32. Climate Change Is Real. Now What? (with Osprey Orielle Lake and Nourbese Flint)

32. Climate Change Is Real. Now What? (with Osprey Orielle Lake and Nourbese Flint)

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On March 31, the Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan, which establishes broad goals for achieving a cleaner and more equitable future, including significant investments in green jobs like caregiving and clean energy infrastructure. On April 22—Earth Day—Biden further raised the stakes, committing the U.S. to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Even still, there are legislators at local, state and federal levels that continue to deny climate change as real.

Meanwhile, in Flint, Michigan, after a five-year water crisis, reports say the water is now clean—but many locals still refuse to drink it to this day, due to a loss of trust.

How do global warming and other environmental concerns affect the lives of listeners in coastal areas, or those who live near waste sites, or in areas where environmental concerns are hidden? What does environmental and climate justice look like?

Now that the U.S. has reentered the Paris Climate Agreement, what next steps must be taken to address climate change and environmental injustice here at home? What can we expect from the Biden-Harris administration?

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

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Michele Goodwin  00:04

Welcome to “On the issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show history matters. We examine the past as we think about its relationship to the future. On today’s show, we focus on an important issue: Climate change is real—now what? 

On March 31, the Biden administration released the American jobs plan, a plan which according to analysis from a policy brief from the Wharton School at Penn, proposes a $2.3 trillion investment in new federal spending on various forms of public infrastructure, research and development, workforce training, affordable housing and caregiving, all tied to the environment. The plan would also include an additional $400 billion in clean energy tax credits, not specified in the administration’s original announcement. Thank you very much Penn Wharton for sharing this with all of us. 

But there are still legislators that deny climate change and global warming as being real. In Flint, Michigan reports are that the water is clean now, but with a loss of trust, many locals refuse to drink it. And how does global warming and other environmental concerns affect your lives? Some of you want to know: what does environmental and climate justice look like? Now that we’ve re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement, what next steps must the United States take to address climate change and environmental justice? What can we expect from the Biden-Harris administration?

Now helping us to sort out these issues, unpack these questions are very important guests. I’m joined by Nourbese Flint. Nourbese Flint serves as a program manager with Black Women for Wellness, where she directs environmental and reproductive health work. She organizes community advocacy and also works on policy.

I’m also joined by Osprey Orielle Lake. Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, International. She is co-director of the Indigenous Women’s Divestment Delegation amongst other very important titles. Now I want to welcome them to our Ms. magazine show, and thank them for addressing these very sensitive and often overlooked matters with us. 

Thank you so much for joining me today as we talk about these really important issues related to our environment, global warming, justice associated with environmentalism. So let’s begin with thinking about current environmental laws, regulations and policies. The United States officially re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement. And it’s an accord that is signed by over 195 governments, and we re-entered it just just in February with this new Biden and Harris administration, and Osprey you wrote about this just few months ago, and you said after President Biden signed the instrument to bring the United States back into the Paris agreement that, you know, the first important step forward, is the United States, basically restoring a climate agenda.

Can you tell us a bit about what you mean about that? And you also mentioned the Keystone pipeline. So can you tell us why it’s so important that the Biden Harris administration takes seriously a climate agenda?

Osprey Orielle Lake  04:13

Well, thanks so much for having me on your show. And yeah, I think that what’s really important at this point is to realize that, of course, we’re very glad that the Biden Harris administration has re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s absolutely essential because we are in a climate crisis. And at the same time, we need to recognize this is just the beginning step. It’s not the answer. We know that the Biden Harris administration has talked about building back better and what I think is important to add to that is to build back fossil free. So we need to understand that at this point, the climate emergency is so severe that it requires that our government, the governments around the world, really place front and center a climate justice framework and realize that we need to not only fulfill but actually exceed targets in the Paris Climate Agreement. 

At this point, when we look at what scientists have been telling us, the IPCC report of 1.5 degrees was released, and we know from report after report that the world is on track right now to an alarming, you know, three degrees, a little bit even more warming by the end of the century if countries meet their current commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement. So it is a very pivotal moment for the administration here in the US.

But we also need to understand that we actually need to exceed what our commitments are. So this is a very critical time. And I would also just add that we have to get into a very different framework, if we’re going to actually address the climate crisis at speed and scale. And this is going to mean listening to impacted communities, looking at community led solutions, and moving away from this concept, actually, of net zero. Because what we actually need is zero emissions, and to go past looking at offsets and carbon trading schemes and get into the actual instruments on the ground that we know frontline communities have been talking about for decades.

Michele Goodwin  06:31

Well, on that note, let’s level set a little bit. Because when you mention two degrees, three degrees, there are people who don’t see, they don’t climate change, right to them, one degree, two degrees, that’s just the difference between one day at 70 degrees and the next day, it’s 72 degrees. And so they have a very difficult time understanding exactly what climate change is. So if we could go remedial or climate change climate justice 101. What exactly does it mean, when we’re talking about global warming? What does it really mean talking about climate change in ways that people who are sitting back and struggling to understand you know, people who say, Well, look, this winter, it snowed, I made a snowball, what in the world are these people talking about the global warming, I had snow on my deck?

Osprey Orielle Lake  07:31

Well, I’ll put it in really simple terms. I’m here in California, I’m in Northern California. And for the last two years, we’ve had huge, tremendous fires. And this is, as scientists have told us, because of global warming, it was predicted that we would see tremendous increase in forest fires, wildfires. And there’s entire months now where you can’t even go outside because the air is so toxic. So that’s just one example of the increase of even, you know, we’re at right now, which isn’t even at the 1.5 degrees that is the ambition of the climate Paris Agreement. In the Amazon rainforest, we’re seeing huge amounts of fire, and we’re losing our Amazon forest because of the fires that are going on.

Smoke from wildfires in Southern California, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

So the increase of these fires is something that I think people can really wrap their minds around, and to understand that, to actually monitor and to care for the temperature, to actually care for the water that we need, and the rainfall that we need, you actually need forests. You need for us to breathe air, they are what produces oxygen. So if we destroy our world forests, and that just using forests, as one example, we could be talking about oceans, we could be talking about the fact of droughts, but I think people have been really aware of these forest fires. And in terms of being part of the ecological ecosystem, as human beings we need for us to live, we need air to be the lungs of our planet, and these come from the trees. 

And those forests are being greatly diminished, because even of the rise that we have so far in the temperatures rising. So there’s a huge impact all over the world because of global warming that has already taken place due to the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. I know from a lot of the work that we do with frontline communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the droughts have been excessive. I mean, people are starving because they’re not able to grow their food because there’s not simply the water there.

So a lot of also what’s happening with global warming is in some places, not enough water, which is causing droughts, and another areas, too much water where we see sea level rise. And hurricanes like in the Gulf where we’ve had Hurricane Katrina, which people were very familiar with. So I think that if we look at the daily impacts of what is going on with, you know, quote unquote, natural disasters, we need to understand that it is being caused at this point by human activity, and the kind of pollution that we’ve put in the atmosphere. And so there’s a direct link between our human activity and what’s happening with a lot of these ecological crises.

A grounded boat in Slidell, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, 2005. (Wikimedia Commons)

Michele Goodwin  10:28

Well, I want to circle back to that, after turning to Nourbese for a moment, because when when I come back, I want to ask you about how this connects to economic justice issues, which you written about in terms of the Paris Climate Agreement and whether it fails to address the root of climate injustice in our society and globally, but Nourbese, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show, as well as Osprey. And you direct Reproductive and Environmental Health Policy at Black women for wellness, BWW, a shout out for the organization. It’s a reproductive justice organization and BWW does so much work on addressing these intersections with regard to race, reproductive justice, and the environment. So before I ask you a question about Black women and hair, which some people might say, what in the world does that have to do the environment? I want to ask you about what has inspired you to be involved in the area of environmental justice? Why is it a crucial issue for communities of color?

Nourbese Flint  11:47

Right, and I’m so happy to be here with you today. That’s a big and small question. The short answer is, there is no backup planet, as far as I know. And so if we destroy the one that we have now, it’s not like we have other places to go. And so that’s what drives most of our work. But the more complicated answer is that Black Women for Wellness had actually backed into environmental justice, in a way kind of like, wait, wait, wait, what’s going on, because we know that there’s climate change and global warming that’s happening in our communities, we know that people of color, particularly women of color, are the ones often feeling the full brunt of what that looks like. 

But particularly we came into the environmental space for two reasons: one, around fracking, or oil oxidation, which was happening in the backyards of our communities, and we couldn’t figure out what was going on, other than that, people were getting sick. And then two, we were looking at environmental toxins and our personal care products, and particularly that intersection between reproductive health outcomes, and the things that we might put on our bodies and what we wear, and our perfumes and our haircare products. And what we saw with that, with the data that we had, and talking to people and communities and our hairdressers and our stylists is that there is something going on here, and the products that we are using are having a hell of an impact on our health.

And so we wanted to explore that more because we know that our beauty salon folks are backbones in our community. We have a lot of conversations, a lot of spaces spent, a lot of time is spent in that space. And we wanted to make sure that this community was upheld. Same with the looking at fracking, particularly with our young people, and folks getting rare cancers in our community and wanting to know how do we stop this. And so there for us, there’s actually not really a separation between reproductive justice and environmental health and rights and justice. Because if we are thinking about, you know, whether we want to have children not have children, or be able to raise our family in sustainable communities, all of that is dependent on if we are able to breathe, if we’re able to have clean water, if we’re able to be fertile, if we want to have children. If we are able to go outside and be in the parks, all of those things are intricately connected to into the work.

Michele Goodwin  14:45

Many people don’t necessarily know that if you’re of color, and particularly if you’re a Black American, you’re more likely to live near one of the most highly toxic waste areas in the United States. So nearby most toxic waste sites are the poorest Americans and amongst them, people of color. So children growing up in spaces that are just filled with with toxins. And on top of that, you see communities where the pollution is so gravely high, and where there may be outdated piping that’s running through communities and into homes, people living in homes where there may not be lead abatement just yet. So these are some of the additional ways, what you say, that environmental injustice makes its way into the lives of people of color. What’s your response to that, Nourbese?

Nourbese Flint  15:49

Yeah, absolutely. As you looked at many communities, Black folks are more likely to have, or go to hospitals because of asthma, particularly in very polluted communities. One of the things that we had just been looking at, there was some data released looking at the links between global warming and maternal health outcomes or pregnancy outcomes. And what we saw was, the hotter it gets, the more likely there are stillborns. The hotter it gets, the more likely there are premature births. And so we know that we live in communities that are urban deserts, right, and that are heat, spaces where they are creating more heat, because we don’t have parks. And it’s just concrete that’s going on, that impacts our mamas, it impacts our folks, our kids.

One of the things we thought was really interesting is that research is showing that carbon is actually being found in placentas. Black carbon is being found in placentas. So we know that at every level of life, whether it’s lead in your water like we saw that happened in Flint, that’s actually happened in many other communities, to pregnancy, where there you’re getting and breathing in this air that can actually impact your pregnancy outcomes, that the whole cycle of life is impacted by where you live, and your access to unhealthy environment.

Michele Goodwin  17:24

And researchers are calling this environmental racism. And for those who research environmental racism, they say that it’s left Black Americans three times more likely to die from pollution than their white counterparts. So environmental racism has left Black Americans three times more likely to die from pollution. And you know, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a report and their report shows that Black American communities face really high levels of pollution. And they’re more likely to live as you know, near toxic waste sites, near landfills, near industrial plants that pollute water and air and erode quality of life. In fact, from a report that was issued by Bartees Cox just a few years ago, they write, because of this more than half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. And then again, that Black Americans are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than their white counterparts. 

And so you know, these issues, then bring it straight back to home, for so many. And in fact, just going one step further, on the report that was put out by Bartees Cox, they write that in St. James parish in Louisiana, it sits in an area that’s actually known as Cancer Alley. And it’s a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where dozens of refineries and industrial facilities are fueling a public health crisis, they say, according to people who live there, so many cancers coming out of that.

Organizers with RISE St James march to protest the Formosa chemical plant near an elementary school in St James Parish, Louisiana, 2018. (Facebook)

But Osprey, I wanted to get back to you now, you know, now that we’ve done even more level setting in terms of the intersections, the intersections of race and sex and environment, and get back to this Paris Climate Agreement to see how the Paris Climate Agreement might have any kind of influence on this. And so, you know, you’ve been a bit, you’ve been supportive, but you’ve also been critical about what the Paris Climate Agreement can do and what it currently can’t do. So can you address what you see as perhaps some of the limitations of the Paris Climate Agreement? How have you written about its failure to address some of the roots of climate injustice in our society?

Osprey Orielle Lake  20:09

Sure, I definitely want to do that. And I just wanted to make a quick comment, because I was really excited to hear what you were both saying about the health impacts of, of pollution in communities of color. I just want to make a quick comment, and then I’ll just go back to your question, which is that I think this issue is huge. And it just circumstantially happens to be that next week, our organization is going to be releasing a report called “Gendered and Racial Impacts of the Fossil Fuel Industry in North America and Complicit Financial Institutions: a Call to Action for the Health of our Communities and Nature in the Climate Crisis.” And it goes into a deep analysis of what is going on in Black communities, African American communities, Latina communities, and also with Indigenous women, and the intersection of what is happening with women of color, due to climate change, due to fossil fuel pollution, and fracking, and these big petrochemical plants that are now going to be going on in the Gulf. And it’s very serious. So I’m really wanted to highlight and thank you for bringing up that issue. 

And just to mention, also, in addition to what’s happening in with African American women, we also see with Indigenous women, with the pipeline, which is again, connected to the industry, we’ve worked for many years, you know, to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline that you’d mentioned earlier. But also right now, you know, one of the big struggles is with line three in Minnesota. And there’s the connective issue around women is that there’s a lot of sexual violence associated with these pipelines, because pipeline workers come in from outside the community. And they have man camps, which are, you know, housing units of 1000s of workers who come in, and basically attack the indigenous women, and it’s a very, very serious issue that leads to the missing murdered Indigenous women crisis in the United States and also up in Canada. So just wanted to bring that in, because it’s,

Michele Goodwin  22:25

I’m glad that you did, because leading the way in that conversation has been Indigenous women. And so one of the missing aspects, before we get back to the climate Paris Agreement, because this is this is important, which is that really some of the most vocal advocates for environmental justice, the recognition of environmental racism has been Indigenous women, who’ve been at the frontlines of these conversations, even before the Keystone pipeline, calling attention to water equity, even, for example, which we still haven’t really had the kind of robust conversation that we should, and the ways in which a failure to pay attention to the ways in which we zone the industrial zoning, the pipelining, the, you know, denial of a real voice to Americans to speak out and speak up. All of that has been really, you know, a significant amount of that has been Indigenous women led, but they’ve been rendered invisible in many ways within the environmental movement. So I’m glad that you raise that. And if you want to comment any more on that I, you know, I think our listening audience would love to hear it.

Osprey Orielle Lake  23:41

Sure. I’ll say some more about that. I and I, I do think that it’s so key to look at the role of Indigenous women, as you say, they have been very vocal and been working for decades. And I think it’s really key to point out that there is international law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people, which includes a clause on free prior and informed consent. And this is not being implemented in the United States and in many countries around the world, where there are laws that give indigenous tribes the right to say no to fossil fuel extraction, no to fossil fuel infrastructure, no to projects of extraction on their lands, and that’s not being recognized. There are also treaty rights that continue to be violated in this country. And so I think it’s something that we need to serious look at in the United States is, you know, one of the policies that is really missing, not only from United States but also from the Paris Agreement is the true implementation of free prior informed consent where indigenous peoples have the right to say what happens on their lands.

And this is really important, because 80 percent of all the biodiversity left on Earth right now is in the hands and lands of indigenous peoples. So one of the key ways we can address environmental racism, address the climate crisis, address protection for forests and water and the global climate, is to support indigenous peoples. First, they have the right to their own sovereignty, and the right to live in their traditional ways on their land, first and foremost, but also it impacts all of us. So I think it’s really key to understand that this is where the water is, this is where the forest is, this is one of the key ways we can protect our climate, is to uplift indigenous rights. And Indigenous women are key to that, because they have always been the leaders of the resistance movements in their communities, they are knowledge keepers of traditional ecological knowledge about how to live in harmony with nature, how to live in a healthy way, with the natural world. So I think for a variety of reasons, it’s really time that we recognize the first nations of the country that we’re in, and the relationship with nature, the solutions that they offer and their rights.

A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Minnapolis, Minnesota, 2016. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)

Michele Goodwin  26:07

That’s an excellent point. And I’m so glad that you raise it in that we’ve added it in important ways to this conversation. And, you know, there’s a piece that then connects back to the criticism that you’ve had with regard to the Paris Climate Agreement, which is that one really needs to pay attention to the economics behind it. And to matters that, that affect just sort of what you call the neoliberalism, economic models that drive the destruction, destructive commodification of nature, and market based mechanism. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?

Osprey Orielle Lake  26:53

Sure. I think that it’s really important to understand that we need a transformative model. In other words, if we continue the economic practices that we’re engaged in now and the economic frameworks of neoliberal capitalism, the current system that we’re in, it can’t be a solution, because that is actually one of the root causes of how we are in the climate crisis. So you know, as people have, you know, continue to say, we can’t get ourselves out of the situation we’re in using the same model that we’ve been in, over and over again, stemming from something that Einstein had said. So I think that it’s really important to look at the financing and look at the systems. 

For us to really be in a situation where we can change our economic structure means including the consideration of what we were calling a just transition. In essence, we need to move away from our current extractive economy that is based on the exploitation of indigenous peoples, as we’re talking about people of color women and the land, we really need to end the tragic cycle of capitalism, which is based on sacrifice people, sacrifice zones and sacrifice zip codes. So as an example, you know, we in the United States are founded on the genocidal colonization of indigenous peoples and the global enslavement of African peoples. And in the United States, we don’t really have a full democracy yet, and it is because we are based on capitalism, colonization, racism, and patriarchy which continue to undermine a system that would actually work for everyone, which is based on a care economy as an example.

And many other economic models that we’re looking at that are not dependent on GDP, that are not dependent on endless economic growth. GDP is really insufficient and detrimental too, as an economic indicator. And we need to look at alternatives and really open up our minds that people have been living in different ways with nature and each other for a really long time that capitalism and the way that we are structuring our world on endless economic growth is not the only value system. 

We can look at different types of values of wealth, such as happiness, looking at how we need to visibilize women’s work, housework, raising children and caring for the elderly, and see that a lot of this unpaid work is very undervalued. That we can look at as an example again, Indigenous peoples, they have concepts called as an example, buen vivir, which is living well in your community with people and nature. And I think it’s a time to look at feminist economics, which again, is based upon a care economy, care for each other, care for the planet. And this exploitation and extractivism has caused us to not only be destroying the planet, the potential for future generations, but it is also causing so much conflict in our communities. So we need to change that economic model.

Michele Goodwin  30:18

So when you mentioned GDP just for our listening audience, that’s the gross domestic product. And it’s a monetary measure of the market value of all of the final goods and services produced over a specific period of time. But there’s been a real struggle in our country over time to move away from capitalist models. And we saw the types of hearings that took place decades ago in our country, calling people before Washington, DC if they had any socialist or communist kind of sympathies. And so you know, even though today, there’s a much broader conversation about what our economic system should look like. And certainly we see the struggle, especially during pandemic, where when one looks at the hundreds of 1000s of jobs that were lost, primarily women lost those jobs, during pandemic. 

And so what you’re speaking to his real, right, and so what we’ve been lifting up in this conversation, then is that when we think about the environment and global warming, one has to connect it also with matters that involve reproductive health, that involve the zip codes, as you mentioned, Osprey, where people live, that involve matters involving racism, and what’s happened with regard to Indigenous peoples in our country, how this plays out in Black and brown communities, and much more, and Norbese, I want to get back to you, because you’ve written about, and you began talking about just what these basic issues mean, in the lives of the women that you write about and that you work on, right.

So with Black women for wellness, you’ve written about the environmental hazards, just associated with what Black women put on their skin, and how that affects not only in the environment, but it affects their health. And it seems to me that there is a deeper social and political conversation to be had with that. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were meaning basically? Because you certainly weren’t talking about I think natural haircare products, you’re talking about something else. So tell us what you’re writing about, and why this has been a concern?

Nourbese Flint  32:36

Yeah. Where to start? 

Michele Goodwin  32:40

I know! Where to start, because that’s a deep conversation, right, we could do a couple episodes just on that.

Nourbese Flint  32:46

I’m going to start kind of with the the big macro space, where we were looking at in terms of the ideas around beauty in general. And why this is important, because the way we think about ourselves. And also, beauty is not something just skin deep, it actually buys you access into places, right. And so a lot of times when we think about beauty, folks are thinking about it just as like the way my personal style is. And for Black women in particular, not only are we thinking about our humanity, it is also our access into places, right. And we have seen that folks who are farther from the Eurocentric standards of beauty have rougher times getting into spaces. So the way we do our hair to be considered political, right, but also can also keep us out of jobs.

And so the ideas around how we look, it’s deeper than our personal choice. It is us trying to always remind folks that we are also human, right, and that our dignity is tied up in that in a way, in a particular way in this country, and also around the world, that is not unique in terms of folks of color, but the ways in which it impacts Black women is unique and how it manifests. 

And so that is the overall conversation and what we were thinking about when we started looking at haircare products, so why it’s so important, because when we had those conversations and kitchens with grannies, and about you know, are we gonna straighten my hair or not? It was a deeper conversation then. We just like straight hair, right? It’s a conversation about, how do we protect you? How do we make sure that you are not ostracized, right? And then we started looking at, well, we have to do all these things to fit into these places, right? And that again, we know that beauty buys you into places. And if you are farther from white skin, straight hair, all those other pieces, what do you have to do to get into those spaces with that space?

Michele Goodwin  35:18

Well, it’s funny that you should mention that because Professor Wendy Green has been behind the, has has been the voice inspiration and has done so much of the research behind the Crown Act. And California was the first state to enact the Crown Act, which is basically protecting Black women to be able to work, to go into places, etc, without discrimination based on hair. And, sadly, within law, when Black women have challenged requirements and employment, that they must straighten their hair in order to work in a certain place, they had traditionally lost many of those challenges. But the reality behind what Black women are forced to do when they must subject themselves to these chemicals, is really quite stunning. And so could you share that with the audience? Because it seems that judges really didn’t get it. And for the most part, lawmakers for a long period of time just didn’t get it. And the US military didn’t really get it. So can you actually share with the audience what it means when Black women are forced to use some of these products on their hair, what can some of the results be, and little girls too.

Nourbese Flint  36:38

Right, right. And then shout out to Senator Mitchell, now, Supervisor Mitchell, who was the person who spearheaded the Crown act here in California. There are a range of different things that we saw, from skin lightening could cause cancers with the chemicals in it, that we saw that Black woman had some of the most toxic chemicals on the market that they were using on a regular consistent basis. There are a few things like formaldehyde, and what we call it Brazilian blowouts are ways to like semi permanently straighten your hair. These are the ones that you do for six weeks, there was sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide and relaxers, and what those chemicals did, where they are some of the most caustic chemicals on the market in the sense of, they are gateways, they are cause abrasions and pieces and breaks in the skin. So if you were, if you put other stuff on your hair, afterwards, they have a direct entry into your system. We saw a connection to fibroids, which was something that 80 percent of Black women have had in their life or will have in their life. And so we saw a range of different respiratory issues. If you name it, they are the chemicals…

Michele Goodwin  38:05

They did, right, and including like burns, right. So people actually losing their hair and their scalps burning in dramatic ways. These aren’t just like little patches, but whole hair, whole scalp burns, right. But the idea that this is something that Black women must subject themselves to on a regular basis in order to hold a job in the US military or at a restaurant, or in a company is really outrageous.

Nourbese Flint  38:32

Right? It’s egregious, right? And the idea that how you look and how you wear your hair is an indicator of your access to not only employment, but relationships, into all types of spaces, and if you are valued, is ridiculous.

Michele Goodwin  38:54

Well doesn’t it also say something too about stereotypes, because in the testimonies that have been given, as states have now had the sort of model Crown act before them in the testimony that’s been given is the sort of presumption that Black women and their natural hair somehow are dirty and unkempt, right, which is a deep stereotype that seems to me to come from the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. I mean, it’s something that’s manufactured in many ways.

Nourbese Flint  39:26

Yeah, I mean, we’ve heard everything from dirty and unkempt to the fact that they’re more likely to take drugs if they have natural hair.

Michele Goodwin  39:39

So hair braids lead to drug use, illicit drug use?

Nourbese Flint  39:42

Essentially, that’s what looks to be like.

Michele Goodwin

I mean, you can’t make that up. 

Nourbese Flint

Right. And like, we don’t think that stereotypes are important, but those are the things that, we are when we are in court, when we are in hospital treatment, when all these things, we talked about implicit and explicit bias, right? They are based on stereotypes of people—

Michele Goodwin  40:06

Microaggressions and macroagressions.

Nourbese Flint  40:08

Exactly. And so those ideas where we think it might be harmless or funny, right, are absolutely ridiculous, can have an absolute real impact on your access to care.

Michele Goodwin  40:22

Well, and on that point, I guess before turning back to Osprey, you know, it’d be important to also say that these are not just matters that are concerning for people in employment, but also this affects children too, because there are also school codes and dress codes that also have prohibited essentially Black kids from being able to wear their hair and natural styles. And sadly, we’ve even seen some viral videos of Black children with their hair being cut off mid sport game, or afterwards, that they come home and their parents see them with their hair cut off because some school official or school related official thought that it was appropriate, in order for the child to be able to either participate in a school sanctioned activity or simply to be at school.

Nourbese Flint  41:15

Yeah. And just think how traumatizing it is, if you come to school, very proud of your hair, your braids, and your teacher cuts them off, right. And what we also see is behind Black boys, Black girls are the second most likely to get suspended from school, most of the time for things like dress code and other violations, right, that has to do with the way they look right.

Michele Goodwin  41:39

And then the connection back to them way they look is that the only way to get them to not look like that look, is the forcing them into these chemicals, that you’ve just talked about being the most dangerous, some of the most dangerous chemicals on the market, that otherwise we would say, this is what you should be subjected to. So any teachers out there, any principals who are listening, who want to see the Black girls in the school with some straight hair, know that on the other side of that, what you’re asking for is that those kids are subjected to some very intense toxic chemicals in order to satisfy your dress code. 

Alright, so Osprey, with all of that—we’ve covered so much already in the show. But before we begin wrapping up, I’m curious to hear from both of you about your expectations of the Biden Harris administration. And I want to start with you Osprey. So what is it that the Biden Harris administration can do to address some of the issues that we have been talking about? You’ve mentioned a feminist agenda with regard to the environment, there’s the Green New Deal, how exactly should the Biden Harris administration go forward with aligning with a feminist and woman led climate movement?

Osprey Orielle Lake  43:01

I’m really honored that our organization WECAN is one of the co founders of the Feminist Green New Deal coalition, which is putting forward a transformative feminist agenda for climate policy and program that centers of leadership of women and strives to address the generational impacts of colonization and racism. For the very reasons you both were just discussing. And we were talking about Indigenous women, Black and brown women. I mean, we need to have this administration really deal not only with climate justice, but gender and racial justice, economic justice, immigration issues.

It’s all connected, we need an intersectional analysis, we can’t just separate all of these issues out as if they’re not connected, all of these systems of oppression are impacting all of us. And the only way that we’re really going to have the kind of agenda that is really going to address racism, colonization, patriarchy, and our economic systems is if we see the interconnection and operate in a very comprehensive way, throughout all policy sectors. 

And I think this is really at the crux of it, because all of these movements, and all of these struggles have been really kept in their silos. And we, as people in the movement know that it is not possible for us to go forward unless there’s real reparations to communities historically excluded from Commonwealth, you know, uplifting the leadership and demands of African American and Black communities. The Movement for Black Lives, the Me Too movement. I’m really excited by Indigenous led resistance movements, this idea of land back has to be really centered, of giving land back to indigenous peoples. I think this is this is the role of the Biden administration Harris is to really understand that it’s all connected: people and planet, and if we can’t really have an agenda that addresses our communities, then we’re not really progressing towards the solutions that are really going to help us out. 

And, and I just wanted to say, for me listening to both of you, you know, I’m over here fighting back tears of both rage, and horror, and sadness. I think that one of the things I wanted to mention, as all of us working collectively in our movements right now, is that when we’re talking about feminism, we need a feminism that is not the white feminism that has seriously been critiqued as it ought to have been, you know, the experience of Black women, the experience of Indigenous women, the experience of brown women, the experience of white women, is not the same. And right now, a lot of people like to say, Oh, you know, we’re in this COVID 19 pandemic, we’re all in this together.

And I agree, we are all in this together. But we’re not in this together evenly. We’re not in the climate crisis together evenly, we’re not in the economic crisis together evenly. And I think we need to really call that out and work together. But also be very clear that this is an embodied experience, my experience is different than an Indigenous, or brown, or Black woman. And the only way we’re going to work together is by recognizing these nuances, delving into them deeply, listening to each other, and really coming up with a way forward. And this is on the shoulders of not just the Biden Harris administration, but all of us to really ensure that we enlist policies that are comprehensive across all sectors, and really are community led. It’s enough of the corporate agenda. It’s enough of the militarized agenda. It’s enough of these colonized and racist policies, we really don’t have time anymore. Too many people’s lives are at stake. And we’re in a crisis. So we need transformative, bold change, right at the moment.

Michele Goodwin  47:05

So Nourbese, let me put that question to you about the Biden Harris administration, what would you like to see come forward? What is it that they can do that will make an impact?

Nourbese Flint  47:18

First, everything that was just said, because that was a lot, that was a full word. But I think also one of my biggest wishes is for us to start reimagining and changing the narrative of what’s possible. A lot of times when we talk about climate change, or global warming, or the Green New Deal, this is looked at some type of thing that somebody is losing, right, you’ll have to give up something, and then maybe the earth will be okay. Right. And to change it into, there is possibilities that are far beyond what we are living now and better than what we are living now. And this is one of the ways that we can get there. 

I don’t think this conversation, what I’ve heard so far in the kind of mainstream media has been helpful, because they’ve talked about climate change is like, well, you kind of have to do all this stuff. And then, you know, you might have to be, you know, planting your own food. And the folks are like, I don’t know how I feel about that. But the idea of being able to, like walk down your street and get local food from a local farmers market. And having a tomato that came down the street instead of miles and miles away, like hundreds of miles away in a different state, thinking about the taste of it, right? That’s a whole new experience. And so I would really love to see an avid effort of redesigning the conversation about how this is something that is beneficial to all of us. Right? It is a way in which we can actually have a new future that is not limited by the mediocracy of white man’s dreams. And like just being very intentional about that, like, this is not the best that we have right now. We are not in the best space right now. We can actually do so much better. But we also have to reimagine what that looks like and be intentional about making sure that we are moving to get there.

Michele Goodwin  49:30

Well, on that note, that brings us actually to the final question for the show, which is a quick question wrap up, which is, what’s the silver lining? So we’ve talked about many things and there’s much more time that we could spend on this. We didn’t even get to food deserts and the fact that there are communities that live, one, Indigenous communities that have gone through COVID without proper plumbing or any plumbing into their homes. We’ve not talked about the fact that you have communities and cities like Chicago, where there are virtual food deserts where there’s no fresh food within reasonable walking distance, or in some instances, even driving distances, if people do have cars, and drought and so much more. And so I do hope that you’ll come back so that we can talk even more about some of those issues. But given all of that, are there any silver linings that you see? So this is a quick wrap up question, and I’m going to start with you, Nourbese. What’s the silver lining?

Nourbese Flint  50:34

My silver lining is that we have hope. We are at least moving forwards now. And not moving backwards. So I’m excited about that. And the fact that there are people who are excited, particularly elected officials that are excited to change the narrative, change the conversation and make sure that we’re centering people who have been harmed, in this environmental justice space or injustice space, as we move forward.

Michele Goodwin  51:03

Thank you so much for that. Osprey.

Osprey Orielle Lake  51:05

Yeah, I think the silver lining is that there’s a big wake up call now, between the COVID 19 pandemic, the different climate crises that are happening in people’s communities right now. And we do have an opportunity to really do what is best for people and for the natural environment. And I think that that’s the moment that we’re in. We have, you know, as they say, crisis can turn into opportunity. And so how do we take this chance to build back in a way that justice is centered, that the care and concern for racial, economic, immigrant, gender and global justice is centered, we have an opportunity now to really reimagine where we want to go at this critical time. And I think that part’s really exciting. And I have to give a shout out to the youth because they’re really a strong voice right now. And I’m thrilled with a lot of their sentiments and their enthusiasm for for where we need to go at this time.

18-year-old Rossmery Zayas of Southeast Los Angeles protesting in Paris during COP15, December 2015. From “The Women Taking on Climate Change,” by Antonia Juhasz. (Antonia Juhasz)

Michele Goodwin  52:08

Thank you both very much for joining me for this special episode on our environment. 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests Nourbese Flint and Osprey Orielle Lake for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation. And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to motherhood. It will be our Mother’s Day episode. It’s an episode that you will not want to miss. 

For more information about what we discussed today, please head to Msmagazine.com. And if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed, and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate review and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” and Apple podcasts, Spotify, I Heart Radio, Google podcast and Stitcher. We are ad free and reader support it help us reach new listeners and bring the hard hitting content you’ve come to expect by rating reviewing and subscribing. Let us know what you think about our show. And please support independent feminist media. Look for us at Msmagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. And if you want to reach us to recommend guests for our show or topics that you want to hear more about, then write to us at ontheissues@msmagazine.com and we do read our mail. 

This has been your host Michele Goodwin, reporting rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal and Mariah Lindsey. We thank Oliver Haug for research and digital assistance. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandy Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.