Are you a white CCL volunteer? Let’s talk.

Citizens Climate racial justice

Hey, folks. I’m Flannery Winchester, CCL’s Communications Director. Today I’d like to talk to you about racism. I’m not an expert, and I might not get this exactly right. But I know—without a doubt—that members of our CCL community are hurting deeply right now because of the recent racist incidents that have been in the news. As this article points out, “Here’s a newsflash for all the white people unaware of this fact: your Black colleagues may seem okay right now, but chances are they’re not.” CCL’s director Mark Reynolds has written a statement to denounce the injustice we’ve seen and to acknowledge the structural barriers our volunteers of color are up against. 

But this is a conversation that white people need to have, too. Staying silent when harm is being done is essentially saying you accept, or even condone, that harm.

So let’s talk about what’s been going on. 

That article continues, “Over the last few months, Black people have not only watched their friends and family members die at higher rates from the coronavirus, they have also watched people who look like them be gunned down while going for a jog, be murdered in their homes, and threatened while bird watching in Central Park, and mercilessly choked on camera.” The last example references a Minneapolis police officer who killed a Black man named George Floyd, which touched off recent protests. It’s not just that one incident that’s causing pain—it’s the pattern of violence and inequality that persists in America and manifests in many different ways.

If you’re white and you heard about some of these incidents, you might have thought something like, “This is so terrible. I wish America could get past all this. But it’s not really my issue—I work on climate change. I’ll focus my attention on solving that problem, and other people will work on equality issues.”

But racism directly, personally harms the roughly 10% of CCL volunteers who are Black or people of color. They are feeling a mixture of grief, rage, and fear right now. If CCL is going to be a welcoming, supportive place for the people of color who are already in our chapters, and the people of color we hope will join in the future, those of us who are white have to understand and discuss this.

Let’s listen to CCLers who are people of color

In 2019, CCL articulated a core value: that we empower everyone to exercise their personal and political power. Specifically, we stated, “We seek out, support, and elevate people whose voices may not have been fully heard.” 

Karina Ramirez, CCL’s Diversity Outreach Manager, talks often with CCL volunteers who are people of color. Here’s a sample of the sentiments she’s been hearing, which aren’t often fully heard by CCL’s white members:

“I’m afraid. I’m pissed off. I’m exhausted by all of this.”

“It’s almost impossible for me to focus on climate change when I, my family, and my whole community is reeling from the news. Climate is just not a priority right now, and that needs to be okay.”

“When you don’t mention the racist things going on in America, it makes me feel like there’s a big disconnect between us, or like only part of me is welcome in CCL. I wonder if you understand what I’m really dealing with, or if I just have to leave a big part of myself at the door when I come to a CCL meeting.”

“I don’t have the energy to help you understand racism. There are plenty of resources out there, and it would mean a lot to me if you did your own research and shared it with other white people you know.” 

It’s important that we continue to listen to our fellow volunteers (or friends or coworkers or neighbors) who are Black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), including those who are also marginalized due to other parts of their identities, such as being LGBTQ. As white people, we will never know how it feels to live in this society and be part of the BIPOC community, so listening is a crucial step.

Here’s what you can do

Just like with climate change, there is not one single quick fix for the issue of racism. But as with climate change, there are some straightforward things you can do to start helping immediately.

  • Start learning the basics. A good place to start is CCL’s Diversity forum on CCL Community. Karina, who holds a certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University, has put together very helpful resources to help you understand things like unconscious bias, microaggressions, and what it means to be an ally. There are also plenty of external resources, such as this list of “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” These resources will help you do your best to avoid exacerbating America’s racism problem, and to begin healing it.
  • Talk about racism with other white people. Just like with climate change, a crucial way to help combat racism is to talk about it. In particular, you can talk about it in places where the conversation doesn’t normally come up—this might be your dinner table, in a social setting with your white friends, or on your social media accounts. Remember that it’s okay not to be an expert and it’s okay not to have every answer. In the same way you might simply say, “Scientists say our climate is changing, and I’m worried about that,” you might also share, “I’ve been thinking more about issues of inequality lately, and I’m really uncomfortable with how people of color are treated in our society. I think things need to change.” Opening up a conversation is a good place to start.
  • Dig deeper. As part of our upcoming 2020 conference, CCL is holding a Sunday seminar called “Beyond Diversity: Fostering Belonging and Inclusion at CCL.” You can sign up now and plan to attend this in depth session, led by CCL staffers Karina Ramirez and Clara Fang. This will help you better understand diversity and inclusion and why it’s so crucial in CCL’s work on climate change. Editor’s note: Now that the event has passed, you can watch the recording of the seminar right here: 

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Flannery Winchester
Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.