Our Histories and Our Futures

This has been an uncomfortable year, an uncomfortable month, an uncomfortable week.

For many of us, we have been doing our best to balance out living our lives and decompressing between semesters (or starting out summer classes) with trying to figure out ways that we can have a more just world. Some of us have been engaging in increasingly uncomfortable conversations about what that means—at the personal level and at the institutional level.

I lost not one, not two, but three friends this month. What is most shocking is that during a time of global pandemic, I did not lose these people to illness. They’re alive and kicking—they’re just not people who I respect anymore. While I am the sort of person who generally tries to operate from a place of love and acceptance, I also think of myself as someone with standards. Among those standards is this: if you don’t accept the right of Black people to exist, to live and thrive, then I can’t respect you. And if I can’t respect you, we can’t be friends. There are some places in this country where that is a controversial statement, but it should not be anymore than it should be to say that Indigenous people deserve the right to exist as well. And yet, in spaces where this declaration has been made, there has been an unmistakable, palpable tension that arises.

This blog is meant to be about sustainability. Doubtless, there are people who are asking what racial inequities in America have to do with sustainability. But part of sustainability involves asking what sort of a future do you see. There is no doubt in my mind that in every vision I have of the future that I want, not just for myself but for my future descendants, there is justice and there is joy. There is the joy of being able to be who you are, of loving who you love, of studying what you would like to study. There is the justice of an equitable society where no one can deny you those things based on the color of your skin, or how long your hair is, or how you dress. Much like our beloved Tribal Colleges and Universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have worked to make the dreams of their youth become reality, and in hearing the stories of Black environmentalists, I have found as many similarities as I have found shocking new realities. There is no doubt in my mind that if in my blood is the land and in this land is my blood, then that also applies to the Black folks of America, alongside of whom our stories run for hundreds of years and sometimes with whom our stories interweave in love, solidarity, and survival.

There is no climate justice without racial justice. There is no sustainability without racial equity. And unfortunately there can be none of these things without hard work, self-inventory (or in some cases the inventory of your own community), or without having uncomfortable conversations, sometimes even with the people who mean the most to you. But here is the truth: we will be better off for it.

I hope someday that those friends who I have lost will see the light. I hope someday that they will realize the importance of justice for all of us. The path to that future we all deserve is long, wide, and winding. We’re probably not going to get there alone.

Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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