The Slow Ways to racial justice

By Martin Crabbe | June 12 2020

The Slow Ways to racial justice

Blog Category: Campaign updateBlog Tags: Education

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    Timeline: The Selma-to-Montgomery marches

    No one can win the war individually. It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. (from the song Glory, by John Legend and Common.)

    I am a white British hetero-sexual middle aged man (I refuse to accept any older description than that!!). I am very aware of the privileges that my ‘accident of birth’ has brought me in this unequal world – despite my wife wondering how I squandered it! 

    In a previous blog I quoted the Catalan writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon who said “fools talk, cowards are silent and the wise listen”.

    Well. I’m afraid, Carlos, I am going to be foolish and talk. I have listened a lot. And anyone who knows me knows that silence is not a state I inhabit easily. 

    I feel very strongly that the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter response, demands more from me than just to listen. In my role as Chair of the London Sustainable Schools Forum I would like to explicitly state our position although I acknowledge that it is currently  in the form of a personal blog rather than a well thought out policy statement.

    Racism in any form goes against all the principles of a sustainable school. We fully support the campaign by Black Lives Matter for sustainable transformation to social justice.

    A sustainable school should be inclusive. It should value diversity in all its forms. And it should strive for equality. Racism simply does not fit. 

    But a sustainable school should never be passive in its approach to racism. It should actively look for ways to improve things locally. This does not mean that every piece of school work should be about racism but it always demands an approach of inclusivity, diversity and equality.

    A sustainable school should also be a caring school. But caring is an active concept – think ‘care workers’, who’s crucial role during Covid has been highlighted so clearly.

    Our care agenda is threefold: care for yourself, care for each other and care for the environment. Specifically, in relation to racism, we believe that any act of racism is not only harmful to the victim but also the perpetrator and their environment. A sustainable school must address issues of racism at all levels and local solutions found. A sustainable school is a learning school and it accepts that mistakes will happen but will always work together to find ways forward. But it should never white-wash racism and should always be brave enough to challenge it. Dialogue is always crucial. Understanding is always important. But racism is never, ever acceptable.

    A sustainable school has a holistic, inter-connected approach to education working across the school campus, its curriculum and its wider community. Racism must be addressed wherever it is found because otherwise it will impact elsewhere. 

    A sustainable school is not naive. It should be fully aware of the complexities of challenging such an ingrained problem as racism. Whilst it will have an anti-racist ‘line in the sand’ it will always endeavour to lead by example. To engage all its community in practices that aim to break down prejudice and misconceptions. It has a belief that most people are generally decent and want to do the right thing. This view has been recently illustrated by the way people have supported each other during Covid and the mostly peaceful protests of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

    The problem here is that it feels, painfully, very much like we have been here before. And as someone who has now been around the block a bit I just wonder how long this journey to racial justice will take. How many black people will need to die just because of their skin colour? How many lives will be significantly hampered just because of skin colour?

    Civil rights protests have been around since the 60s and have succeeded in creating significant, meaningful societal change. Perhaps what is different here is that the killing of this one man managed to stand out even against the backdrop of something as powerful as Covid. The horrific global deaths, financial ruin and mental health crises brought about by Covid are not diminished. But the powerful response to the brutal injustice of the killing of George Floyd is undeniable. 

    It would be too easy to say that previous civil rights marches have been for nothing. It is at times like this that we need to remind ourselves that we are on a very difficult journey of paramount importance. We haven’t come this far, only to come this far. Just because we are struggling doesn’t mean we are failing.

    My experience in London over the past 25 years is that educators working in sustainability-related fields are anti-racist. But there is a caveat. They are still predominantly white. I wrote an essay about 20 years ago about why ‘people of colour’ were under-represented in education for sustainability (I used the term ‘people of colour’ then for what is mostly described as BAME now in the UK. In this blog I’ll use the term ‘black people’). 

    I had just submitted my essay and I was chatting about it with an older Jamaican black woman. We sat under the apple tree in her garden. Beautiful. Flowers in bloom. Sun was shining. Jerk chicken on the BBQ. Friends and family of all ages were sitting around chatting. She talked about love of gardening and we talked about Jamaica, back when she was a girl. Fresh mangoes on the veranda. 

    She told me that my opening premise was wrong. Racism was a sustainability issue that many black people had no choice but to fight on a daily basis. The recent injustices faced by the Windrush Betrayal  brought this back into stark focus in the UK last year as highlighted so devastatingly by the Guardian journalist, Amelia Gentleman.  

    My experience today is that black people are still under-represented in formal ‘education for sustainability’ roles in London. This may be a signal that things are not as good as we like to think. But the situation is definitely more representative than 20 years ago. 

    Judy Ling Wong from the Black Environment Network is one notable  exception to this rule. She has led her movement for years across the UK constantly challenging the status quo with love and a determined resolve to effect positive transformation! This was illustrated recently in her work for the London National Park City which has been simply breathtaking. I have talked with, listened to and read articles by Judy over the years and I know that she is under no illusion of the size of the task at hand. But she is an incredible force for good who believes in people and in nature.

    Racial (and wider social) justice cannot be separated from environmental issues. Climate Justice, for example, must involve social justice. In the last couple of years I have worked alongside some of the people at London Climate Action Week, most notably Malini Mehra. Her whole approach is underpinned by strong social justice values. It explicitly seeks diversity of approach and diversity of people when looking for solutions. It has looked, and continues to look, outside the usual cliques to bring all of London (or as much as possible) to the table.

    Dan Raven-Ellison, is another such person. He has recently launched a project called Slow Ways. Dan’s Slow Ways project has not set out with an anti-racist focus but, like all his work, it is explicitly inclusive. Whether it’s the work he did with the Geography Collective, National Geographic or his seminal work alongside Judy Ling Wong to establish London National Park City, Dan has strived to open up the world around us to everyone. 

    The Slow Ways project follows in the same mould. To re-establish a network of footpaths linking people and places across the whole of the UK. The aim is simple but fantastic. Paths for everyone, so that we can all move around on foot (or wheelchair where possible), more slowly and meaningfully, re-valuing places and people. The logo – which is the subject of a design competition as we speak, will use the snail for its imagery to illustrate the Slow Ways concept perfectly.

    It was when I was watching the slow walks of the Black Lives Matters protestors that I started thinking about the simple power of walking. Just watch the film Selma. It’s true that the Black Lives Matter marches created their own Covid-based controversies but their power was undeniable.

    Covid has turned us all into local area walkers (I use this term to include people in wheelchairs too). Suddenly we crave the type of network of local footpaths that Dan envisions. We have learned, by walking, to really see and value what’s in our area. We have learned to be respectful of each other, trying to give 2 metres social distance where possible (well, most of us have!). And the people that we see out walking are representative of our area. Walking has become democratic. 

    I will join Dan and the people of London (and hopefully other parts of the UK) on the networks of Slow Ways. I will introduce these routes to the students in my school and promote them across London as a fantastic resource for all. The project itself is worthy enough but it’s underlying values of inclusivity, slowing down, valuing where we are, and who are with, are the principles I will take forward into other work for London Climate Action Week, especially our Doorways project.

    On these walks and in my work I will listen. I will talk. And I hope that I will continue to be inspired to improve the world around me. But I will not be silent. 

    #Less is more.

    #Less hate/ intolerance/ misconception/ violence/ racial supremacy

    #More love/ tolerance/ understanding/ peace/ equality and diversity

    I would like to say specifically to those black people who I love deeply: I will do what I can while I travel on my Slow Ways towards racial justice. 

    I maintain the audacity of hope. 

    Click here to find out more about the Slow Ways project.

    Click here to visit Black Lives Matter.

    Background Information on Doorways

    The Doorways blogs are part of a reflective project run by London Sustainable Schools Forum. Please visit our website page here: http://www.londonsustainableschools.org/doorways.html

    The Doorways project aims to support schools and those that work with schools to consider how to develop a more sustainable approach.

    If you want to dig deeper we recommend that you visit Transform Our World for great resources.

    It specifically supports the following:

    Care for yourself. Care for each other. Care for the environment.

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Martin Crabbe