Indigenous people and people of color are calling for a place in the national conversation on climate action. A recent report shows that the environmental movement has a serious diversity problem, sidelining the very communities that are most affected by the issues the movement addresses—pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change. Research shows that in 2014, “people of color were 36% of the US population, but they made up no more than about 12% of environment organizations studied” and that “95 percent of the $60 billion in annual foundation funding for all causes goes to organizations led by white people.”
Not only will the environmental movement see more unique and relevant perspectives by becoming more inclusive, it can expect better outcomes with people like Bernadette Demientieff driving solutions. Demientieff, a representative for the indigenous Gwich’in nation, writes, “I feel that all of our voices are important, but it’s just, it’s personal for us. This is not a job for us. There’s just a lot at stake."
How It Affects You
If there are environmental initiatives at your organization or on your campus, take a look at how you can increase diversity among these teams. Consider planning environmental action events with the awareness that people of color may not automatically feel welcome, especially if those already involved are mostly white.
The practice of cataloging and classifying information in libraries is meant to make information accessible to the patrons—but what if the classification methods used in U.S. libraries are inherently biased? Seasoned librarian and researcher Amanda Ros cites the Library of Congress as an example; in 2016, the library tried to change one of its subject headings from “illegal aliens” to “noncitizens” and “unauthorized immigration,” but was overruled by the House of Representatives a few months later, based on “the language of federal laws.” Ros also points out white American men remain the standard by which general subject headings are created. While a book about male astronauts would be categorized under “Astronauts,” women are sub-categorized as “women astronauts” or “African American women astronauts”—and the latter two could place a book in entirely different sections of the library. Ros cautions patrons not to assume that library search terms are up-to-date, explaining that while “catalogers try to be unbiased when applying subject headings and call numbers... established subjects are created and adapted based on societal norms.”
As Ros explains in the article, “by prioritizing certain subjects over one another, it might be more difficult for readers to find what they’re looking for.” Like all human-made institutions, even libraries aren’t completely devoid of bias—and the way these biases manifest can have a tangible impact on the way certain groups of people are researched and understood.
How It Affects You
It’s important to take institutional practices with a grain of salt, even in cornerstones of progress like libraries. Consider whether the language commonly used in your institution discusses different groups of people with respect, empathy, and accuracy.
When Aditi Juneja, whose tremor makes it hard for her to write, learned that the college admissions scandal involved falsifying medical documents to allow students extended time on college entrance exams, she was furious. She writes, “I do feel deep contempt for the people abusing these accommodations so they can succeed in a system that is built for them.” She reflects on how difficult it was for her to accept that she needed extended time for tests, and how sometimes her embarrassment kept her from accepting the extra time. She also describes how complicated it is to get extended time in the first place. Juneja is concerned that the admissions scandal will increase suspicion of students with actual disabilities who request extended time, and she points out that suspicion will “impact most acutely those who are also marginalized due to race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, or gender identity.”
This piece touches on a key learning point about disability discrimination—people with disabilities are not less capable or intelligent, they are navigating “a world not built for them.” Accommodations were never intended to be a way of cheating, as they’ve been used in the admissions scandal. They are a way for students with disabilities to compete fairly with non-disabled peers.
How It Affects You
When you hear people talking about accommodations as if they are an unfair privilege or a “leg up,” remind them that the goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to ensure that people with disabilities “can demonstrate their true aptitude.”