Communities of Care
What led to the development of the EnviroLab Asia speaker series on environmental racism and justice?
EnviroLab Asia is in the process of expanding its scope of study to cover issues both in Asia and globally, and several of us (Branwen Williams and Tamara Venit-Shelton of CMC, and Marc Los Huertos of Pomona) saw our new speaker series as a way to apply our expertise in expanding the coverage of and conversation on topics related to CMC’s Initiative. This type of exploration was important, in particular, to show how communities of color in the U.S. and elsewhere have a shared experience of being part of unjust spaces of living that have suffered tremendous environmental problems—like air pollution, poor water quality, and lands polluted with toxic chemicals—due to systems of power that have been anchored by racism.
Why is this academic space a good fit for the principles and goals of the Presidential Initiative?
Environmental racism has been a significant issue faced by all different types of communities throughout the world, and we thought it was vital for students to gain a broader perspective on the causes of environmental racism. Equally important, EnviroLab Asia created the speaker series as a way for students to learn about the different campaigns for environmental justice. Speaking on environmental racism and environmental justice was our way for a balanced approach toward teaching—learning both about the causes of problems/issues and how people have organized communities of care to challenge dominating systems and overcome threatening environmental issues.
What were some of the biggest insights from the series?
Just hearing how mundane, everyday activities have been shaped by environmental racism. The speaker from Soul Fire Farm, for example, introduced to us the obstacles that African-American farmers encountered through the simple act of planting seeds to grow food, such as racist views against African-Americans that prevented them from obtaining resources like bank loans. Soul Fire Farm, at the same time, gave us another huge insight into the resiliency of communities of color to resist racism and build programs of justice. Another important insight was learning from the speakers about how racism forms and is sustained through systems to create systematic racism, thus the need to combat racism through a multi-sided approach (political, economic, cultural, religious, gender, etc.).
Any future goals for the Initiative?
I also worked with Professor Venit-Shelton to come up with academic programming to deal with the rise of anti-Asian violence since the pandemic started. When President Chodosh asked us for an academic approach to this serious problem, we drew from our own research on environmental history and our experiences in EnviroLab Asia to design academic programming that connected anti-Asian violence to the ongoing history of racism against communities of color in the United States. Our efforts sought to make connections and links that showed how pervasive systems of power create and spread racism.
Albert L. Park is the Bank of America Associate Professor of Pacific Basin Studies at CMC. He is also the co-principal investigator for EnviroLab Asia at The Claremont Colleges.