by Lisa Insansa Woods

In early July, Extinction Rebellion UK released a statement discussing their “relationship with the police.” They explained how they now recognise that their tactics of civil disobedience and mass arrests have been insensitive to and “have excluded Black people, other communities racialised as non-white, and other marginalised groups and contributed to narratives that have put those communities at risk.” They also apologise that this recognition has come so late.

The whiteness of XR has been one of the movement’s main criticisms since its inception. From last year’s prison guide controversy, which painted prison as a yoga retreat, to disrupting rush-hour traffic in London’s low income boroughs, to still – at the time of writing – not having  anything in “The Truth” section of their website (the main section to introduce the movement) about the disproportionate impact of climate change on Black and Brown people and the Global South. What they do state in this section is the importance of inclusion of all ethnicity, race, class, gender and many categories of identity; but how can you expect racially marginalised communities to join when you won’t even mention their plight in your main section? I guess they don’t matter that much after all.

how can you expect racially marginalised communities to join when you won’t even mention their plight in your main section?

We also need to discuss how the apolitical nature of XR alienates many communities. Their narratives such as “[b]laming and shaming will not serve us in the long run,” “[w]e ask each other for good grace in how we share emotion and to return to a baseline of love, respect and conviviality” and “beyond politics” ignores the brutal force of racism that manifests in every institution, in capitalism and, most importantly here, in climate change. On top of this, using this peace-love-unity rhetoric is an example of spiritual bypassing of the essential discussion of inequality.

Climate change is literally a product of white supremacist capitalist imperialism. You cannot fight environmental catastrophe without fighting racism. It’s like fighting Superman without fighting Clark Kent (if he was a brutal villain of course). It makes no sense.

You cannot fight environmental catastrophe without fighting racism.

Most people like to equate the beginning of our current climate destruction with the Industrial Revolution, but this distracts us from the real truth, which is that climate change started with slavery and colonialism. It started with mentalities such as “Manifest Destiny” and the “White Man’s Burden,” in which white Europeans believed that they had a divine right and responsibility to control – with unrelenting force – the people, the land and the environment of any territory they wished, especially if it was “savage,” i.e. not-white.

It started with globalised capitalism which facilitated this widespread imperial domination: a system of exploitation where the biodiversity of different areas was happily annihilated to feed the mouth of the beast for a stack of shiny gold coins.

Even if we accept that climate change did start with the Industrial Revolution, make no mistake that there would be no Industrial Revolution without slavery, without the products and money produced on the backs of subjugated people. To give a specific example, there would be no booming textile industry without Black slaves picking cotton on land that was stolen from Indigenous people.

As Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin say in their book The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene: “The Anthropocene began with widespread colonialism and slavery; it is a story of how people treat the environment and how people treat each other.” Therefore, for Extinction Rebellion UK to not even acknowledge this in the main section of their website is a clear definition of white privilege and it acts to perpetuate the irresponsible whiteness of climate movements.

If you’re going to profess being a fighter for climate change then you need to be a fighter of climate justice or else you’re just fighting for the comfortability of your white skin. Whilst Extinction Rebellion have been attempting to make moves to be more inclusive, for example by updating their training workshops to cover things such as anti-oppression, decolonisation, police and privilege, why have they still not followed the example of the US incarnation of the movement?

Extinction Rebellion US, which is the offspring of XR UK, has four demands. As well as the original three (Tell the Truth, Act Now, Beyond Politics), XR US also demands:

“[A] just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.”

Failure to adopt a fourth demand and failure to outwardly address capitalism and the white patriarchal power structure as the cause of the climate crisis alienates Black, Brown and Indigenous people. As well as this, it allows people such as the white man and woman who held up an “All Lives Matter” sign – at an Anti-Black Lives Matter demonstration a few weeks ago – to also add the famous XR hourglass to their racist banner.

If XR UK wanted to win a contest of appeasing the establishment, showcasing theatrics and stuffing as many white people in prison cells as they can, then top points all around; but excuse me if I thought that the goal was to – and I may be mistaken here – avoid climate destruction, which they will not do if they keep singing that climate change is “beyond politics.”

No one ever made change by bowing to the establishment. They need to be tearing down the system of exploitation at its root.

Featured image via XRLondon

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