Beyond Environmental Justice

For blacks, the green movement has been primarily about bad things dumped in our neighborhoods. But health-based activism is no longer enough. Today’s black and green movement must be about jobs and economic sustainability.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Nearly a quarter of black households live below the poverty line, a share that is probably growing. In February, black unemployment hit a whopping 13.4 percent, nearly double the rate for whites. A generations-long gap in homeownership is widening as blacks and Latinos-who were clearly targeted with subprime lending and often steered away from more affordable loans-are poised to lose billions and absorb an estimated half of the nation’s wealth loss from foreclosures. Even the auto industry collapse looks likely to hurt black working families the most

So what does a green economy look like? Green Jobs for All has begun sketching out a clear answer to that question (and, not for nothing, its founding CEO Van Jones is Obama’s new green jobs adviser). First, you have to understand the potential: Green jobs aren’t just high-tech, they’re everything from new building trades such as installing solar panels to revamped old-school ones such as putting in insulation. Like manufacturing was to the 20th century, they’re jobs that don’t require college degrees but nonetheless generate middle-class wages. 

But policymakers will have to ensure adequate resources for training old workers in new skills-and make sure those resources get distributed to where they are most needed. That’s where the dreaded “black agenda” becomes important. It’s become a trope of the Obama era that the mainline civil rights groups and old-school black legislators are stuck in an irrelevant political past. There’s no doubt some truth to that. But building an equitable green economy is arguably now a prerequisite for creating racial justice in America. The green movement is a movement for our times and our people. 

Kai Wright is a senior writer for The Root.