My journey - guest blog by Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley
Jasmine spoke at CSE’s 40th anniversary conference about her experience in the environmental movement
19 June 2019
Jasmine's presentation, in which she discussed the lack of representation in environmental movements and what we should be doing to actively include people from BME backgrounds in the conversation, was so well received we asked her to reproduce it in a guest blog ...
So we're all here to talk about sustainability and the challenges related to accelerating change right?
I spent a while thinking what on earth am I going to say to a hall full of people about sustainability? I’m not a scientist, I’m not an academic. What could I possibly say?
Then I thought the best thing I could do is share my experiences, share my journey and the reasons I want to be part of the environmental movement today. And also to ask why there are gaps in inclusivity and what we can learn from this.
So let’s start with me in my last year of university at the University of the West of England, finishing with a 2:1 in International Relations and Journalism. This was a proud moment for my mum who never had the chance to go to university due to mental health issues and having me at the age of 17.
Before university, I never really spoke with her about the environment and politics or activism - especially the activism bit because I thought she’d call me a hippy. She did call me a hippy and she still does.
Back then, it was all about, hospitals and if there was enough money on the electric and gas, looking after my brother who has autism, what we were going to do for food, getting me through school. The daily grind. We didn’t have the time, or the privilege to talk about the environment because our immediate environment was always balancing on a knife edge; our immediate environment could disappear right in front of our eyes if we didn’t prioritise and focus on surviving. But it was something that I was starting to care about more and more. I just didn’t have the time or socioeconomic privilege to prioritise it.
Coming to Bristol changed lots of things in my life. Having a student loan and grant gave me the luxury of time to think on a level that I had never had before. And with Bristol being in such a politically outspoken city, I was introduced to activism for the first time.
I met people who said that if we met up and shouted, and spoke with others about big issues such as sustainability and threats to the environment to the planet we could make a difference; we can make people listen. Those experiences ignited a spark of inspiration and a feeling that anything is possible!
I started going to demonstrations and meetings and talking about these big issues. I did that for 4 years, but after a while I had an odd sense of still kind of not feeling welcome, not feeling like I belonged.
You see at the time I was also going through a lot of personal upheavals, going back to my roots, relearning my black history and understanding what that meant for my identity as a mixed heritage woman. This made me really want to connect with people in the black community who had the same passion for me in environmental activism. At the meetings and demonstrations I met only six people from BME backgrounds in those four years. Six.
I wanted to know how a young woman full of excitement and passion to make change found it hard to feel included in this bubbling, exciting environmental movement in Bristol. Even though no one had told me I was not welcome and everyone was very encouraging towards me to get involved.
This led me to try to understand how diversity intersects conversations on sustainability, and why there is seemingly such a lack of diversity in the environmentalist movement.
Bridging the gap
In 2017, I was asked alongside my colleague Zakiya Mckenzie to become a Green & Black ambassador for Bristol looking into issue of diversity in the environmental sector. We devised research and initiated conversations and made programmes for Ujima Radio to raise awareness of this word 'diversity' and why this was important to the environmental movement.
From the community the message was clear:
- We are already ‘green’.
- The conversations are too academic.
- When there are conversations, we have little or no representation.
- Those conversations are always held in the same spaces.
We met up with the Slimbridge Wetland Centre just outside of Bristol in 2017 and had similar discussions with them and people that didn’t normally access their services and got them to ask and answer some very difficult questions. It was a really positive exercise and resulted in Slimbridge thinking more about how to actively make sure everyone could access their services - and would want to.
That's Bristol. But what about the world? How do the realms of racism and climate change and environmentalism collide? These three slides illustrate a serious problem, a result of our decisions and past and current expolitation ...
So what next?
I’ve spoken about my journey into the environmental movement, I’ve explained how people from BME backgrounds felt about inclusivity in the environmental movement and access in Bristol. And I’ve just touched on how things are in the world because I just want to highlight that it’s an issue with a lot of grey area and isn't just about inviting other voices to the conversation but understanding that those other voices also have no choice but to be involved on the receiving end in other parts of the world.
The fight for our environmental future should be something we are all doing together. We all live on the planet together. It is a joint responsibility. The same goes for the UK, for Bristol.
There are people out there ready and willing to join in the conversation on sustainability and the environment but what are we actively doing to make sure they are sat at that table with us? Are we going out of our way to ensure that? Are we just meeting equality quotas and ticking boxes to do that?
Or are we investing time and money, and going out of our comfort zone to ensure we represent a sustainable future that includes everyone?
Do not be passive, be active in this.
In the world, people of colour are the most impacted by climate change, in this city people of colour are the most affected by the effects of pollution. This is about real people being displaced, being exploited, and dying. So shouldn’t we be actively making sure everyone involved in thinking of solutions to these crises?
My main point here is to make sure people see that inclusivity and socioeconomic disparity are more layers at the heart of negative environmental impacts to the planet. Maybe it’s something you already know?
Let’s start paying people from BAME communities to have actual jobs in the sustainability movements and not just asking them to sit on boards and be in pictures. They care and have valuable input too!
The environmental movement is too white - that’s why in my four years in Bristol I only met six people from BME backgrounds. For someone who was really eager to be part of the movement, it was a massive blow to my enthusiasm. We need to talk about this more and find solutions.
As Naomi Klein has said, we need to move forward in “ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too”.
All of these things come together when I think of the environmentalist movement because they are a part of my identity and obstacles I have to face.
Maybe they are not part of your identity, but I hope that hearing my story gives you some insight into why it's important and why we must work better, together.