured.’)

Several years ago, a dear (white) friend told me that he was exploring his own racist thoughts, beliefs and actions. I waved him away—‘that’s great, not really my cause, so glad you’re doing it.’ I used the word Cause, as though human beings were some kind of project to be assembled or a banner to be waved.

“My work is with the climate crisis—which will impact everybody and everything.” I told him with a certain arrogance.

I ignored my friend and kept up my climate work.

Until something shifted. Until I understood that the climate crisis and racism grew from the same soil—domination of people, the earth and all her creatures coupled with the inability to understand the interconnectedness of all things.

If we don’t dig deep into the roots and shift the way we consciously and unconsciously think, believe, and act—toward one another and the earth—no set of laws (to govern human beings or the climate) will make a lasting difference. The climate crisis and racism are inextricably linked. To address one without addressing the other is short-sighted.

I have work to do and choices to make. I can slip back into the comfort and safety of silence. Or I can step out onto the edge, look myself in the eye, and tell some hard truths. Starting right now.


9 comments on “I Have Work To Do

  1. Me too. Anti-racist is my action call as i investigate my privileged options. Reparations are now on my radar.

  2. Good article, Davia, once again! I have been reading articles about the intersection of climate change and racism….and in reality us environmentalists have also been doing a poor job until all of the protests and marches. Now we’re on the bandwagon too, but not sure how long it will last.
    Best, Jean

  3. Thanks for connecting the dots between climate change and racism. Implicit racism is what drives this country and it is so insidious. I, too am exploring mine.

  4. CCL-Lancaster has reached out to work with our local NAACP’s environmental group. We are sharing information and inviting them to our meetings. They are just getting started, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get to know each other.

  5. Well said, Davia. FYI “Mothers of Invention” podcast is back with a new season. I always feel hopeful after listening to what solutions women all over the planet are providing to the climate crisis. Feminists have been making the case for the intersectionality of race, environment, and gender for a long time.

  6. Thank you Davia! I have missed reading your blog-so thoughtful and articulate. The boil of racism has been festering and now has popped. Like an abscess that is really messy when it opens, acknowledging and dealing with our own racism and implicit bias is also messy, but necessary, Thank you for your invitation to address racism and climate change together and to consider how they are intertwined.

  7. Thank you Davia any work we do inside or out on racism will only make us better and our nation better. It is hard work. And worth the effort. I want to thank you for your bravery in sharing this with us.

  8. Another way of thinking about the connection between race and climate change is to slightly recast the terminology here. One of the chief effects of climate change is the diminution of diversity in the natural world, just as it is in society. Diversity is always the healthier choice when offered alternatives.

  9. Thanks Davia for once again for sharing your self so personally and eloquently. Like so many (white) people who read this blog post, I recognized myself in it. Indulging in guilt or shame about my inherent racism is just that- indulgent. Today I vow to look myself in the eye, be honest, and get to work.

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