Intersectional Environmentalism: I’m Still Learning

Besma wears black t-shirt and cream linen romper

I am anti-racist. I stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous and POC Communities & the Planet. I am an intersectional environmentalist.

These above statements are beliefs I have held for a long time now, but rarely outwardly stated. In fact, I’ve been scared to state them. Scared to make the leap into intersectional environmentalism.

Today, I wanted to go into that a bit more, and talk to you about something that’s been troubling me for a while now, as well as the importance of making the content you consume more intersectional (and if you’re a content creator, making the content you create intersectional too).

If you’re wondering what Intersectional Environmentalism is, this post by Green Girl Leah sums it up brilliantly, and invites you to also make a pledge to be an intersectional environmentalist:

“[Intersectional Environmentalism] is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality.

Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet.”

Why I Haven’t Spoken Up Before

From the beginning, I’ve always felt like my work in the sustainability space has had its shortcomings. I imagine part of this is irrational: imposter syndrome, competitiveness in the digital content space, and the all-too-easy follower-count comparisons don’t help. But part of it is valid.

In this space, there is a thinly-veiled disdain for people like myself: sustainable fashion/lifestyle bloggers who work with brands. Oh the irony! You tell us to reduce consumption and then share lists of places to shop. This disdain comes from a small percentage of readers and creators alike.

Yes, I acknowledge that my work creates demand for consumption. And no, I’m not going to argue that I’m providing resources that channel existing consumption through to sustainable brands.

Yes, I work with brands. Again, I won’t argue that I only work with brands whose values I genuinely share, and whose products I genuinely like, that my reviews are always truthful, and I turn down paid partnerships when they don’t fit (or I get turned down when I ask questions the brand doesn’t like).

Because despite the criticism, building a successful blog hasn’t ever been my end goal. Despite writing for 5+ years, sharing posts on why fast fashion is bad, and how to live more sustainably, I never quite felt like my lone voice, at best independent media, at worst social media influencer, was enough to revolutionise people’s behaviour so they consider people and planet alongside price tags, or revolutionise business so that it places people and planet in equal importance to profit.

Blogging was my doorway into understanding sustainability. Back when I was a student, blogging gave me a voice, a community, a cause. I could contribute, despite not having much income to spend or a business or charity to create impact with.

All along, blogging was never the end goal. For a long time, I planned to build my blog to a point where I could create a brand of my own, and start changing things from inside the industry. This was still my belief up until 2018, where I started realising that nobody needs another sustainable t-shirt.

Frustrated, I went back to the drawing board. What could I do to support sustainability further than on an individual level? To really make change, I wanted to come at this from a combination of an individual and collective level.

So, after much thought I started Ethical Influencers. The hope was to launch a free platform for similar creators with different voices, heritages, and approaches to sustainability who would connect with one another, amplify educational messages, and change the way influencers are viewed online. My work here is still ongoing (and for full transparency, it is funded by my sponsored content on Curiously Conscious, and by connecting influencers with brands on the platform. This ensures membership is, and will always be, free).

Despite the success of the Ethical Influencers platform, my work as a whole has only gone on to create a vacuum. One where social justice is missing, on-the-ground work is missing. Content remains at surface-level, on an individual-level. Sure, I’ve welcomed many people into the sustainability space, and provided easy ways to get people thinking. But it’s never really gone any deeper than that.

This month’s protests against racism towards BIPOC and white supremacy, has again made me realise that despite my efforts, I’m not doing enough. Content like my guide to supporting black-owned sustainable businesses ease me back into content creation, but I’m still left with an itch I can’t scratch. I still feel like to have a real impact, I need to go further. Keep my content intersectional.

Only, I don’t think I’m the right person to learn from.

I’m An Advocate, Not An Expert

You might be surprised to know that my formal education is in International Business & French. Yes, I have a degree in it. Je parle français. Un peu. I also have some workplace training for copywriting, and professional experience in marketing. But when it comes to sustainability, environmentalism, and fashion, I am totally self-taught.

This isn’t a bad thing. When I get a new item to try, I view it as a shopper, not an industry insider. That same customer point-of-view has meant that my reviews of sustainable high-street fashion literally involved me walking into stores and saying “this line is boring” or “this ad is greenwashing”, and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

But when it comes to understanding structural racism, matters of privilege, and the complex connection of heritage and identity, I don’t think a “learn as I go” approach is appropriate.

Part of the reason is because I have issues connecting with my own mixed heritage, straddling the line between white and POC. And part of the reason is because if I started sharing this type of content, I’d be missing the point entirely.

Don’t learn from me – learn from someone who is an expert in intersectional environmentalism, whose study and work is grounded in these topics.

Intersectional Environmentalism: Resources & Experts

To that end, I wanted to share the places I have already received an education from, as well as other networks, resources, and experts who are paving the way on intersectional environmentalism:

Understanding Intersectional Environmentalism

To get started, I’d recommend reading Leah Thomas‘ piece in Vogue: Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist. She powerfully explains why she’s felt let down by the environmentalist community and why people of colour are more exposed to the effects of the climate crisis.

It is our duty to be anti-racist, and remove structural barriers that can enable BIPOC to invest time and energy in creating climate solutions.

Understanding Structural Racism vs Individual Racism

The next step I’ve taken is to learn more about black history, colonialism, and how this has shaped structures to create white privilege.

Last year, Afua Hirsch’s book, Brit(ish) gave me a real insight into understanding the differences and subtleties of heritage and privilege.

Now, I’m reading Reni Eddo Lodge‘s book, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. This book is written in a way that’s so easy to read and understand, but so uncomfortable to hear. I also recommend Reni’s podcast, About Race.

Also on my reading list is Layla F. Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, and Black Nature by Camille T. Dungy.

Intersectional Environmentalists To Follow

With Black Lives Matter becoming a viral movement on social media, there were a few posts and accounts that really laid a foundation for the tone and appropriate action to take. People who I recommend following:

Intersectional Environmentalist Resources

And for deeper learning, I’m currently dedicating time to following Slow Factory Foundation‘s course on Sustainability Literacy. I’m also looking forward to their upcoming Open Education programs.

If you’re looking for something more instant, be sure to sign the 15 Percent Pledge.

And I’d recommend diversifying the content you consume too – Gal-dem Magazine is a great place to start.

I hope these resources help to lay a foundation of learning on intersectional environmentalism for you. I’ll still learning too, taking notes and actioning ways to make my own work more intersectional, both here on Curiously Conscious, over at Ethical Influencers, and as a citizen of the UK and the world.

The hope is to now colour my work with this knowledge – going further in my blog posts, putting together resources in the Ethical Influencers community. But to truly understand it, I would rather you learn from these experts, than my current, naïve voice.

(P.S. If you have any other additions for these lists, please pop me a comment and I’ll be sure to add them.)

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2 Comments

  1. June 19, 2020 / 7:59 pm

    Great post Besma. I recommend Mary Annaise Heglar x

    • besma
      Author
      June 22, 2020 / 10:54 am

      Thank you for the recommendation Ismay – I’ll be sure to check out her work!

      B x

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