Environmentalism & Intersectionality

One of the prime focuses of Shalom & Polepole is introducing intersectionality into our conversations about the environment and slow-living.

Because my professional work is predominately in social justice, anti-racism, and education reform, I often go into spaces with a lens on equity. And so it concerned me to see this very narrow narrative within the slow-living, minimalism, nature-advocacy space. The human representing these spaces is white-presenting, doesn't have a visible disability, thin, and relatively young. The human wears a simple tee, faded pants, and rugged shoes.


But at the co-ops, community gardens, camping sites, hiking trails, and farmers markets - I see brown and black people of all ages, heights, sizes, and able-bodiedness. I've witnessed people of color living slow-living minimalistic lifestyles for years. And so, I was confused.

The issue isn't just the lack of representation. Yes, diverse images are essential, but even more significant is diversity within leadership and the voices that we hear. Intersectionality must be front in center in all movements. When intersectionality is missing, then the issues of minorities are lost.

In..ter..sec - what?

Intersectionality is a term created by Kimberlé Crenshaw, that describes the various identities that create layers of exclusion and oppression. The concept is that all of our identity markers are linked - they are not separate from one another. For example, I am a black woman - you cannot separate those identities from one another. The more exclusionary identities that someone carries, the higher the discrimination. Therefore a Latinx transgender woman will experience more bias than a Latinx man, a white woman, or a cisgender person. Minority titles are compounded.


A prime example of this is the #blacklivesmatter movements and #metoo movements. Both of these movements created by black women, but yet, so few folks know the names of Charleena Lyles, Shukuri Ali, Rekia Boyd, Mya Hall, Cynthia Brown, Miriam Carey, Iyanna Dior or sweet baby girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones. In her Ted Talk, Ms. Crenshaw discusses how black women often (historically and currently) fall in the cracks within the feminism movement and the black civil rights movement. Falling in the cracks often leads to our greater oppression, neglect, and ignoring issues that relate to us, pointedly or predominately. To combat falling through the cracks, many refer to "general" feminism as white feminism and groups have created "Say Her Name" to discuss the police brutality against black women.

How does this show up in environmentalism & slow-living?

When we have folks demanding that others use paper straws while ignoring the water crisis (i.e., Flint Michigan) that people of color in low-income communities face - there is an issue. When financially privileged folks are the only voices we hear, it's easy to ignore how our treatment of the planet affects those in low-income communities.

This is often seen abroad in how America's water treatment creates a deadly crisis for folks in developing countries. But we can also look within America (i.e., Hurricane Katrina) where we see how an environmental catastrophe directly impacted those in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.


But more horrifically, when we don't use an intersectionality lens, we can be apathetic to others. A prime example is overlooking America's indigenous people's experience - Native American's cultivated and cared for the land, experienced a genocide, had their property stolen, their culture destroyed in concentration camps and then forced to live in designated spaces. And so when we discuss conservation and preservation without giving homage and credit to those that cultivated the land before us - there is an insensitivity. Or when we don't dig into the origin of our practices or lean into indigenous people's understanding, we are creating a narrative the erases brown and black contribution to our environment.


A primary goal of the slow movement is to create a space where folks begin living and advocating for sustainability. We have witnessed a world where we are thoughtless about the effects of our actions on others, ourselves, and our planet. Slow-living requires time to think about how we are all connected - how our actions (our "yes's") affect everyone around us. In the spirit of slowing down, becoming mindful, and focusing on sustainability, we can't neglect others' experiences.

Working with a lens towards interconnectedness and intersectionality allow for people, places, mindsets, and systems to live in the complexity that they deserve. It paints a full picture. It creates space for inclusivity, and that inclusivity is what we need to protect our earth.

At this point, we cannot rely on the voices and the lens of a narrow-set of folks. We need everyone's input, participation, and advocacy.


Shalom, my friends.

Shelby