What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning

The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.

The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”

Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”

The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.

With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”

While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.

Black and Blue: Injustice Is Battering Us All

1e5e89bad0cfe37527fa5862bd839015

It is starting to feel like a domestic war is brewing. People are taking sides, dividing up into camps. Facebook has become a platform for digital conflict. The tensions among Americans and worldwide, actually are palpable. I recently witnessed an exchange on social media about social justice and how it was a copout. Nuance is clearly a bridge too far for many engaged in a my side/your side battle and convincing the angry and scared that love is the answer is like convincing a starving person to not eat a poptart because of nutrition.

The frustration is causing violence which is being responded to with violence and preemptive violence. Cops are killing people and nowadays, this becomes quickly and broadly shared on social media. People have, thusly, become afraid of cops. Because people are afraid of cops, they respond to cops with fear, which makes them seem suspicious. Then, cops treat people like suspects. This is an understandable, if unfortunate cycle, but it is unacceptable and must be examined with honesty.

Unfortunately, efforts to bring attention to this cycle are being spun in various directions in order to rationalize this unacceptable behavior. What it ends up doing is creating hatred towards those who have been victimized. Additionally, people are trying to co-opt movements which is not helping the situation. For example, Black Lives Matter began as an attempt to show that black people were being killed by cops in high numbers with little consequence to their assailants, creating the perception that black lives don’t matter in the eyes of the law.

The movement was created to attract attention to this injustice so that it could be corrected. When the All Lives Matter was presented as a substitution for Black Lives Matter and subsequently so was Blue Lives Matter, it moved the conversation away from the overreaching injustice that has reached critical mass. People began creating memes and movements to support the new narratives. The problem with that is that it maintains the tone deaf reality that black people get killed with impunity.

People are deliberately changing the subject from the fact that we are moving towards a police state with militarized police. By doing this, we legitimize the institutional use of force, even unnecessary force to control people. Ironically, it is often those who ostensibly fear tyranny who feel comfortable legitimizing the advancement of an impending Martial Law.

The University of Cincinnati found that minorities are more likely to be pulled over. Some of the data indicates that racial profiling and economic factors put minorities at higher risk of becoming suspects. Additionally, once pulled over, they have a higher risk of search. Critics of these statistics say it wasn’t racially motivated searches, but concerns over drug trafficking, which pretty much proves the point. They are stereotypes that lead to increased risk of being a citizen.

A real issue with changing the narrative away from Black Lives Matter to all lives or Blue Lives Matter is that it not only washes over the tragedies that we have seen with unjustified homicides that go unadjudicated, but we give license for police oppression and tyranny. When the narratives of government overreach become accepted, through rationalizations like Blue Lives Matter, then they are propped up on a platform that accepts their overreaches. Unchecked authority and wanton aggression by law enforcement is what tyranny looks like and making excuses for brutality is a starting point.

So it’s really disheartening to see the escalated levels of justified violence against citizens. Especially because the dividing up into teams has been creating blind spots. In these blind spots we often ignore issues if those issues tend to be ‘other’ people’s issues. We must understand, though, that any of us could become a target and if we push to allow unchecked aggression without consequence, we will regret it when we are in the cross hairs. These blind spots are exactly why we must all demand equal treatment under the law even if we are privileged. When we rationalize exceptions we pave the way for abuse.

As this conversation unfolds I do hope it opens up the larger discussion of how economic inequality leads to injustice and social unrest. So far it appears that the discussion centers around a distrust for the police or blacks. Both sides have understandable positions when considering their roles.

But the police must understand that they are trained and responsible for keeping the peace in a community, not the opposite. And they must not simply operate as tools of the elite and therefore soldiers of the social divide. If they function in this manner, it is no wonder there is civil unrest. The citizens of the community are treated as subjugates instead of valuable members.

Ultimately, until we all adopt the mindset that violence is unacceptable, it will continue. But we must try and root out the underlying causes of the tensions, fear and hatred. Until everyone feels safe in their communities, it will be difficult to expect peace.

Philanthropic Work of Prince

maxresdefault1

The death of a legendary artist and musician best known as, “Prince”, came as a sudden shock to the world on April 21, 2016. Prince released his first studio solo album at the age of nineteen and is known for his celebrated chart topping records such as “Purple Rain”, “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss”. Prince went on to sell over 100 million records, won seven Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.  He undoubtedly touched the hearts and souls of millions with his music, style and personality.

Conversely, those closest to Prince stated that he left behind more than his music. Although, Prince may have shied away from publicizing his efforts, his ex-wife, Manuela Testolini, described him as a “fierce philanthropist” in a statement following his death.  Reverend Al Sharpton also commented on Prince’s philanthropic efforts. During an appearance on MSNBC, Sharpton stated, “What many people didn’t know is that he [Prince] would support many of our civil rights causes”.

After the 2012 shooting that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, Prince donated money to the Martin family. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed seventeen year old who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member, George Zimmerman. Trayvon’s tragic death sparked national controversy over racial profiling, which ignited conversations about race relations in the United States.

The extent to Prince’s passion, with regards to racial and social issues, was apparent in the Grammy Awards in 2015, when Prince presented album of the year and made the statement, “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter – tonight and always.”

In this statement, Prince was referring to the Black Lives Matter movement which was stimulated by the 2014 police killing of an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He donated $1.5 million through a charity concert that donated to Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations in line with the message.

Is this the extent of Prince’s philanthropic involvement?

In an interview with CNN, activist and close friend, Van Jones stated that “he’s [Prince} a humanitarian, first and foremost”.  Jones and Prince were recently working on organizations such as: Green for All, which creates green jobs in disadvantaged communities; #YesWeCode, an organization with a mission to educate 100,000 low income youth about technology; and Rebuild the Dream, a movement that seeks to raise awareness on issues such as excessive incarceration, student loan debt and racial injustice.

Prince’s generosity does not end there.

After a show in 2011, at the mayor’s request, Prince donated $250,000 to Eau Claire Promise Zone, an organization working to help preschoolers and their families in struggling neighborhoods in north Columbia, South Carolina. He also donated $1 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization for poverty-stricken children and families living in Harlem and $250,000 to the Uptown Dance Academy when he found out they were going to lose their space back in 2011.  He also supported City of Hope, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Jazz Foundation of America, The Bridge, Urban Farming, H.A.L.O., the Edith Couey Memorial Scholarship Trust Fund, the Elevate Hope Foundation, and the Goss-Michael Foundation.

Prince’s humility and faith as a Jehovah Witness did not allow him to speak publicly about his humanitarian efforts. Although, it was through his music, charitable giving, and way of life, which inspired others to believe in hope for justice and opportunities.  His creativity and boldness knew no bounds, as he demonstrated genuineness through his messages and actions. Prince’s ability to master his art has impacted multiple generations around the world for nearly four decades. There is no doubt that even after Prince’s sudden death his legend to inspire hope for the oppressed will live on

Exit mobile version