In the spirit of Black History Month, the month in which we celebrate the history of Black British people, XR York rebel Emma Peute profiles some of the lesser told stories of climate activism. 

As the climate crisis will disproportionately affect Black people and other ethnic minorities, it is vital we recognise these activists and their voices and aim to do better in our anti-racist regenerative culture.

Throughout climate activist movements, Black people have been frequently erased and ignored. The climate movement as a fight against injustice can feel exclusionary or even hypocritical as a result. Many Black people and people of colour feel excluded from the movement, similarly to Tonny Nowshin, a Greenpeace activist in Germany, as she describes how “inside the movement there is a status quo, and [she is] expected to fit in.” Nowshin writes how she is “tolerated in climate spaces as long as I don’t claim the same ownership as the white activists. Black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPoC) are welcome when we fit the role of a ‘token’ or a ‘victim voice’.” 

Silencing of Black (and other ethnic minority) climate activists is a fact, and turning them instead into victims is almost endemic in the movement. It is vital to allow those that are silenced their voice in a movement for all of us, as such we must not only recognise this problem internally but aim to understand and resolve it best we can. Two tasks are ahead of us now: recognition of those that are putting themselves out there to be heard and structurally strengthening their voices to not be silenced again.

Climate Reframe, a movement to amplify the voices of ethnic minorities in the UK climate movement, has a website I highly recommend checking out, as they highlight Black climate experts and advocates doing amazing work. Here are five Black activists you should know about: 

Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim is a climate justice campaigner who has worked with the UK Youth Climate Coalition, WeMove.eu, and most recently the People’s Climate March in 2014. She is now the Co-director of the Green New Deal UK. Fatima-Zahra is a powerhouse of climate justice campaigning. 

Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert, a researcher at the European Network Against Racism, and lecturer at Ithaca College in Minorities in the UK and London-based BLM activist, writes about solidarity, intersectionality and the importance of intersectionality being the framework for action and activist practice. 

Simmone Ahiaku is an activist and coordinator of Fossil Free campaigns at People and Planet. She currently works at the National Union of Students as the campaigns and projects officer, fighting for collective liberation and solidarity to educate, and dismantle power. 

Daze Aghaji, active in XR Youth, she was the youngest person to run in an European Election, and she has featured in Global PR campaigns, wherein she aims to aid marginalised voices in acknowledging and acting upon their voice. 

Fehinti Balogun, alongside his acting career, is an active XR member, delivering talks on climate change in which he aims to include those not often heard in the conversation. 

The problem of silencing and victimising of Black voices in the climate movement cannot be resolved with inclusion and recognition alone, however. Naming names and bringing awareness to the issue does not bring about the necessary structural change within our movement that is desperately needed. 

The UK-based EMEN, the Ethnic Minority Environmental Network and MASE, the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment in the US, are movements that focus on developing a sustainable future by enabling those most affected by climate change to have a stronger voice. They focus on a variety of factors allowing for increased access to the movement and to its internal dialogue. They focus on community improvement, environmental education, youth training, and even community garden projects, to highlight and show how deeply interconnected the climate crisis is to white supremacy and racism. And the climate movement can learn from these approaches, as XR’s regenerative culture allows for inclusive and vulnerable dialogue, affirming our connected roots to deep and abiding nourishment. But what if these connections have not been nourished to the necessary extent? Our regenerative culture should allow also for a regenerative way of dealing with our internal problems, however uncomfortable and real. 

Racism and the silencing of Black voices is detrimental to a movement that fights for justice. Through actions aiming at increased access and inclusion of all voices through regenerative practice, we, as part of the climate activist movement, should be aware of the erasing victimisation narratives, and instead celebrate those Black activists that are part of us. So I turn now to the foundation of the movement, Demand 0: A Just Transitiona recent addition to XR York’s demands. Affirming that climate justice is not separate from social justice, executing this demand starts with ourselves. 

As XR York, we promise to proactively build relationships with marginalised communities by centring their voices and being accountable to ourselves and them. We believe we are responsible for listening, self-educating and not assuming ownership of the dialogue.

Let us bring those voices historically silenced to the forefront, giving us all the space to take ownership of a movement for justice. Justice for all. 

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