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9 Ways to Help Environmental and Racial Justice

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The global Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. As of August 1, 2020, the United States has lost 157,000+ people in less than five months. Those numbers are staggering and rising daily. There has been civil unrest, protests, riots, millions of people unemployed (my mother included), and many (in the U.S.) have lost their health insurance. There’s so much suffering. It’s easy to feel powerless, but we’re NOT. Even during these perilous times, we can take ACTION for others and ourselves. This is the true essence of what it means to be zero waste.

If you’re not familiar with zero waste, it’s basically the opposite of overconsumption. The global economy is consumer-based, driven solely by consumption and consumer spending. It’s why the Covid-19 virus has inadvertently reduced pollution levels all around the world. In the U.S., consumer spending makes up 70% of our gross domestic product (GDP).

The zero waste mantra directly contradicts this way of life: Refuse, reduce, reuse, rehome, repair, rot, and then recycle.

Zero waste is also very personal because it asks what can you as an individual can do to help. Our problems are vast, but it always begins with individual action, which turns into collective action. It only takes 3.5% of the population to create and sustain a movement. It reminds me of my favorite quote. I know this is cheesy, but I heard it from a television show. Yep, a television show I rarely watch, called ‘Madam Secretary.’ When fictional Secretary of State, Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) asks her husband to do something ethically questionable, Henry McCord (Tim Daly) responds, “When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you find it in yourself.”

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9 Ways You Can Help Environmental and Racial Justice

1. Invite Input from People of Color

As a black/indigenous person of color (bipoc) who grew up working class, I know about racism and classism but I’ve recently learned that many in the zero waste movement aren’t as aware as I thought they were.⁣ The zero waste movement has often been labeled elitist, ableist, and non-inclusive. And you know what, they’re not wrong. ⁣

invite input people of color intersectionalIn June, two major zero waste Facebook groups completely imploded. Every single racial justice post was deleted, commenting was turned off, and people were banned. It got so bad that the groups were archived. ⁣ALL of the moderators were middle to upper-middle-class white women, which is exactly who the zero waste movement is marketed to.

When someone asked if there was a person of color (POC) on the moderating team, one moderator said “We have a policy in this group NOT asking for POC to volunteer,” because they didn’t want to ask them to work for free? This was a strange reason. Isn’t that what moderating Facebook entails? Does ANYONE get paid for moderating a Facebook group? It’s impossible for POC to engage if we’re not invited to the party.

If you have a platform on social media invite a POC to participate in the discussion, highlight or feature them, or tag them. It’s really easy to be inclusive.

2. Learn about Environmentalism and Intersectionality

environmental intersectionalityWe have to acknowledge that environmental issues intersect with race and gender. Black and brown people are typically more impacted by the effects of climate change, air, and water pollution. Look at Flint, Michigan for example. The most vulnerable people often live in the most vulnerable communities. There has been a multitude of studies documenting this. Black and brown people are more likely to live near solid waste dumps, incinerators, or commercial plants.

Listed below are resources on intersectionality and environmental racism. These are important topics to cover because we need holistic pro-environmental action to address racial and social inequities or it’s not holistic. It’s just environmental action that benefits some, but not all. So the fight for racial equity IS intersectional with the environmental crisis.

RELATED CONTENT: Why We Need An Intersectional Environmental Movement


  1. Toxic Communities directly links racial segregation and city zoning to pollution in poor and minority communities.
  2. The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection shows the racial history and racist ideologies behind the U.S. conservation, parks, and recreation movement.
  3. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America digs into how the U.S. government enacted racist housing policies to create a segregated America.
  4. A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind explains how disproportionate numbers of Americans of color are more likely to have injuries caused by lead poisoning, atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste.

TED Talks

  1. Ron Finley: A guerrilla gardener in South Central LA
  2. Van Jones: The economic injustice of plastic
  3. Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto
  4. David R. Williams: How racism makes us sick
  5. Heather C. McGhee: Racism has a cost for everyone

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3. Come out of Your Comfort Zone

come out of comfort zone race relationsIt’s difficult during Covid-19, but hopefully, once conditions improve, we can get back to socializing again. We stay in our comfort zone for a reason. It’s comfortable! But now is the time to GET UNCOMFORTABLE.

I told this story on my Instagram page. My husband is white. I attend a predominately black church. When he first attended with me it was uncomfortable for him because he’s never been a minority in the room. As a POC, we experience it so often we may not even notice it, but for him, it was a strange, new experience he didn’t know how to process at first.

  1. Acknowledge that systemic racism and internalized racism exists. This is an uncomfortable truth.
    • If you’re white it means that you’ve benefitted from a system because of your skin color. If you’re a bipoc you may have internalized racist ideology against your own ethnicity because of the society you grew up in.
  2. Actively rebut prejudices in your own social circle. It’s easy to be silent. It’s HARD to speak up.
  3. Get to know someone who is different from you. You may find out how much you have in common.
  4. Have difficult conversations with friends and family members.
  5. It’s ok to embrace awkwardness. It gets easier.

4. Focus on Change Beyond Symbolism

no virtue signaling cancel culture go beyond actionsSymbolism is important, but change shouldn’t end at symbolism. Removing ‘Gone with the Wind‘ from HBO Max, kneeling in Kente cloth, taking down racist statues, or painting streets is not why people protested. We need more social services and less violent policing. Less mandatory sentencing and more social workers.

When someone is having a mental health crisis, we need mental health professionals. Jails were never meant to be drug rehab centers, but they are. Poor communities need more fresh food stands in food deserts, better schools, and housing for the homeless. There are serious societal problems that the police cannot solve.

We also need more POC in boardrooms, a lower black/indigenous maternal mortality rate, livable wages, daycare vouchers, and healthcare. We need a society that helps working-class people find better footing economically, thereby helping them better participate as citizens (NOT CONSUMERS). It’s hard to focus on government policies on climate change when rent is due and you have no healthcare.

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5. VOTE, Volunteer, and Donate

politics protests racial justice voteLocal elections are important. Our local politics affects our daily lives more than our national politics. Does your Mayor care about the homeless? Does your city council care about affordable housing? No? Then you have work to do in your community.

  1. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Someone else is likely working on the problem. Look for a charity in your community that focuses on your cause. Pick up the phone, talk to the leaders, ask what you can do to help, or ask how you can petition local leaders to help your community.
  2. Vote, volunteer, and donate to politicians who do NOT take money from corporations or consider running for office yourself. This is imperative. Anti-trust laws and guidelines were gutted in the 1980s and 90s. It shouldn’t surprise us that anti-competitive behavior is now running rampant. Companies are bigger, with bigger market shares (some may say monopolistic). It’s pervasive. Our government has been bought by corporations. The only way to stop it is to vote out every politician who takes corporate money. Our government is supposed to REGULATE, not CAPITULATE.
  3. ⁣There is a solution to this problem. Revisit anti-trust and tax laws in the executive and legislative branches. Why are billion-dollar companies paying $0 in federal income taxes? These corporations still use federal infrastructure, like roads, bridges, and roads. Taxing these corporations could pay for climate action, better jobs, schools, housing for the homeless, healthcare, and mental health funding. We need politicians who care about working people and who will raise taxes to protect its citizenry and the environment.

6. Uplift Others – Don’t Shame

no virtue signaling cancel cultureIt’s important to speak up without virtue signaling or shaming others. I want to distinguish “cancel culture” from “call-out culture.” Calling someone out for their words or actions is about accountability, which is different than canceling them. It also allows people to make amends and gives them room to change.

Canceling people is a bit different. It removes their voices from the conversation because you don’t agree with them. I used to work in politics. I’m used to people disagreeing with me. For me, it’s the way that people disagree that’s important. If someone disagrees in a respectful manner (NO hateful rhetoric), then I will engage with them. It’s ok if we fundamentally disagree because we SHOULD talk to people we don’t agree with. That’s how WE ALL learn.

If you want to convince someone of your point, don’t insult their intelligence, talk down to them, or call them names. Insulting someone will immediately put them on the defensive (and rightfully so). Psychologists have determined that our brains interpret humiliation as physical pain. If we are publicly called out and told “YOU’RE WRONG” our brains react as though we are in physical pain.

That doesn’t mean we can’t speak truth to misconception. We can and we should. We can speak in an assertive, tactful manner that doesn’t denigrate or humiliate, yet shows our authority to speak on this subject.

7. Support a black-owned business

support black owned business racial justiceBusinesses have been hit hard during the pandemic. Minority-owned businesses are especially vulnerable during economic recessions and depressions, so they need your support. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “the number of African-American business owners plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April 2020.” Meaning 41% of Black-owned businesses went out of business during the COVID-19 crisis. To effect change, we have to withdraw our support from certain industries and shift our support elsewhere. This is part of the zero waste mantra.

  1. Look at your online bank statement. What companies are you giving business to? Audit this list to see where you can shift your support.
  2. You can support black-owned business owners on EtsyWe Buy Black, I am Black, Eat Okra, Black Wallstreet App, and Support Black Owned.
  3. Please support the Blackout Coalition on Facebook and Instagram and like other black-owned businesses on social media.

8. Show Support 

show support social medial environmental intersectionalWe’re still in the middle of a global epidemic. So how can we support social justice, while taking our own needs into consideration?⁣

  1. Donate to social causes like Minnesota Freedom Fund, My Block My Hood My City, Navaho Water Project, Black and Brown Founders, DREAM, Autistic People of Color Fund, and the Advancement Project to name a few.
  2. Show support on social media. It may feel like lazy activism but it helps because others who are afraid to support #blacklivesmatter will be emboldened by you. They know they’re not alone and it’s ok for them to show their support too. It also helps POC see that you’re standing in solidarity with them.
  3. Don’t Fall for “Faketivism.” Major corporations are happy to put black lives matter on their social media pages, while disparaging working-class black and brown people in their workforce. It becomes clear when we see corporations engaging in fake activism. Examine the companies you purchase from. Do they have a track record of accountability and transparency? How are they helping racial and social inequity? Where and how are their products made? These are the questions we should be asking.

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9. Help an Individual in Need

help others zero waste racial justicePeople helping people is an important part of our zero waste journey. If we’re going to make it through these perilous times, we need to help each other.

  1. If you see a homeless person asking for money, give them $5. You don’t need to worry about what they will spend the money on. Your focus is on helping people who are out of work and low on food.
  2. If you’re in a Facebook group, ask if anyone needs a free bag of groceries. With apps like Shipt or Instacart, grocery delivery is more accessible and affordable.⁣ Don’t judge someone’s situation. 
  3. Does a new mom need some diapers or clothes for her baby?
  4. Encourage someone. There are nonfinancial ways that we can help. Empathy and concern for others is our mission.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on the importance of racial and social justice in the environmental movement If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share with me in the comments or on Instagram

#environmentalracism, #howtohelp, #intersectionality, #socialjustice

environmental racial justice ways to helpintersectional environmentalism racial equityways to help environmental racial justice


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