I just read a few articles arguing that environmental justice and multicultural education should be integrated into environmental education, and I agree fully. I was left with a whole lot of thinking after reading one particular article about white privilege. It wasn't your typical article on racism as it did not point a finger at people who are white and blame everything on them, but it was a self reflection on the daily privileges that a white person is afforded in the country. The author, a white woman, said that this was very difficult to write, and I think I understand why. Some of the privileges that the author listed were things like:
- I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge" I will be facing a person of my race.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
Think about it. If anything, the subject is unsettling because it deflates the sense that we've earned our positions (wherever we stand financially, socially, culturally, popularly) and it makes me, personally, wonder if I got to where I am on my own merit, or as a symptom of this system of privilege. I think our egos may be the strongest reason that were are in such denial of this. Because for me to face that it was not purely a result of my own hard work that got me here is very tough.
On the flip side, this really explains the perpetuation of this system of preference and advancement. If I don't have to worry about daily interactions and constantly have to apologize for, explain or try to live above the notions of my own race, then think of how much more I can succeed in life. When people are constantly having to prove their worth or potential, energy is wasted on that which someone who is privileged could use to further their own status.
Also, when we address issues of environmental justice, where a minority group is being exploited, we need to address the issues head on and through the cultural means present. It is not enough to say that we should strive towards living in a sustainable environment through education - most of that education will never reach these types of communities. Perhaps recognizing some of our own privileges we are afforded will get us to that point.