Dear Climate Movement:
I’m with you when you say that climate change is the most important issue facing mankind. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s the most important one ever.
But, when I hear folks say — and I have heard it — that the environmental movement is the first in history to stare down an existential threat, I have to get off the train. This game of what I call “existential exceptionalism” is a losing one. It is not only inaccurate, short-sighted, and arrogant — it’s dangerous. It serves only to divorce the environmental movement from a much bigger “arc of history.”
And for me, as a Black woman from the south, it’s downright insulting.
Now, I’ll grant you, we’ve never seen an existential threat to all of humankind before. It’s true that the planet itself has never become hostile to our collective existence. But history is littered with targeted — but no less deadly — existential threats for specific populations.
For 400 years and counting, America itself has been an existential threat for Black people. I want you to know that slavery didn’t end with freedom. It just morphed into a marginally more sophisticated, still deadly machine.
I want you to know that Jim Crow — far too tame a name for its reality — was never about water fountains or bus seats or lunch counters. It wasn’t about “integration.”
Instead, I want you to imagine living in constant, crippling fear of humiliation, rape, torture, murder. In a word: terrorism. Lynching was not some abstract threat or a one-time event. It was omnipresent. It hung in the air like humidity. Or the stench of burning flesh. [Continue reading…]