It should not be difficult or challenging to stand up, or kneel down, in support of the protests that call for equal justice under the law. It should not be difficult or challenging or out of the ordinary to demand that Black and Brown women and men not be killed at the hands of the police. It should not be difficult to recognize, and affirm, that racism, in all forms, runs rampant in the institutions of this country. The staff and the members of the board of trustees at the Center for Environmental Transformation stand with those demanding equal justice, that police officers stop killing Black and Brown people, and that systemic racism be torn down to build a more inclusive and just society.
Last week we posted a “Black Lives Matter” GIF on our Facebook page. Someone posted as a response: “What does that have to do with environmental transformation?” Implied in the question is the false belief that environmental injustice is somehow dissociated from racial injustice, that working for a healthier planet is somehow dissociated from working for a healthy and just society, that daring to stand with our neighbors in Camden is somehow NOT part of the work that we’ve been trying to do at CFET. Well, dear Facebook friend, you could not be more wrong.
As the Black theologian James Cone said, you cannot fight on behalf of social justice without attending to environmental injustice, and you cannot fight on behalf of environmental justice without attending to social injustice. The two involve the same mentality: the drive to denude the earth of its resources is the same mentality that reduces Black and Brown people to mere means to advance white privilege. Those in power use the earth and marginalize entire communities to advance their own positions of power and privilege.
White privilege is insidious; it must be dismantled. This is a necessity, IF we want a world that is just, that respects the dignity of each and every human being.
But what has this to do with environmental justice, our Facebook friend might still ask. If we treated each human being with dignity, we might not impose on some neighborhoods, without benefit, the burden of being a home to industries that pollute the air, the water and the soil. These industries make it possible for some to enjoy the lifestyle that they have come to expect. The contents of our toilets have to go somewhere. Our trash has to go somewhere. The refuse of our lifestyle has to go somewhere. The industries that create the items that make up our lifestyle must be located somewhere. Only in a world in which white privilege works so completely and effectively would these polluting industries disproportionately end up in communities of color, like Camden, NJ. This is racism that severely impacts the environment of people of color. The presence of these polluting industries in poor and Black or Brown communities has led to increased rates of asthma in children, increased respiratory distress for adults, decreased access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and more. This is racism, and if you stand with the protestors in the face of the death of Black men and women like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, then you must stand with the people of Waterfront South in Camden, NJ who want to have healthier air to breathe, clean water to drink, uncontaminated soil to grow their vegetables in. You cannot have one (social justice) without the other (environmental justice).
We stand with all communities who have been abused by power that manifests itself in polluting industries in their neighborhoods, who suffer increased health and safety risks, whose voice has been excluded from the decision-making table. We stand ready to offer the support that is needed, to work to amplify voices and ensure all have a rightful place at the table.
To start, we will offer resources on anti-racism and on environmental racism on our website and via social media. On an institutional level, we will evaluate our own hiring practices and internal policies to ensure the change we seek starts at home.
We invite everyone to start reading, and also to start listening; this is especially true for those of us who may be quite uneducated about these issues. There is “homework” to do for those who benefit from white privilege. There is work to do. The time is now. It is really that simple!
Board of Trustees Staff
Mark Doorley Jon Compton
Shaniqua Biles Britani Nestel
Rose Alemi Kathryn Cruz
Erica Figueroa Dimitrius Eliza
 Cf. James Cone, “Whose Earth Is It Anyway?” Cross Currents (Spring/Summer 2000), 36-46.