A couple of years ago, my friend said a phrase in passing that went along the lines of ‘humans are the Earth’s virus’.
At the time, it seemed pretty self-explanatory. From her point of view, we have the ability to create poison that inflicts harm onto the planet. From an environmental standpoint, we view earth as our home, yet we are seen to destroy it. Why do we see ourselves performing like a virus when placed inside something teeming with life?
Whilst this quote rings a certain truth, it also operates an initial awareness of the power that we are capable to inflict, not just on the home we live in, but to ourselves.
It’s in every animal’s natural instinct to fight. When I lift up my head, hung on the wall is a picture of two hares in a scramble. They’re stood up tall, arms out to attack. This is a simplified reminder of the innate ability that animals have to protect territory, their mate and food. Three basic necessities to survive and continue on surviving. Biologically speaking, humans are animals. However, we have wielded social responsibilities and implications through the thousands of years that we have been walking on this planet. The longer we are here for, the deeper our footprints sink into the earth. Right now, we are at an imperative turning point. As we watch our feet sink, ankles submerging, legs slowly engulfed too, we think when is the right time to make change? There’ll come a time when we are cemented in the ground, when change can no longer be made, when we have reached the point of no return. Climate change doesn’t care for time, it is an emergency. Social injustices cannot be ignored, they are an emergency.
Our past is ingrained with images of hatred, oppression and exploitation. Unequivocally, we have overtime become our own worst enemy.
The past week, I have been stuck what to write and how to write it. Ideas thrown back and forth in my head, but I just couldn’t settle on a topic that I felt was urgent enough to talk about, something that would feel slightly significant in a world that is continually fighting issues much larger than our individual selves. Race. Racial injustice. Black Lives Matter. White privilege. These are the words that I have been mulling over in my head. Much like most people, every post made online, every video shared of unwarranted and targeted police brutality in America, I was over whelmed with a feeling of anger and remorse. But, matter of fact is that I am a white woman uneducated on my own privilege in this world. What right do I have to write on issues that don’t target me? However, as the week goes on the more I realise the social responsibility as a human to for once not just stand there, getting consumed deeper and deeper into the earth, but get my head out the sand and start seeing things for how they really are.
We know what’s bad and good in this world, but I encourage every white person to question the system they were brought up in. This isn’t about what you have thought about before, but it’s about things you haven’t had to think about before. Being a child and wondering why the plaster wasn’t your skin colour or why when your classmate asks you to pass the ‘skin-coloured’ pencil, it isn’t your skin colour. These supposedly innocent examples are the effects of the deeply rooted colonial pasts.
What has happened in the past week concerning George Floyd and the following protests and riots is decades and centuries worth of racial injustice. The death of George Floyd on May 25th 2020 sparked global attention after a police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes. As millions step up to hold the police accountable, it’s clear that change in social systems must be made, but issues that are so embedded in history can’t just be changed within our institutions, such as the criminal justice system, but change must be made within ourselves as well. Not just for the people that are plainly, out-right racist but for anyone who is not a PoC (people of colour). It is critical that people perform self-reflexivity on their own privilege. We must make ourselves uncomfortable with the reality of the world we live in. When individual beliefs interact between people, interpersonal oppression occurs, which then goes on to influence polices and practices in institutions. No matter the scale, they all perpetuate systemic oppression. The cultures our ancestors have stolen, the land they have claimed, all in the name of ‘discovering new places’. The truth of it all lies in the fact that famous figures, such as Christopher Columbus’ legacy was built on the concept of white superiority. The implications of mis-education over long periods of time starts to introduce the concept of internalised oppression, where the public policies and institutions that vindicate systemic oppression become a contorted version of ‘normal’ for the victimised group. For example, what we teach all children in schools as a great feat of exploration suppresses the grim reality of how indigenous rights were ripped away from them, rights that they still fight for today. When we’re told something enough, we start to believe it.
The fight for indigenous right and the environment occasionally coincide. In 2016, significant protests arose from the construction of the Dakota Pipeline. The Pipeline transports half a million barrels of oil per day across the USA. Although this protest was primarily about stopping construction of the pipeline that threatens the land and water supply of Native Americans, it also exposed how indigenous people today are performing as activists. Racial and colonial histories lie at the epicentre of these protests. They’re fighting for much more than their land, they’re fighting to end the persistent struggle of indigenous freedom. The importance of these voices should never be overlooked, they are protesting to educate on the politics of resistance, without forgetting shameful histories that overarch the deep-seated intentions for speaking out. After they protested unarmed, the response from the police was to fire rubber bullets and use other violent-provoking weapons, a strategy that has also been used on the BLM (black lives matter) protests this week.
In 1973, the Psychologist Zimbardo conducted The Stanford Prison Experiment. What was meant to be a seemingly ‘controlled’ study into situational variables that affect abuse of power developed into an unsafe environment for the so-called prisoners.
Why are humans so obsessed with power?
This infatuation with controlling and manipulating others has no doubt pathed the road of the problematic pasts. The findings from this relatively small-scale, 6-day experiment in the basement of the Stanford University psychology department are akin to the past and present behaviour of the U.S police force. A crucial part of the study was ensuring that the ‘guards’ were given props that embody having physical power over others, such as batons. The identity of the guards were also hidden with tinted sunglasses; they stepped out of their own conscience and performed as part of a group. As children dream of one day becoming a policeman, I’m certain most would never dream of carrying out acts of overt racism, nevertheless the truth is that as soon as they put the uniform on they manifest into an institution that is inherently built on racist foundations.
The rioting and protesting as a result of the murder of George Floyd and a history of prejudiced treatment of PoC has appeared across all 50 states.
Millions stand in solidarity in each state, from the capital to the far north in Alaska. Some fear that the on-going worldwide protests mirror the civil rights movement in the 60’s, however this movement should not be feared, but instead we should relish in the relentless anger of the millions that echo words of change-makers from over 60 years ago.
In a world that is full of problematic humans, it’s encouraging to acknowledge that there is an opposite to everything. Black and white, sharp and smooth, hot and cold. For every person amplifying inhumane behaviour, there are ones that activate change. The role of activists in a world that is constantly seeking change should never be underrated. A duty that anyone can engage in, fighting to live in a world that is rid of the discriminatory and unjust treatment of minorities.