Anyone ever notice that the face of sustainability in media is pretty damn white?
This is an issue that’s bothered me for a while now, but I just haven’t known what to do about it. How did the environmental movement get such a white public image? Especially when indigenous communities in the US have been fierce protectors of the environment long before the modern environmental movement.
Despite being bothered by this issue most of the people I follow online in relation to sustainability are white. I realized I needed to find some new environmentalist role models to follow and I imagined a lot of other people, particularly members of other racial minorities, might be feeling the same way.
So, to help myself and everyone else feeling the same way I’ve compiled this list of non-white American environmentalists. As a note, I’m focusing on Americans since that is where I am from and I don’t see it as my place to comment on representation in the movement in other countries.
Dominique Drakeford is a black environmental activist, influencer, and writer in Brooklyn with a focus on fashion and beauty. MelaninASS, which stands for melanin and sustainable style, is her website that serves as a hub for all things related to sustainable fashion and black and indigenous people of color. The site features profiles of people of color who have started sustainable fashion brands as well as providing practical advice for consumers about beauty and wellness. Dominique also co-founded the Sustainable Brooklyn symposium series, a series of conferences held in Brooklyn that discusses sustainability and climate justice.
Stephen Steele is a black fashion entrepreneur and the founder of Kind Socks, a company that makes socks that are not only sustainable and ethical but colorful, stylish, and fun. Fueled by a personal love of socks and passion for sustainability Steele was disappointed that he couldn’t find socks that were both sustainable and fashionable. Kind Socks are created with responsibly sourced organic cotton and manufactured in a safe working environment with fair wages.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is perhaps one of the biggest names in environmental activism in the US right now. She earned her seat in the House of Representatives in a historic race against Joe Crowley, who’d held his seat for 10 terms, the results of the race made national news and she became the youngest women in congress at age 29 and of the few Hispanic members. Since then she’s worked hard to protect this planet and created the highly influential Green New Deal, a plan that showed how the US could move towards a new sustainable society in under 10 years. The plan received massive media coverage and whether or not democratic presidential candidates support it has become a key issue for voters.
Jamie Margolin is still in high school yet she has not let class get in the way of being a Latina activist bad ass! She is the founder and director of the Zero Hour youth climate movement, an organization that has organized several large, influential youth climate action campaigns. She has spoken at over 20 conferences this past year about climate change and has even testified before congress on the issue.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is the current director of UPROSE, the oldest Latino community organization in Brooklyn that aims to create intergenerational, multicultural, community-led change for climate justice. She has so many impressive accomplishments I really just cannot list them all in this post, but here are just a few: spoke at the White House Forum on Environmental Justice, founded the NYC Climate Justice Youth Summit, has served as the Dean of Puerto Rican Students at Yale University, spoke at Pope Francis’s Climate Change Rally, and helped lead the 2015 People’s Climate March mobilization which had over 400,000 participants.
Follow Yeampierre on Twitter
Youheum Son is an extreme minimalist, sustainability, and wellness content creator of Korean descent. Her youtube videos alone have pulled in over 8 million views and she also runs a blog ,creates digital workbooks, and works as a life coach. If you’re searching for inspiration to become more sustainable, minimalist, or improve your wellbeing Youheum’s content is a great place to start.
Miya Yoshitani is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network which works with Asian, immigrant, and refugee communities across the state of California. She started working in community organizing at a young age as Greenpeace canvasser in Chicago and hasn’t slowed down since. She attended the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit where she helped draft the original Principles of Environmental Justice which has laid the groundwork for the movement since.
Follow Yoshitani on Twitter
Klee Benally is a Navajo media maker and activist who has been a key part in the founding of a number of organizations protecting the environment and indigenous peoples. Currently based in Flagstaff, Arizona he is the lead singer of a Navajo punk rock band Blackfire and is in charge of strategic planning and training for Indigenous Action Media. He has produced a number of short films and has helped establish several other activist organizations including Protect the Peaks, Haul No!, and Táala Hooghan Infoshop.
Dallas Goldtooth is a Dakota activist and campaign coordinator for the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Keep it in the Ground initiative. He has been especially vocal regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and more generally putting an end to the use of fossil fuels. He is also a Dakota language and culture educator and facilitates workshops in non-violent direct action. Additionally he is the founder of an indigenous comedy group called the 1491’s and believes humor is a powerful way to address life’s problems.
Brett Isaac has a story that may surprise you, his Navajo community had been relying on revenue and financial support from a coal plant on their land for nearly three generations. When it was announced that the plant would be shutting down it was tough for the community to decide what to do, but Issaac helped lead the change to solar. He wanted his community to get involved in solar in part because it aligns much better with Navajo philosophy. The tribe has so far built two solar facilities and is working on a third. Brett has continued to help bring solar power to indigenous communities across the nation through his current work with Navajo Power.
Read more about Isaac’s work here.
I hope reading through this list was as inspiring to you all as it was for me to make it! I did my best to represent a variety of racial and ethnic identities in this post but of course I haven’t been able to represent everyone.
I’d also like to make it known that by writing this post I don’t mean to throw shade at white people at all, I have no issues with white people being in the movement. I want as many people to take up the cause as possible regardless of race. However, I also want to acknowledge and showcase the amazing work being done by under represented groups.
Who are your environmental idols? Would you be interested in lists featuring environmentalists of other under represented identities? (i.e. not race but sexuality, ability etc.) Let me know in the comments!