28 times black people were effortlessly environmentalists

Zero Waste

i got inspired by all the posts wishing me a happy black history month, that i had to jump in and big up the numerous ways that black folks stunt in the world of sustainability. and no, this isn’t a list filled with facts about 28 eco-leaders in the black community, that’s a whole other post that needs to be published.

this is 28 things commonly known in the black community that we take for granted, but are very much so actions of environmentalism. and it’s more than 28 ways, i could go on for millions of years, like my ancestors, but we’re sticking to 28 because, well, you know why. 

1. black people reuse old containers. whether is that tin can that had shortbread cookies in it one christmas, or butter tubs, or that crisco can full of grease. instead of purchasing tupperware made from virgin materials, we cut back on manufacturing and go the ‘feed two birds with one hand’ route. if i buy this butter tub, i will have butter now, and a food container later. genius!

2. emancipated ourselves through slave revolts and the underground railroad. yup, our most warrior moves in our modern history, was also an anti capitalist move. this is huge! capitalism, and the consumerism by product, is the biggest contributors to climate change; it exploits natural resources like metals found in your phone and coal used to light factories. our demand for things whether it’s cotton to make a pair of trousers in the 1700s or a new cellphone in 2018;  it’s all increasing unused carbon in the air.by resisting, we slowed down demand. also, since agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change because of pesticides by abandoning the agriculture fields, where sugar and cotton both strip the soil of it’s nutrients, we gave the land a major rest.

3. our mommas told us to ‘turn off the damn lights.’ yes, she was trying to save her coins, and why not?! the energy system is monopolized anyways, why spend money with a company you are forced to be in a relationship with. two, cutting down on electricity is cutting doing on fossil fuels (coal or gas) extracted from the earth. this is important because carbon is energy, and energy is never gained or loss, it simply goes some where else. so keeping your momma’s kitchen light on when you not in there, means more coal with be extracted from earth, burnt to put energy into a grid and then sent to your momma’s house via a power line. once the energy it burnt it is exhausted into the air. so instead of that energy being in in the ground it’s now in the atmosphere, making the air warmer, making places that aren’t typically hot like the Arctic, melting archaic ice, rising sea levels, and in the future possibly pushing you and your momma out of your house because of horrible flood damage, and now your property is considered a floodplain. 

4. multiple families living in a single home. my family like many black families and even families of color have lived with multiple people outside of their nuclear family in the house. most of my childhood, some extended family lived in my parents’ house. my aunt and her kids, my uncle, godmother, granddad. how is a crowded house an environmental plus? homes take up lots of energy, imagine all those people forgetting to turn off your mommas lights. :-D trying to keep homes warm or cold require an insurmountable amount of energy, the more people in one house means less energy usage, also more body heat. and don’t front like your favorite memories weren’t created in a house full of people. 

5. our elders tell us ‘no ins and outs.’ again, an issue of energy usage, when children run in and out of the house they ar eletting air (or heat) out of the house making our controlled climate sysmtem to work harder to keep our home at a certain temperature. 

6. when yall packed snacks for outings. moms probably made an amazing tuna salad for the beach. you may have missed out on boardwalk fries and pizza slices, but look at the upside, oyu avoided so much packaging all those years. 

7. when the matrons kept a few good plants. whether it’s hanging from a macrame-styled planter or in her garden, greenery is always good for the air. also photosynthesis is a sink in the carbon cycle, meaning is absorbs carbon helping to decrease carbon in the atmosphere. 

8. when families sit on the porch. a seemingly idle activity, but it is a huge element of community activism. how else are neighbors suppose to talk about their kids asthma, the rotting smells of landfills, or getting more fresh foods into their neighborhood? on the porch is where conversations are sparked that could lead to policy change, closing landfills, or even, the drafting of something as powerful as the ‘principles of environmental justice”. also, healthy communities = healthy planet.

9. when that plastic grocery bag has 237 lives. conditioner cap, fried chicken batter bag, lunch box, bathroom trashcan liner. it’s in our DNA to be resourceful, why buy cheap single use showers caps when you can use a plastic bag before you turn it into a trash bag?

10. seeing the potential in a 98% empty toothpaste tube. there’s no such things as waste, and there’s still toothpaste in that tube. my trick? pinch the head of your tooth brush directly into the tube cap. 

11. our enslaved ancestors made a meal out of pig intestines. being from a 5% household, i’ve never been into pork, but i find beauty in my ancestors’ ingenuity to turn literal shit into sugar. this is zero waste at best. globally family of the diaspora have used every part of their preferred animal. the ancient tribes of the americas who use every part of the buffalo, my carribean yardies who can cook a mean goat and save the leftover for mannish water. zero waste takes a lot of creativity, to avoid the trash can, the most convenient, yet unfortunate option.  

12. when you sick, take a nap. medical care, one of the largest expenditures for the american budget. lot’s of infrastructure, products and people banking on your sickness so they can ‘cure’ you. chances are high that you can sleep off whatever is wrong with you, before you need to go to see a physician. 

13. the montgomery bus boycotts. for 381 days, black commuters in montgomery, opted-out of the bus system. Considering the amount of fuel it takes to get a city to work for 381 days, black commuters help to cut fossil fuel usage and decrease particulates and carbon released into the air from the bus’ tail pipes. 

14.  when we take public transit. yes, contrary to #13, but public transit i still an alternative transportation option to cars. the us has the third largest vehicle per capita at 795 people out of every 1,000 people. cars reliance contributes to climate change with exhaust of particulates making the atmosphere warmer, water runoff (subsequent flooding) from asphalt (impervious) roads, maintenance and upgrades, all demanding more manufacturing, more carbon usage.  

15.  since we still don’t have complete road infrastructure in our countries. this is tricky, because people praise roads for their ability to offer accessibility to jobs, but it also means an increase of development, gentrification, removal of indigenous folks from land they’ve stewarded for centuries, more trash flying in to sacred places, etc…. the best way i can say this is there’s no jobs on a dead planet. 

16. crafted the principles of environmental justice. in 1991 we, with our brown and yellow brothers, crafted the principles of environmental justice, during the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, shout out to Ms. Dana Alston. the list of principles is the coldest thing i’ve ever seen written on behalf of the planet. my favorite principles?  

  •  #4 Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.
  • #9 Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care. 
  • #8 Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards. 

17. black americans stayed in the south. post reconstruction era, for those of us that took the road less traveled. we stayed in the south and maintained a connection to the land. we stewarded the land, keeping rural farms in black ownership for over 100 years while also expanded their resourcefulness (see #21 remedies) as black southerners were intentionally isolated from resources (racism). shout out to fannie lou hamer.

18. moved up north. contrary to staying in the south, folks moved up north during the great migration for ‘opportunities.’ sure, there was a lot of industrial jobs, but what’s bigger than that is the minimized lifestyle. thanks to red lining, black people were racially discriminated against and only able to live in ghettos, confined to centralized areas in the uban core, making walking to work or public transit more accessible (see #14), living quarters were smaller so know need to heat an empty house ( see #4), condensed purchasing because a lack of homes square footage and funds (see #)

19. hand me downs. yall got a shirt that made it through a whole line of cousins? yea, me too. we are in a time where american hands me downs are stifling clothing markets in african countries, so getting your big cousins bedazzled jeans aint so bad. and my soap box, never buy brand new baby clothes, like fah what!?!!

20. you got mcdonald’s money. easily one of the corporations that hate black people and the planet the most. and even though that corporation hates both black people and the earth, it exploits both. micky d’s takes our money, bombards our neighborhoods, feeds us crap and makes us look like clowns in marketing campaigns. all while contributing to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes cases, so no, we ain’t got no mcdonald’s money.

21. home remedies and traditional african medicine. before capitalism saw an enterprise in the health of people, our ancestors were developing cures and ailments with plants found in nature;; tonics, elixirs, poultices, YOU NAME IT!  some modern day remedies include; red clay and vinegar for bee stings, chickweed tea if you’re sick, mint for digestion, rubbing your skin with eucalyptus to keep mosquitoes away. onions on the bottom of your feverous feet and #12 above. a few of my favorites. 

22. marooning. from north african moors to the somalian gypsies on caravans through the dessert, to the isrealites in exile from egypt to nanny in the jamaican mountains to the escaped slaves on the coasts of ecuador and columbia to the geechee folks on the gullah islands to MOVE in Philly; we are the the original off-the-griders. going into maroon communities (like many communities built after revolts and ‘making it’ north) we relied heavily on the earth for livelyhood including food and shelter, it reconnected us with the land in a very intentional way. we ain’t new to this we true to this. we’ve always been nomads, when a place doesn’t provide us with our most basic needs, we dip. this is eco-friendly for several reasons. 1. we understand the importance of living of the land, and because of that we are better stewards of the earth. 2. in maroon cases we didn’t have the infrastructure like running water, so we may have depended on natural catchment systems, 3. we likely composted food and human waste to create our own safe and sanitary waste systems.

23. black farmers. as much as we predominately run from the idea of farming, there are many black families that continue our legacy of farming. our legacy of farming didn’t start in the slave trade. matter of fact, some of us were kidnapped to american because we could grow a particular crop, like rice (which the us affectionately calls ‘carolina gold’). farmers are the most concerned citizens about the state of the planet. climate change and the human impact on agriculture could mean a food scarcity and lost of jobs. there is a growing number of young farmers filling in the intergenerational gaps between them and the elder farmers, so that we don’t loose these skills. we are grateful. 

24. being financially poor. there is a positive feedback between the increase in climate change and the increase in global affluence. and that is because as more people have more disposable income, they buy more dispensable things. for instance, shoes in every color instead of one pair of functional shoes for work. with countries like India and Chile’s growing middle class, we are over-consuming for what the planet can handle. not that it’s glamorous but being poor means that you are contributing less to climate change. in fact, the countries most vulnerable to climate change make up 70% of the world’s population, but only 3.2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

25. historically being sea explorers, alchemist, astrologists, engineers, masons. our skill sets run deep, and many ofthem are reliant on the earth. mansa musa, the world’s richest man, used a certain sea current to carry him and his 2,000 boats to the americas. also, you remember how we built those massive three triangular monuments, that were built without any construction equipment. that are aligned with the stars and the summer solstice, when the sun reaches it’s highest point in the sky.

26. literally the entire being. essence. and inspiration. that is george washington carver. carver the great, developed techniques to prevent soil depletion caused by cotton farming. one of his most notable techniques was crop rotation a practice used by many farmers (see #23) today. he also created 200 products from the peanut plant and another 100 from the sweet potato. he wrote literature on how to start self-sufficient gardens, uses for wild plants and how to compost. he is the GOAT!

27. reusing grease for frying. every black family got a old pot of grease. if not, check your pockets for your black card. the notorious pot of grease is symbolic to so many things; 1. your family understands that nothing should be single-use, you need a handful of uses out of everything, even cooking grease. 2. your mother knows how to save a good coin. 3. there’s been several crispy dinners cooked at your house. 4. the next fried meal gonna be fiy, because the flavors from the last four fryings have marinated at the bottom of the pan. 

28. midwifery. a practice we never lost through time. even, when hospital services became available to black families, some women have always preferred a midwife to deliver their babies. in this way, black midwives are helping to usher more life onto the planet; creation being the number one late of nature. their practices tend to be holistic, and  that cutbacks on epidurals and disposable hospital garbs.

that’s all folks! black people are certified everywhere, you ain’t gotta check our resumes. 


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