Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sustainability and White Privilege

Fifth in a series of posts about the January Board meeting

There is probably no issue more pressing to the survival of ourselves and our planet than global warming and the toxic effects of what we have been doing to the Earth. Recognizing that, several of us argued forcefully for elevating “sustainability” in our ENDS to a premier position. Twice I heard one of our Board members of color state that they could not in good conscience elevate this concern over our anti-oppression efforts – and then I suddenly got it.

It is hard to be concerned about environmental effects on future generations when you are not sure you and your family will make it through the week. Most of us learned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Psych 101 – too many of our brothers and sisters are struggling on the bottom levels of that hierarchy. Many of us forget that not having to do so is a privilege that is often tied to our race or ethnicity. I was able to get a good education that lifted me out of fairly humble beginnings, but was also supported by a stable family that was capable of instilling certain value systems that work in the dominant culture, and a system that saw me as capable and worthy of investment.

Interestingly, the concept of sustainability includes anti-oppression, though many of us think of it in only environmental terms. According to my friend, CJ Hunter, Principle of Leading Sustainability, there are three pillars of sustainability: “economy, equity, and environment” or “people, planet, prosperity”. She bemoans the fact that the term is often connected only to environment, when you really cannot be sustainable without all three.

We often hear more about the environmental aspect of sustainability because that has been viewed as the weakest - which is probably not the view of those having to face societal oppression on a daily basis.

Next post: Business is Booming

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