Several years ago a journalism student from Howard University reached out to me for a class assignment. Blogs were emerging as the place to find new and interesting information – but it was still the wild west out there. There was very little curation. Plus, she was interested in a topic that didn’t have a lot of details to provide. She wanted to interview someone who knew a lot about the African American community going green. I blogging at Urban Science Adventures! © and cross posting at Young Black Professional Guide (now defunct, but looking back it was the predecessor of The Root and The Grio). I was one of very, very few voices discussing African American engagement with science and environmental issues. At the time (November 2008) I was still in graduate school, finishing up my dissertation. Below are her questions with my answers then and a few updated comments.
Q. Do you consider yourself a green person?
A 2008. Yes. I always have been. It made sense to me to be frugal with resources, turn lights off when not in use, fix leaky faucets, only run the dishwasher when full, use ceiling fans, etc. In my family, these habits were about saving money, not necessarily environmental stewardship. When I learned more about Earth day (in high school) it wasn't a very hard transition.
A 2016. Still true.
Q. What are some ways to maintain a green lifestyle?
A 2008. Look for ways to simplify your life. - Open your windows to take advantage of natural light. - Avoid the temptation to drive all the time, even for short errands. Walk more often. It is good for your health, you save gas, and it is a plus to the environment.
- Keep your car and other mechanical/electronic devices tuned up.
- When your light bulbs expire replace them with CFL bulbs. Buy these on sale.
- Recycle. Initially it can be a hassle; but most cities or collection sites allow co-mingled recycling - meaning you can throw glass, metal, plastic, and aluminum all in one bin. You'll soon notice that your trash cans take longer to fill up. The difference is greater if you recycle paper and cardboard boxes. You'll barely need to take out the trash.
- Compost - of you can. This is the hardest green thing to do - saving food trash and putting it in a pile. If you have a yard or a neighborhood garden it is a great way to reduce your trash load and reduce the stinky trash you accumulate. Alternatively, you could use a garbage disposal.
A 2016. I haven’t changed my sentiments at all, I would emphasize alternative transportation options, such as bicycling, walking, and public transportation. I may be more anti-consumerist, today than before. Going Green is as much about saving green (money) as it is about doing eco-friendly things. The cultural cues to buy things and accumulate stuff is overwhelming no doubt. The amount of stuff we discard and the money we spend getting the new hotness not only makes it hard for so many to fully embrace the green lifestyle but to save for the future, too. This really takes a toll on African American families who have on average only 6% of the wealth of the average white family.
Q. Are the African Americans in your community going green and purchasing eco-friendly products in your neighborhood?
A 2008. They are beginning to. In the last year the availability of green and eco-friendly products and services has experienced some positive publicity. With that publicity has come more interest in green products such as CFL bulbs, and fuel efficient cars. I've also noticed less resistance to recycling. Before last year I witnessed outright refusal to recycle or separate trash. Now, people are beginning to participate. It’s trendy to be green, plus people see the cost-saving benefits of eco-friendly living. I think the macro (or top-down) marketing and acceptance of green living is what has influenced them as opposed to me being a trend setter.
A 2016. Infrastructure support of recycling makes it so easy to recycle. Curbside pickup, stream line recycling in most schools and office buildings and along the streets in many metro areas makes it so easy for people to liver greener without feeling put out.
Eco-friendly household products, especially those that market themselves as healthy, pure, clean, and all-natural are now prestige-markers. Despite the higher costs, more people aspire to buy them, even if they can’t afford them. I’m not exactly excited about this turn.
Q. What do you do or plan to do to make the economy better?
A 2008. I doubt I can make in impact on the larger economy, but I make strides to improve my own economy and encourage others to do the same. Examples -
- Cook more and eat out less often, aiming to eat out fewer than 2 meals per week.
- Shop primarily at discount grocery stores like Aldi, Trader Joe's and Save-A-lot.
- Car-pooling. I have definitely seen a rise in this behavior among my social network.
- Take advantage of free entertainment specials - such as free concerts featuring local artists at museums, parks, etc.
A 2016. I feel confident that I can make an impact on the larger economy. I have become more conscientious spender. I am ever mindful of who I spend my money with (and not just what I spend my money on and how much). Before cost-savings was my only motivator. Today, I think about the impact of that dollar. Am I supporting jobs of people here in the US. How much time does this dollar spend in my community? How far will this money go for the person who worked to provide this product or these services?
I’m willing to spend a little more for better quality products (ones that last, endure) and be patient with small business providers. Economy is a cycle, but for disenfranchised communities economy behaves more like a thoroughfare. Labor goes in and money goes out. Cost-savings is still a motivator, but I’ve learned to not let it stop there. The health of micro—economies matters so much, too.
Q. Do you think African Americans should become more involved in becoming a green community and why?
A 2008. Yes. Being green isn't a white or suburban thing - despite the overwhelming media messages. And this has been an area of curiosity for some time (Environmentalism of African Americans: An Analysis of the Subculture and Barriers Theories by Julia Dawn Parker, 1999). Everyone uses the earth’s resources, so it only makes sense that everyone and each community work to keep these resources healthy and viable. Plus, going green is cost-effective, and who would object to saving money. A final reason is that the Green Movement is also an advocacy movement that addresses Environmental Justice concerns. Historically, urban black communities have been the victims of environmental injustice. It is unfortunate that people can become so distracted or excuse themselves from community concerns until they become victims. Participation in the Green Community could get more people involved with this social justice movement and perhaps stem off future violations.
A 2016. I still agree and recognition momentum has been building, recognizing the importance of engagement of minority communities in this movement. For example, in 2011, BET shared a list of Top Black Environmentalist, .
Q. Why do you think less blacks are interested in going green and why?
A 2008. I think there are far more Black people who are disinterested in Green living than there are those who are interested. But those numbers are shifting. If the Black Middle Class continues to participate and become visible in their participation then the image of being Green will improve and attract more Blacks, notably working class and poor inner city blacks to participate. I am also not opposed to offering incentives to encourage low-participating communities to doing something, like recycling or urban gardening.
A 2016. The persistent framing of African Americans don’t care about the environment is proving to be the biggest enemy of African American engagement. In 2011, KSDK Chanel 5 of St. Louis, Missouri reported Ms. Annie Cooper and Ms. Maxine Johnson, residents of North St. Louis, filed a discrimination suit against the city claiming their alderman, Mr. Jeffrey Boyd of the 22nd Ward, refused to provide city-ordered recycling bins because the residents in their neighborhood are "too dumb to recycle." Mr. Boyd says he never said such things; but he does admit to not making recycling bins readily available to his neighbors because saw other measures as having higher priority. The passion and advocacy of Ms Cooper and Ms Johnson are demonstrative of the care and concern many African Americans and people of color have for the environment.