Nylah Burton: Climate change is a race issue—here’s why

Black, brown and indigenous people around the world are already bearing the brunt of the environmental crisis, showing how racial and climate justice are inseparable

Vogue India, 21 June, 2020

For many people, climate change is a modern-day phenomenon. But for black and indigenous people, as well as other colonised people of colour, we know that the roots of the environmental crisis go back much further and are inseparable from racial injustice

The exploitation of our planet’s natural resources has always been closely linked to the exploitation of people of colour. My 72-year-old grandmother, Clara, was a sharecropper in Alabama during the late 1950s. From the age of 11, she was forced to work the same fields her enslaved ancestors had, pricking her finger on the boll of the cotton, sucking the blood out as she fearfully looked down, worried about poisonous snakes striking her heels. She tended to the land, helping white folks extract everything that could be sold. As she grew up, eventually leaving Alabama, she never wanted to touch the land again. It was full of too much pain and too much fear.

Attempting to dismantle the main drivers of climate change, including fossil fuel industries, is impossible if we do not dismantle the systems that uphold white supremacy, built to make a profit off the backs of black, brown and indigenous people. For it is this evil, which stretches back to when colonisation began, that has led humanity to its greatest existential crisis yet. 

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