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June 9, 2020

This article was written by William Walker VI, a junior in the School of Sustainability

As environmentalists and caretakers of the earth, it is our duty to ensure the prosperity of all environments as well as the built environment around us. But what if the environments we have built have a story of systemic racism, prejudice, redlining, exploitation, and marginalization of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities? Is it possible to include conservationists, economists, urban planners, sustainability professionals, and social activists in the reformation process? To this question, I say that we should recognize the systemic racism in our society as an environmental issue and that racial equity should be the focal point for sustainable development.

In the past few weeks, our world has been heartbroken at the police killings of Black people. However, these narratives are not new — they are simply being filmed. These narratives leave me and others in my Black community feeling endangered, helpless, fearful, and unstable. As a student in sustainability and urban planning, I want to see more representation to solve these disparities that communities of color face. What happened to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others has been perpetuated from a history of white supremacy, hate, and racial exclusion. Historically and even today, this racial exclusion has presented itself in national parks, sustainability careers, and the environmental movement.

I know because I have experienced this myself. One issue that I have always had with environmentalism is the intersectionality that it lacks. It’s hard to find professionals who look like me in my career field or even to teach my classes or mentor me. I have always admired the ASU charter that states that we are a university “measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed.” I believe that the world is trying to uphold this belief but it is inequitable when certain populations are not given the resources to succeed. Instead, our society has perpetuated the myth of meritocracy for minority communities.

Racism is woven into the DNA of our country and to combat it we need to be in solidarity with movements such as Black Lives Matter and dismantle the system it was built upon because it never served us. Furthermore, it needs reform in our environment first and as long as we turn a blind eye to the marginalization we are all complicit in the oppression of Black and brown communities. Environmental and racial reform looks like working with diverse communities to execute community-oriented solutions, allocating more funding for equitable education opportunities, and appointing Black leaders in all sectors.

These solutions must come from inside the community and be representative of what people need. We must also emphasize that these solutions are not to be politicized or seen as controversial because Black growth, prosperity, and dismantling racism is a basic human rights issue. Deeming them as controversial only digresses further from equity. Freedom has always been at a high price for some but it should never have to be that way. It is a birthright and should be treated as such. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere and no one is truly free until all people are free regardless of identity. Black Lives Matter.