Meeting Climate Change with Art: The Intersection of Race

This week starts with a particularly heavy subject – The intersection of race and climate change.

So, I’m going to jump straight into it with a fantastic Ta-Nehisi Coates excerpt shared to me by our fellow artist Cassidy Klein. The following is from Between the World and Me. Read it! This excerpt is too powerful to abbreviate.

“… Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of our private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmitting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky.

Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the earth of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me)

… Now that is writing that leaves me speechless… 

Coates articulates the deep spirit that is at play in climate change. It is that same spirit that pushes Black Americans into poverty and much worse. It is that same spirit that dawned a white hood when it murdered and tortured men women and children in the perverted name of “justice”.

There are two additional realities we must acknowledge as artists:

1) People of color are currently affected far more by climate change.

2) As the situation gets worse people of color will likely take the hardest hits.

Air pollution affects 92 percent of the worlds population – yet it is not evenly distributed. Areas with high concentrations of racial minorities and people or lower-income are most likely to experience air pollution.

Heart disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections spike and contribute to deaths in highly polluted areas.

Gil Scott Heron gives a powerful expression to these disparate realities in his song, Whitey on The Moon (Spotify) (Youtube).

How can we speak hope while fully recognizing the pain and despair of this situation? 

That question is for you to wrestle with as an artist.

We don’t want to turn this into a naive and oversimplified Pepsi commercial, but we do want to speak hope where hope is due.

I’m drawn to a few songs meant to speak hope into the Black American community specifically. These songs give hope, but it isn’t a lofty kind of hope. The hope they sing of has weight to it.

Curtis Mayfield’s We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue (Spotify) (Youtube).

And of course, Sam Cooke’s Powerful A Change is Gonna Come: (Spotify) (Youtube).

Or, Aretha Franklin’s AMAZING cover of A Change is Gonna Come after Sam Cooke’s death (Spotify) (Youtube).

For a more contemporary story of hope check out this Civil Eats article Black Farmers are Embracing Climate Resilient Farming. It was only a matter of time before I would bring things back to agriculture.

How can our art bring us together across such seismic divides?!

I’m drawn back to two James Baldwin quotes, both on pain:

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world. But books taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive”

Maybe pain is the key. Art can do wonders to express pain.

Hopefully, sharing these pieces of art can help inspire you. 
Let’s have a special thanks to Cassidy Klein though for sharing that AMAZING quote!!! If you think of anything worth sharing let me know!

Here are a few areas around race and climate change to dive into if you’d like to explore more with a google search:

Pollution and the public health of minority communities

Waste Management – Where do we build our landfills?

Environmental refugees

Infringement of indigenous lands and deforestation

Food deserts and lack of local organic produce

Native food sovereignty

Native seed sovereignty 

Indigenous water rights

Polluted water supplies in poor communities of color (e.g. flint)

Or, use this article as a launching off point into the wonderful world of veganism, Baltimore is at the Vanguard of a National Black Vegan Movement.

(This post has since been combined with content from ‘The Space Before Definitions’ and ‘An Introduction to form a larger story on Medium).

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