Minorities, Media Coverage, and Environmental Justice

by Latoya Peterson

Tree Hugging

On Sunday, I attended a Digital Capital Week event called Latinos, Technology, and the Environment, hosted by my friend Kety Esquivel.

The panel description states:

According to a Sierra Club National Survey, 66% of Latino(a)s in the United States, work and live close to toxic sites, add to that, the African Americans and Asians that live in highly polluted urban neighborhoods, the farmer migrants that are exposed to pesticides when picking US food and the Indigenous peoples that are having their lands mined and degraded and we have a big hot mess that makes the US majority generally and environmentally disadvantaged. This panel will examine the opportunity presented by the digital sphere as it relates to Latinos and the environment. We will discuss our participation in the recent World’s People Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia as well as the next annual meeting of environmental ministers in Cancun in November.

However, when the assembled group (Angela, Kety, Mike, and Rich) started talking, some new questions emerged: how are environmental issues being covered, and how do nonwhites (and other marginalized voices) factor into these conversations?

Personally, I love Twitter, because it provides me with instant feedback when I am thinking through a problem. So, while in the session, I sent out a question:

Just curious – readers, how invested are you in environmental issues?

The responses were about what I expected:

zenufar zenufar @racialicious very. environmental rights & human rights = one and the same. stories: access to land, food sovereignty, indigenous rights… 3:06 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious @racialicious cont. migration from rural to urban areas and resulting human settlements, recent land grabs in sub-saharan africa & water. :) 3:08 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious

Kety Esquivel KetyE

@Racialicious says she thinks there is an opp in how #SM is harnessed in the #ClimateJustice space #latism #p2 #gov20 #latinos #environment 2:59 PM Jun 13th via UberTwitter


Ludovic LudovicSpeaks

@racialicious many POC perceive & call enviro issues economic, health and community, so kinda crowds on what you call it and what ya mean 2:41 PM Jun 13th via Echofon in reply to racialicious

Ludovic LudovicSpeaks

@racialicious oh yeah, soverignty too 2:42 PM Jun 13th via Echofon in reply to racialicious


Progressive Scholar progresscholar

@racialicious Just curious – readers, how invested are you in environmental issues?//Very. Env. issues intersect with race in many ways. 2:37 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious


arieswym arieswym

@racialicious I’m developing a growing investment in environmental issues 2:33 PM Jun 13th via TweetDeck in reply to racialicious
snm reetamac

@racialicious very. 2:30 PM Jun 13th via UberTwitter in reply to racialicious
Fiqah sassycrass

@racialicious Moderately invested, I guess. I recycle and compost kinda…um…*scratches head* 2:30 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious


ayesha eyesshaa

@racialicious on a day like today where i got spat on by a man for daring an opinion it takes a backseat to race & gender issues.


Kaila Heard KJenNu

@racialicious somewhat. will use cloth grocery bag, buy local, but not seriously considering buying hybrid for next car. 2:26 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious

Arri Phoenix_Noire

@racialicious very. Environmental rights are human rights [autonomy, land + water rights, indigenous rights, etc]

Saranga SarangaComics

@racialicious When I first heard about the oil spill in april I nearly cried. I am very invested in green issues. Sun Jun 13 16:39:35 2010 via web in reply to racialicious

Yet, for some reason, there is an idea within predominantly white environmental circles that minorities don’t care about green issues.  I had this argument a few times myself, when I worked with an eco-focused organization.  It isn’t that POCs are not interested – its that many of us do not have the luxury to be single issue. (The Vegans of Color tagline really just keeps on giving.) And, as many of the responders pointed out above, environmental issues intersect with many different aspects of social justice. As I used to say often at the org, it isn’t that POC/poor folks don’t care, there are just other pressing matters that ALSO need consideration. (And some of the racism/classim in the eco justice movement isn’t helping.)

From there, those of us at the panel started to discuss what types of messages would inspire people to become more engaged around eco-justice. One of the things I had noticed is that going green turns some people off because the idea of greening is associated with purchasing and consumption ($18 sigg bottles, organic food) and not reducing resources. So, we wondered a little about the framing of issues. I asked:

Thanks for the responses! Next Q: What types of stories/campaigns make you want to get eco-active? For example – would you rather read about the impact of BP on the wetlands or the impact on BP workers and communities? Or both?

And again, most folks discussed their desire to see a variety of perspectives:

janniaragon janniaragon

@racialicious Both! Sun Jun 13 18:21:11 2010 via Echofon in reply to racialicious

Cara thecurvature

@racialicious Both. Sun Jun 13 16:53:14 2010 via Echofon in reply to racialicious


Christina Xu Chrysaora

@racialicious No!!! Especially not after the initial burst of news coverage. Long-term coverage of community impacts would be great! Sun Jun 13 16:46:09 2010 via Echofon in reply to racialicious


Sarah W-D. sejw

@racialicious Both, since the two are intertwined. Sun Jun 13 16:43:32 2010 via Twitterrific in reply to racialicious


snm reetamac

@racialicious both. Because anything less doesn’t represent the full extent of the devastation and costs. Sun Jun 13 16:35:45 2010 via UberTwitter in reply to racialicious
Cass chefsgf

@racialicious Both, personally. Think I’m hearing the least about the workers though. Sun Jun 13 16:21:44 2010 via Echofon in reply to racialicious


CruelSecretary CruelSecretary

@racialicious Both. Sun Jun 13 16:20:15 2010 via web in reply to racialicious
christine mesteena

@racialicious always the workers and communities #peoplecomefirst Sun Jun 13 16:18:59 2010 via UberTwitter in reply to racialicious


eekalynx EEKALYNX

@racialicious I’d like to read about both. 3:17 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious


bkmasala bkmasala

@racialicious workers and communities…maybe both. way more interested in the environmental impact on people, especially since usually poor 3:14 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious


gillian rosheuvel mezz98

@racialicious JMO, but I would rather read about both. 3:13 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious


zenufar zenufar

@racialicious both. 3:11 PM Jun 13th via web in reply to racialicious

Kety and Angela shared a lot of stories from the Cochabamba Climate Sumit, specifically around indigenous issues raised within the summit and how indigenous knowledge (historical and present) was often discounted in discussions of the environment.  We talked a bit about eco-authority, and I wondered:

@ketyE is talking about how the world climate initatives discussed indigenous communities – how do we demand more coverage? Is there enough information/coverage coming from indigenous communities about eco justice?


HonoreeJeffers HonoreeJeffers

@racialicious Re: your question abt is there enough info from indigenous communities on eco justice—–no. There’s actually not PUBLICIZED info on eco justice from “diverse” communities, period. I shld say ENOUGH publicized info. There’s info, alright but–ahem–”non-diverse” reps have highjacked eco justice discussion. Sun Jun 13 17:50:44 2010 via web

Miss July 5th Complex_Smplcty

@racialicious I don’t believe there is. But there’s also the fact that many communities don’t know about it either. Sun Jun 13 16:38:25 2010 via UberTwitter in reply to racialicious

Most of us left the panel determined to find a way to reframe the information so that (1) more eco-info makes it into niche media and (2) more diverse voices were included in mainstream conversations.

Any ideas, readers?