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Systemic Racism & Sustainability: How We Move from Talk to Action

2020 has become a reckoning for American culture through the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the ominous storms in the east and the apocalyptic wildfires of the west.

We are inherently linked through our biology, ecology, economy, the legacy of white supremacy and oppression. Now is the time to shake the foundation of how we operate as a society. Systemic racism infiltrates every aspect of who we are and how we interact with each other.

Sustainability centers around leaving the world a better place for the next generation. This implicitly covers all people with no qualifiers. However, sustainability practices have notoriously catered to the wants and needs of the wealthier majority, while excluding the most vulnerable communities by lack of engagement and practice. Sustainability must become synonymous with racial equity.

But how?

First, say the words. "Racial Justice." "Racial Equity." "Discrimination." Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Denounce white supremacy. And if you don’t think it exists, educate yourself. Noted author Beverly Daniel Tatum reminds us, "It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence." A recent example from the New York Times includes a biracial couple living in an affluent neighborhood who received a substantially lower home appraisal — until they removed their family photos of the Black wife and white husband. On Oct. 7, the Chicago Times reported that a Black resident experienced a $60,000 difference in an appraisal because of her race. This discrimination extends to healthcare and environmental harm. A June medical study links air pollution and extreme heat from climate change to pregnancy risk that disproportionately affects Black women.

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