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Parallels in Antiracism and Climate

02/24/2021 5:31 PM | Anonymous

by Catherine Strickland

There are important parallels between the Antiracism Movement and the Climate Change Movement.  Neither racism nor climate change are experience directly by everyone, which means many of us can live our lives without being aware of either except when we hear an occasional news story.  For those who do experience them directly, their effects can be devastating or even deadly.  Climate change is felt directly through melting icecaps and permafrost, changing migration patterns, devastating wildfires, drought and intense flooding.  Racism is felt directly through microaggressions, systemic inequality, violence and intimidation.   


Just as with climate change, the fact of systemic racism is based on data, research, and observation in addition to the testimony of millions of BIPOC across North America.  The case for systemic racism and the data that support it are no less compelling than that of climate change.

The data that tell us that systemic racism exists is vast and undeniable.  A few samples include:
  • Canada’s “Indian Act”
  • The report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report
  • Statistics on the disparity in outcomes for BIPOC in Canada regarding health, wealth, mortality, access to education, justice and employment
  • Research on racial bias which consistently shows that the majority of white people have unconscious racial bias.
  • Research by the CUC Dismantling Racism Study Group that has received testimonials from dozens of BIPOC UUs on the racism they have experienced within our faith community.
As with climate change, there are people who, in the face of overwhelming evidence, continue to deny that systemic racism exists, and resist the changes needed to address it.  This push back takes many forms, including critiquing the validity of various theories.  This is what the critiques of Critical Race Theory and White Supremacy Culture are. While these theories are valuable, they are academic exercises that inform some of our thinking but are neither the heart nor the soul of the fact of systemic racism. Spending time debating critiques of these theories distracts us from the real work that we need to be doing, wastes time and energy and causes division in our community over inconsequential issues. With climate change, we recognize these tactics for what they are, fear of change and/or short term self interest.  So why, when it comes to antiracism, do we give them credibility?  

To continue the analogy, we are all complicit in contributing to climate change and that doesn’t mean we are bad people.  We don’t run around calling each other “Climate Changists” and requiring people to repent for their ways.    We recognize the difference between climate deniers - people actively engaged in undermining progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions -  and people who want to reduce their carbon footprint but can’t get to net zero because of lack of choice or lack of knowledge.  To address climate change, we support people to understand how their actions and choices impact climate change, we recognize the need for changes to our laws, policies and programs so that we can reduce our carbon footprint, and we recognize that there may be things we need to sacrifice for the wellbeing of all.  

It is the same with antiracism work. No one is calling people who are unwittingly complicit in racism “White Supremacists”.  No one believes that people who unconsciously or unknowingly perpetuate racism are bad people.   We know that white supremacists do exist - people who intentionally uphold systemic racism, at times using violence and intimidation to do so - and we know most people are unaware that the things they themselves say uphold systemic racism.  To address systemic racism, we need to understand the issue, the causes, the behaviors and choices that perpetuate systemic racism and then try to make different choices.  We need to engage in changing the systems and laws that uphold systemic racism and we may need to make some individual sacrifices for the wellbeing of all.

Finally, as with climate change, the solutions to systemic racism have many benefits including a more just and equitable society, greater safety for everyone, healthier communities, fewer traumatized people and lower rates of incarceration.  So, even if we don’t fully agree about the existence of systemic racism, the solutions we are calling for bring us all closer to living the ideals of Unitarianism. And isn’t that what we are all about anyway?

We are building an anti-racist movement of white Unitarian Universalists to dismantle white supremacy in ourselves, our congregations, and communities.

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