Sustainable Brooklyn’s Whitney McGuire explains why environmental justice and intersectional environmentalism is so important for all of us.
– KEYS SOULCARE
These days, the environment is taking a front seat in the news cycle, with conversations about how each of us can do our part to literally save the world. While the current state of our planet (and hard work that needs to be done to protect it) may be daunting to digest in one sitting, experts like Whitney McGuire are bringing access and education to the conversation of environmentalism and sustainability. McGuire co-founded Sustainable Brooklyn with Dominique Drakeford as a way to manifest the impact a community can have on the environment when given the tools. Here, Whitney sheds light on how societal inequities connect to the environment as well as the role each of us can play in caring for the earth and ourselves.
What is environmental justice?
Environmental justice is the pursuit of correcting so many effects of a colonized settler society. That type of society is what we see when whiteness is the standard and we center that as the standard of health. It affects who gets what privileges as well as who’s entitled to what types of communities and access to resources. Environmental justice is the result of correcting that.
For instance, in the ’70s, a community sued the federal government over the prospect of putting a landfill in their community. It’s also people in the community galvanizing around the social issues that stem from what these environmental issues cause.
It’s an intersectional movement to correct this instability that centering whiteness has caused.
What is intersectional environmentalism?
When I think of intersectionality, it’s the perspective of [people on the] margins that informs how we should be responding to certain problems or issues, and approaching life. I hate to use “shoulds”, but this is idealistic because right now that’s not really happening.
Understanding the perspective of the margins means that we are bringing to light life, empathy, compassion, and expanding the ways that we care for people.
Everyone’s life is expansive. The universe is expansive. So, if we are really thinking about expansiveness and transforming the ways that we actually approach the future, we have to think about how we can incorporate the perspectives of the margins into this forward movement.
How does our shared commitment to the environment connect to the commitment we have to ourselves?
I can speak personally: This year has been difficult for me (and so many of us), emotionally, mentally, and physically. I realized that I have such a visceral response to staying inside. Dealing with the added layers of psychological trauma and constant work of undoing and healing from generational trauma, while also being a really empathetic and introverted person has been hard.
I had to go to my tools and really ground myself in how these tools can help me get through this period. One of my tools is getting outside. It’s engaging with my garden, engaging with trees, going to parks, and breathing fresh air. 2020 was an awakening of sorts for me, and I’m grounding myself in the understanding that to care for the Earth is to care for myself.
What are some of the myths around living sustainably?
The number one myth is that it’s expensive, and that you have to buy into it. Rejecting that is where my perspective on starting Sustainable Brooklyn came from.
I think about the way my grandmother taught me to save foil and plastic bags, or that you can put anything in the Country Crock butter container. These ways to cut down waste are really embedded in our culture. To be told that people who shop at fashion retailers are wasteful, and the shame that comes from some environmentalists, is really coming from a colonial perspective. The guilt and the shame model doesn’t work because we need all hands on deck. It’s like what can you do right here, right now, and build upon that.
We’ve been sustainable in the most poignant ways. Our existence is proof of sustainability.
The second myth is how sustainability is sold as this whitewashed narrative. In reality, it looks so many different ways when we expand our understanding of sustainability.
Are you optimistic about where things are going?
I am not more hopeful than I usually am. What I’m doing is taking every day one day at a time. I have things on my calendar, but I’m putting energy into the now… I don’t know what the future looks like.
I’m hopeful that with the valid pain and rage we’re all feeling, we will birth one of the most fulfilling eras of humanity for all people.