posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Black History Month: Equity and Inclusion in DC EcoWomen

by Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

February is Black History Month, and it couldn’t have come any sooner for your local chapter of EcoWomen. We are at a crossroads in Washington D.C., and the nation. Challenges for women in the environment are compounded by a hyper local tightening of political tensions, regulatory rollbacks, revised—and frankly regressive—policy decisions. What better time is there to engage in a month-long reflection on the contributions, struggles, and textures of American life through the lens of black people? I live my life through this lens, and as a leader, engaging the environmental sector on access, equity and justice, I am a lifelong student of the past, with my eyes trained on the present. History is in the making.

The past is full of policies that aimed to frame the appreciation of the biota as the province of men, white men, at the expense of the stories of women and humans of every background whose lives and livelihoods were diminished by force of law and violence. Recent history is silent on those missing voices of environmental work; as the ethos took those cues and turned them into a culture of exclusion and compartmentalized norms of melanin in absentia. (That’s a different blog post!)

Text that reads Black Lives Matter on a background of pink roses

So where are the heroes in technicolor? Here, here, here and here, for a start. They are everywhere. And I suspect that they always were.

The future looks bright for environmental organizations taking this culture correction to heart, as leadership and membership shifts to closer approximate the population, and include diverse access points and perspectives.  It is a great time to consider the unnatural paucity of milestones and connect the dots on the homogeneity of voices that have shaped the narratives, and ask, to what end?  

As the DC chapter of EcoWomen looks forward to its fifteenth year, we are wrestling with questions of our existence as a body, our presence in the District, and whether or not we are walking the walk on equity and inclusion beyond the benchmarks of diversity. Operationally, this means taking a look at the depth of our bench in programs centered around inclusivity of women of different ages, capacities, and stages of life. It also means we are examining who we choose to lead our panels and programs—including our monthly EcoHour speakers—and whether or not our choices reflect a bias towards any branch, specialty, or perspective on environmental issues. We are taking up the challenge of articulating our aspirations and charting their emergence in internal and external policies. We are reviewing our goals, mission, and programs with the awareness of heteronormative, gender based, and age targeted assumptions. We begin by making no presumption that we are doing it “right” or that we can exist as DC EcoWomen in community without some careful thought about who is in the rooms where decisions are made.

As we move through these considerations we plan to open the questions up to our membership—you! So, be on the lookout for opportunities for feedback including surveys, focus groups, or polls where we will request your input on how you might like to see us express our desire for a representative chapter on the way to meaning well and doing it too. We expect that after some thought we will articulate policies about how and why we work and any action plans that would allow us to make it a matter of praxis.

Thank you, as always, for your membership and continued support of DC EcoWomen.

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