Four long reads worth your time. This week we begin with a discussion on being Asian American by Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen. This is followed by a long essay on politics, nature, and the coronavirus. The next two uncover climate change issues in Ethiopia and Southwest United States. And we conclude with a short opinion piece on the relationship between climate change and dismantling white supremacy.
Throughout Asian-American history, Asian immigrants and their descendants have been offered the opportunity by both Black people and white people to choose sides in the Black-white racial divide, and we have far too often chosen the white side. And yet there have been vocal Asian Americans who have called for solidarity with Black people and other people of color, from the activist Yuri Kochiyama, who cradled a dying Malcolm X, to the activist Grace Lee Boggs, who settled in Detroit and engaged in serious, radical organizing and theorizing with her Black husband James Boggs.
If you read only the first few paragraphs, you will be treated to a story of the pangolin. And then, “A key feature of nature according to the virus is interconnectedness: All organisms are inseparably interwoven with one another — and with the biosphere.” And lastly, “looked at from the perspective opened up by COVID-19, it appears that modern politics has been a tool invented to defend the illusion of the free-standing human as such. Essentially, modern politics has been a differentiation machine.”
Solid story and beautiful pictures. “Today, wild Arabica’s greatest threat is climate change. Highly sensitive, it can only survive within a narrow band of conditions. Aaron Davis, a senior research leader at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the world’s foremost authority of coffee and climate change, has forecasted that the places where wild coffee can grow will decrease by 65 percent by 2080. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case showed a 99.7 percent reduction, with wild Arabica tree populations dropping by 40 to 99 percent.”
“New research reveals a creeping, permanent dryness expanding across the United States. It’s much more than “drought,” and researchers hope more accurate descriptions will spur critical action. The current megadrought in the Southwest is defined not so much by declining precipitation — although that did have an effect too — but by increasing temperatures from climate change. That’s going to continue to climb as long as we keep burning greenhouse gases.”
This one is a short read. “The reality is that the communities being battered by both the coronavirus and climate are also epicenters of over-policing, incarceration, and state-sanctioned violence. In every aspect of our lives, starting in our mothers’ wombs, we are systematically devalued. Black communities face the long-term effects of environmental racism, intentionally zoned into neighborhoods surrounded by factories, highways, pipelines, and compressor stations.”
So what do you do when one district trustees says “all lives matter” and the other thinks “Black Lives Matter” means the college supports defunding the police? In my case, I write this blog post, plan to speak at the next Board of Trustees meeting, and to reach out to my Black colleagues.
These two trustees, Veronica Gallardo and Craig Nielsen, are an insult to Santa Barbara City College and to Black students, faculty, and staff. If I were a Black student, I’d definitely be looking for another college to attend. Over a period of years, these two trustees have consistently blocked the needs and voices of Black student and employees. They need to be removed from office as soon as possible so the damage against our students can be addressed.
Issues of racism is not something new for Santa Barbara City College. We have lost good employees because of the toxic nature of our campus. Personally, it contributed to my taking a 9-month leave last year. I wrote about it several times in November and December 2018 (see links below). And here we are, 19-months later and we have college “leaders” dismissing Black students and employees.
We need to speak up against white supremacy in all its forms. For white readers, we need to counter the reality of white silence and at the same time step back and de-center ourselves so the many voices of Black students and employees are heard.
It’s a few years old, but remains extremely relevant to our conversation today. “So what did Robinson mean by “racial capitalism”? Building on the work of another forgotten black radical intellectual, sociologist Oliver Cox, Robinson challenged the Marxist idea that capitalism was a revolutionary negation of feudalism. Instead capitalism emerged within the feudal order and flowered in the cultural soil of a Western civilization already thoroughly infused with racialism.”
“The courts and laws, which we have been told exist to forestall and prevent society from descending into the hell of revenge, have in so many ways revealed themselves to be institutions to defend, perpetuate and mystify the systemic, structural and institutional forms of racial capitalist vengeance that make so many racialized people, especially Black people, disposable and, indeed, make a gruesome spectacle of that disposability.”
Reyes sees the push to pause regulations as “a form of environmental discrimination,” she said. Diesel exhaust disproportionately affects minority communities with fewer resources. “We are the people who can’t leave this place. We can’t move away,” she said. Now California’s freight and oil industries are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to try to delay two proposed regulations that would limit diesel exhaust throughout the state, sparking outrage from clean air advocates.
“For thirty years we’ve swallowed the delusion offered by the blue pill, nonsense models of utopian tech and cheery tales of green growth. But in 2020, even the blue pill dealers are having their doubts. Perhaps now is the time to embrace the unpalatable reality revealed by the red pill?”
“‘Smart cities’ technologies have grown in popularity during the coronavirus crisis, and are now being touted as tools of economic recovery – but they will also deepen the power of surveillance over our lives.”
“Defund the Police” is a response to decades of divestment from public health infrastructure, education systems, and good housing. This deliberate gutting of social institutions is directly related to the ballooning of police budgets and proliferation of prisons. Punishment and control have become the State’s automatic response to its failure in meeting basic needs.”
In the set this week, we begin with 28-minutes of ambient sounds from This Will Destroy You followed by Robert Rich. From there we ease into a meditation from Finnish-born sound artist Cucina Povera followed by song-based tracks from Blake Mills and Mark Lanegan. The set concludes with new music from Sonic Boom.
This report analyzes the inclusion and operationalization of “equity” in 170 California cities’ and counties’ Climate Action Plans (CAPs). California’s municipal climate action planning landscape is unique for both its size and diversity, as aggressive statewide environmental legislation has put unique pressure on all cities—even (or especially) small and less well-resourced ones—to adopt climate/emissions plans.
The Insurrection Act. Its invocation is enmeshed with this country’s long history of racial injustice: “insurrection” has been defined, in practice, as either rebellion against slave power or ongoing racial injustice, or as resistance to federal laws mandating civil rights and integration.
Piketty’s follow-up, Capital and Ideology, is a massive, globe and history-spanning attempt to figure out what’s inside the ‘black box’ that Capital in the 21st Century left unexamined. What makes it possible for inequality to persist, let alone get worse? Why don’t governments do anything about it? And since they so often don’t, why doesn’t runaway inequality provoke the mass resistance that might force them to?
What can we expect in the fall? As pandemic lockdown orders extend further and further through the spring, there has been a great deal of speculation about how or whether college education would proceed. Rumors floated at different schools of cancelled or remote semesters, even of months-long adjustments to the academic calendar. But for all but the richest universities, the conclusion has never truly been in doubt.
The movement to defund the police in the United States is gaining unprecedented momentum as protests continue across the globe. This 2-part series taking with Ruth Wilson Gilmore is insightful and motivating. Iconic geographer and abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of “Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California.” Gilmore is one of the world’s preeminent scholars on prisons and the machinery of carceral punishment and policing.
The protests must continue. It is clear they do create change. For those of us maintaining our quarantine, we may feel like we’re missing out. But we need to remember that protest is just one vehicle for change, especially for White Americans. There is a lot we can do to support antiracist work in all aspects of our lives.
Racial justice is linked with several other ongoing and critical efforts. For example, the abolition of the police and prison system can allow for real healing and justice. The efforts of anti-capitalism and environmental justice are also intricately linked with white supremacy.
The protests of the last few weeks have been critical in raising the voice of Black Americans. And, in turn, it highlights how white supremacy has impacted all BIPOC/BAME communities for a very long time.
Knowing a little about American culture, some people will begin to tune-out the protests as commercialism and capitalism draw us back into our comfort zone. Being an antiracist is uncomfortable. And it’s easier to buy a new product, read a gossip story about a celebrity, or stand aghast at the latest Tweet from Trump. These are all a distraction from what’s really important – healing ourselves and healing our community. As White people forget about the systemic racism, and as the antiracist work disappears from the front pages and trending on Twitter, we need to redouble our efforts.
Antiracist work must continue. In our homes, our communities, and in our workplaces. We must be diligent, persistent, and fearless. Even though I have been an antiracist for many years, there is so much I don’t know or understand. I must continue to educate myself and be open to the real stories and experiences from people of color. And I must be willing to be a disrupter.
In Our Homes
When I speak of our homes, I mean our personal space both internally and externally. It means our relationship with ourselves, our families, and those we live with. Maybe you’ve been frantically trying to educate yourself about anti-racism work. Maybe you’ve been attending webinars, reading books, watching films that speak to how white supremacy has infected our society. If you have been bold, you’ve been talking about what it means to be white with other white people. Taking the time to listen deeply to each other. We need to seek out these courageous conversations with our partners, our children, and our extended family. Learning to be honest and to admit our own fears. To be able to disagree with each other. And to push against a desire to push it under the rug. Look at your own racism. You have it.
Practical Tip: Subscribe to a blog, a newsletter, a podcast that regularly explores the theme of racism. Commit to reading or listening and then discussing it with someone in your household.
In Our Community (includes spiritual community)
When I speak of our community, I mean both the geographical location you live in and also any spiritual community you may be associated. For me, I live in the town of Ojai and I am also a member of the Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism. Our work as antiracists in these areas are probably going to fall into the “policy” arena. But it may also include some of the things I mentioned above for our homes. Namely, engaging in education and listening to each other.
There is so much we can do within the political entity of a town or city. Take some time to understand your city budget. How much is being spent on policing? Is that appropriate for your community? What social services does the city provide and are they reaching the people in the most need? Have you noticed how segregation has negatively impacted certain neighborhoods in the community; in education, health, or employment? What environmental impacts (industry) exists that needs to be changed? Write a letter to the political leaders. Attend a city council or planning commission meeting. Speak. What about your school district? Notice where things don’t quite seem right. Align yourself with those BIPOC voices that are trying to be heard. Listen to them without judgment. Listen to understand. And to support. You can do it! Raise up Black voices. Build coalitions across racial, environmental, fair wage, and housing groups.
You would think a spiritual community would be the easiest place to be an antiracist. It may be difficult when the spiritual community is filled with well-meaning, liberal, and white Americans. It’s not always easy to see how structural and systemic racism may exist within such a community. But it does. If you are a predominately white community, how do you start? Much like what has been written above, we can begin by having conversations among white people. Remember, racism is a white-persons problem. Spend some time listening to each other, sharing your story, getting educated. We’re not all fully educated on antiracist work, and even if you’ve done such work then we know it is an ongoing process. And if you are fortunate to have people of color in your community, then when the conditions are right (for them), you can find a way to listen. We listen in order to understand. That means having an open heart and open mind. And if they identify examples of structural racism within the community, then believe them. And make a change. Why wouldn’t you?
In Our Work
Work is another place where we have the opportunity to be antiracist. Perhaps more so than other areas, this may be the most uncomfortable. Lean into your discomfort. Be willing to make mistakes. When you hear something inappropriate, say something. Don’t just expect someone else to be the voice. Look around you and see who is in leadership positions. Make sure Human Resources has a plan in place to address systemic racism; whether that’s in the hiring protocols or in the complaint protocols. Raise up Black voices. Who is doing the most speaking? Who is in the room and who isn’t in the room? Advocate for change and ask the difficult questions. Know who the other White people are that you can talk to about issues of equity. Join forces and move forward.
A few years ago, I organized a Racial Justice Awareness series for White employees. I started with the book What Does it Mean to be White? by Robin DiAngelo and then scheduled ten lunchtime sessions for employees to come together and discuss the book. We did a chapter per week. The participants were definitely all over the place in terms of antiracist understanding and work. But they committed to meet every week for ten weeks. We had many frank and open conversations. Difficult conversations. I think most came away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be white in a racialized world.
Each work environment is going to be different. I work in education, and our State Chancellors Office put together an amazing series of webinars over a period of six weeks on the theme of equity-minded education. Even though the focus was on BIPOC students in online classes because of COVID, the details could easily be extrapolated to many aspects of the campus. Likewise, in light of the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests, the Chancellors Office organized a 90-minute webinar on a Call to Action for California Community Colleges. During that webinar, 80% of the voices were from people of color. This is leadership.
For the corporate world, you might want to check out this HBR Ideacast episode. https://overcast.fm/+Dj5dXr4
There’s so much more to say. And I am only scratching the surface of possibility. Being an antiracist is not an overnight matter. My journey began in the mid-90s in San Francisco when I moved into a Black neighborhood. I didn’t realize that racism existed in me, but I quickly observed in myself a behavior that revealed my “hidden” racism – fear of black men. I still carry that moment in me today. Shortly after that, my employer offered a racial justice workshop for all employees. Thus began my journey. It has not stopped since those days. I have had to make many mistakes. Continuing to admit my unconscious bias. Do writing, talking, and most importantly, listening. It truly is a path that requires diligence, persistence, and fearlessness.
“So far, their crimes have gone unpunished. No one was ever arrested for shooting Herrington, Alexander and Collins — in fact, there was never an investigation. I found this story repeated over and over during my days in New Orleans.”
“In recent weeks, the term “Boogaloo” has gone mainstream after months of growing popularity in online far-right communities. Nationwide anti-lockdown protests have provided an opportunity for right-wing militias to rally, armed, in public.”
“It’s often hard to differentiate potentially powerful critiques of the industry from ostensibly critical stories that further entrench its hold. What might it mean, then, to acknowledge the omnipotence of technology without further reproducing the narratives that make it so powerful?” A critical look at Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s The Great Hack (2019) and Zhu Shengze’s Present.Perfect.
“On May 22, the Siberian town of Khatanga, located well north of the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 78 degrees, about 46 degrees above normal. The typical maximum temperature for that day at that location is 32 degrees.”
“Heglar says that too often, the white-led climate community leans on the idea of hope, which can lead to inaction. Hope is “such a white concept,” Heglar said. “You’re supposed to have the courage first, then you have the action, then you have the hope. But white people put hope at the front. Their insistence on hope for all of these years has led to exactly where? Nowhere.”
“Central to the white argument for watching these videos is the idea that viewership begets justice or somehow emphasizes the notion that black life does matter and that black life is grievable (never mind that black people have long been in a near-constant state of grief and mourning over the violent negations of the lives of our kin).”
Blackademic life is a long history of survival in a space that is committed to the denial of black excellence. A look at three books: Lavelle Porter’s The Blackademic Life: Academic Fiction, Higher Education, and the Black Intellectual and Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study and Samuel Delany’s novel The Mad Man.
“Our findings affirm the continued importance of Christian nationalism, but with some important changes. Notably, we find that, beyond partisanship, xenophobia is the most important key to understanding continued support for Trump just prior to his 2020 reelection campaign. Further, [ ] xenophobia and Islamophobia explain a larger amount of the covariance between Christian nationalism and Trump voting. Some Christian nationalists are and will remain solidly behind Trump. Though we empirically affirm that Christian nationalism is not interchangeable with xenophobia or Islamophobia, the three are clearly symbiotic.”
NOTE: This is an academic journal article and is behind a paywall. Check your library to see if you can get a copy. Or touch base with me if your really interested.