Globally, children and young people are leading the way on climate action. But despite their incredible work, they’re also facing another battle. While trying to raise awareness and save the world, they’ve hit the wall of systemic racism from adults and the establishment media.
“You are deleting a story”
Worldwide, most people now know about Greta Thunberg. And while her work raising awareness of climate chaos is incredible, there are many other children and young people whose names should be equally familiar. But globally, adults and the establishment media have whitewashed their stories and vital contribution to this crisis.
Eight-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur in India has had enough. She’s called the world out insisting people stop calling her “Greta of India”:
Stop calling me “Greta of India”. I am not doing my activism to looks like Greta Thunberg. Yes, she is one of our Inspiration & great influencer. We have common goal but I have my own identity, story. I began my movement since July 2018 even before Greta was started. pic.twitter.com/3UEqCVWYM8
— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
In 2019, Kangujam told global leaders to “act now against climate change” at the COP25 climate conference in Spain. Although she’d already spoken about climate chaos in 21 countries, newspapers tagged her “Indian Greta” and “‘Greta’ of the Global South”.
But, as Kangujam says so eloquently, making this comparison ‘deletes’ her story:
If you call me “Greta of India”, you are not covering my story. You are deleting a story.
— Licypriya Kangujam (@LicypriyaK) January 27, 2020
Adults and media around the world have chosen Thunberg as their poster girl. Meanwhile, they’re literally cutting out incredible, young Black climate activists.
“Climate activists of colour are erased”
On 24 January, the Associated Press (AP) came under fire for cropping Vanessa Nakate, a 23-year-old Black climate activist, out of a group photo taken at the 2020 Davos climate summit. The photo only showed four white activists.
Why did you remove me from the photo?
I was part of the group! https://t.co/rrhxcjaSye
— Vanessa Nakate (@vanessa_vash) January 24, 2020
According to the Guardian, Nakate said:
Climate activists of colour are erased. I [had] activists who messaged me to tell me that the same thing happened to them before but they didn’t have the courage to say anything.
“Do not erase voices”
It’s worth noting that there’s absolutely no animosity or competition between the young people themselves. In fact, their solidarity should shame the adults. Thunberg made this very clear, and Zero Hour, founded by 18-yr-old Colombian-American climate activist Jamie Margolin, amplified the message:
The climate movement is diverse and massive.
Please cover the full movement and do not erase voices.
Please shine a light on ALL activists, please cover ALL our stories.
Activists who have been working for a long time and need you to pay attention. https://t.co/bkmhqm60J2
— Zero Hour (@ThisIsZeroHour) January 29, 2020
So while they’re leading the world on climate action, these young people now have a second battle – challenging racism:
Day 5/30: #AfricanVoicesMatter #AllVoicesMatter #SayNoToRacism #digitalstrike in solidarity with @vanessa_vash and with all others experiencing racism, especially in climate activism. @NamugerwaLeah @NakabuyeHildaF @israhirsi @LicypriyaK @SadrachNirere @FIsabelM @GretaThunberg pic.twitter.com/0Grawhcq5X
— Grace Maddrell 🌍🌎🌏🏳️🌈 🌳 (@ElmGrace) January 28, 2020
Young people demand unity, not division:
My name is Elizabeth Wathuti, a Kenyan climate activist.
What keeps me going is knowing that we aren't the last generation, more will come after us and my fight is not just for us but also for generations to come.
Let's unite in securing a livable world NOW for a safe future.🌎 pic.twitter.com/2sJ8Tsk9ae
— Elizabeth Wathuti 🇰🇪 (@lizwathuti) January 26, 2020
So yes, Thunberg’s activism is incredible. But we also need to learn the names of all these other incredible young people and stand with them too. Kangujam, Nakate, and Margolin deserve equal praise and respect. So too does 12-year-old Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny from Flint, Michigan. In 2016, she wrote to Barack Obama demanding he take action on the Flint water crisis. Copeny told Vox that the climate movement, “need[s] to address issues of environmental racism because it is a huge part in the climate movement yet it is treated by most as a nonissue”.
And as 17-year-old Xiye Bastida pointed out:
The first ones to get affected are Indigenous communities who are displaced because of infrastructure and disrespect of the land. It’s not just coming from Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities being victims of pollution that the fossil fuel industry brings. It’s much deeper than that. Whose spaces are they choosing to contaminate and build infrastructure in the first place?
“A liveable planet for all”
These issues are too important to ignore. As Nadia Nazar, a 17-year-old Indian American activist, told Vox:
The climate crisis is the largest threat to every single person and living thing on this planet. We must make sure that we include everyone in our solutions because everyone needs to be uplifted. This movement led by Indigenous, frontline, and youth of colour will win and achieve a livable planet for all.
White global leaders and journalists may well try to compare all these incredible young people to Thunberg. But the world needs to sit up and listen, because these activists won’t stand for it, and nor should we.
Featured image via Wikimedia – Dilanlekamge
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