Resources on Systemic Racism & Environmental Justice

We encourage everyone in the greater MES community to share additional sources. Please email Kevin or Averi with a link to the source and a sentence about what you found meaningful or valuable about it.

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are the latest reminders of systemic racism, violence and injustice towards People of Color in our countryWe grieve these deaths, and so many others. We stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and support its work to dismantle systems that continue to favor whiteness and oppress People of Color.  

Environmental professionsespecially, have been dominated by white faces and voices stemming from historical racism within natural resource conservation in the United StatesMeaningful steps toward more diverse representation has been painfully slow; complacent behaviors and attitudes cannot persist if we expect to make real progress. An important part of the work means educating oneself about the Black Lives Matter movement and its historical context, and realizing the place each person has within it.  

As one step toward deepening collective awareness and understanding, we reached out to MES faculty and staff (who are predominantly white) about resources that they found especially valuable for understanding systemic racism and environmental justice. 

Kevin Francis, History of Science

Here are a few sources that have helped me, someone with intersecting privileges, understand structural racism in our country and its immense economic, social, and psychological consequences. I still have so much to learn—I welcome your contributions to this list!

The Lake Street/Powderhorn Park neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered was my second home during grad school. For brief historical context about segregation in Minneapolis, which is replicated in many northern cities:  George Floyd and Derek Chauvin might as well have lived on different planets.

James Baldwin. I found him as a teenager yearning for complex, relatable gay characters. I kept reading and two books in particular opened my eyes. The novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, shows one black family’s struggle against the racist criminal justice system. The first essay in The Fire Next Time is a powerful letter to his nephew on racism in American history. I recommend the movie If Beale Street Could Talk and documentary I Am Not Your Negro.

J. Drew Lanham’s "Birding while Black" is essential reading for environmental scientists because it shows the extent to which the threat of racial violence can terrorize black field scientists and completely reroute their careers. Landham's longer memoir, The Home Place: A Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature, is amazing.

Sarah Hamman, Restoration Ecology 

I’ve always considered that my primary contribution to making the world a better place is to help protect and restore land and rare plants and animals, using the best science possible. The recent (and ongoing) atrocities against communities of color across our country and our world have highlighted that, as a privileged white woman, I absolutely must do more. I must speak up and speak out against racial injustice and actively promote the voices and priorities of people of color in both my personal and professional life. These resources have been helpful for me to learn more about how our institutions have promoted (environmental) racism and to think about ways to start dismantling this system to create a more equitable and just world.  

Shawn Hazboun, Environmental Sociology

When COVID-19 first struck the U.S., life felt overwhelmingly hard - how was I supposed to work from home while watching my young daughter? However, I've lately been reflecting on my clear privilege with respect to existing social disparities now augmented by the pandemic. Now, I am reflecting on another facet of my privilege as the nation reels in grief and rage after the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police. I would like to offer several articles that have helped me understand and reflect on racial inequality in relation to both the pandemic and the protests against ongoing systematic racial oppression. These short, easy to read articles appeared recently in The Conversation, which is an independent news source written by university professors and researchers. 

  1. "Native American tribes’ pandemic response is hamstrung by many inequities" (June 1, 2020) 
  2. "Coronavirus discriminates against Black lives through surveillance, policing and the absence of health data" (April 20, 2020)
  3. "Black Americans are bearing the brunt of coronavirus recession – this should come as no surprise" (May 6, 2020)
  4. "George Floyd’s death reflects the racist roots of American policing" (June 2, 2020) 
  5. "The fury in US cities is rooted in a long history of racist policing, violence and inequality" (June 1, 2020) 

Kathleen Saul, Energy Policy & Political Ecology

I have had the amazing privilege of meeting with a group of people once each week all year long--in person in Fall and Winter and via Zoom this past quarter.  During our first meeting, the white people in the group were asked why they wanted to be part of a group that sought to undermine the very structure of white supremacy that supported us in getting us where we are today.  Because Black Lives Matter.  We have watched films, shared experiences, discussed current events, and worked through So You Want to Talk About Race, chapter by chapter. Those meetings and frank discussions have changed me.

This list comes from those meetings:

Book:  So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Book:  Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

Book:  In the Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel WIlkerson

Book:  How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev

Film:  I Am Not Your Negro (2016 documentary directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House)

Film:  Just Mercy (2019 film from the book of the same name:  Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with ​our history of racial injustice.)

Film:  Good Fences with Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg

Film:  The Uncomfortable Truth (2015 documentary about the history of institutional racism)

Film:  Who Put the Klan in Ku Klux Klan (2018 documentary about the link between racism in the Deep South and the Scots who lived their)

"6 ways to be ant-iracist, because being 'not racist' isn't enough" 

"A Message for White Progressives" 

"Beyond the HashtagL  How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life" 

"The Climate Crisis is Racist.  The Answer is Anti-Racism" 

"I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet." From the Washington Post  

I like this piece from NPR - Kathleen

"Clarinetist Anthony McGill Kneels, Pleads And Plays For Justice" 

The Washington Environmental Council has found these stories helpful to understand the intersections of race and the environment:

John Withey, Ecology & Ornithology

I'm not sure I can find words that are worthy of passing on to you all. In part because there's a big gap between what I WANT to do, to build an anti-racist community and society, and what I've been able to do.  But white silence isn't an option, and I'll at least share that I'm struggling.  And, some resources I've found useful.

For my own continued education and understanding our nation's legacy of racism and how that carries through the current day:

  • Jill Lepore's These Truths has been very illuminating (full disclosure, I'm only halfway through).
  • The documentary Thirteenth on Netflix, which focuses on the prison-industrial complex as a racialized system of control.

As a parent, it can be hard to decide how to talk about these issues with my kids.  Some anti-bias resources I have appreciated include

Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence (by Teaching Tolerance) - itself a collection of resources (geared towards school educators)

Averi Azar, Assistant Director

Advocacy Resources

Watch these webinars on equity: Culturally Appropriate Positive Guidance, and Maximizing Learning in Diverse Classrooms.

Systemic Racism and Senior Housing and Care

Please also visit this resource by Excellent Care and Optimal Living, for information about aging adults and senior care, and Black Lives Matter's efforts to improve the way our elders are treated and cared for at the end of their lives.  

Students also submitted resources:

Naomi Korchonnoff

My partner works in the Franklin Pierce School District, where I went to high school. As the only teacher of color, he has been struggling to teach his coworkers about systemic racism in teaching through his Racial Equity & Inclusion workshops. One of the books they have focused on is called "White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism" by Robin Diangelo. Specifically for educators is the book "Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools" by Glenn E.Singleton.

Julian Wischniewski

I have been reflecting on resources I've encountered while writing my thesis and I wanted to pass them along. The first two came up during research, the third was recommended by an interview participant. 

Critical Race Theory - by Stefancic and Delgado: this book helped me understand racial injustice from a legal, social, and historical perspective. A big take-away for me was learning about the 'weaponization' of desegregation, that it was used as a US foreign policy tactic during the Cold War to appear forward-thinking and accepting.

David N. Pellows writes about the connection between the Black Lives Matter and environmental justice movements  -  https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2rw7p84x

The Avarna Group and the Wilderness Society teamed up and designed a curriculum for environmental educators to address colonialism, racism, and exclusion from public lands -  

https://www.wilderness.org/articles/article/public-lands-united-states-curriculum