Just stop reading for a minute and quickly scroll back through the other articles on XR. Take notice of how many white faces there are. Now take notice of how many non-white faces are there? None? That’s exactly what many people are starting to notice.
Comprised of predominantly white middle class citizens, the group has been heavily criticised for their continued adherence to class and race divisions within the UK. As mentioned briefly earlier, there is a certain level of privilege which has grown to be commonly associated with the movement. The Wretched of the Earth activist coalition – aimed at representing the Global South and people of color in response to climate change – wrote an open letter to XR voicing these grievances(21)(22). But, how can an organisation which advocates such equality and diverse modes of creative expression continue to alienate the BAME(black, asian and minority ethnic people) and working class population? How has XR adhered to the force they are attempting to resist?
The clues can be found at the very spawning of the movement. In 2018 a group of concerned academics got together in a living room in Stroud and founded Extinction Rebellion. Their ethos of was formed in a predominantly white (98.2%) market town in Gloucestershire and soon consisted of more than 100 senior academics from all over the country. Like every movement, XR grew in the image of its founders – white, rural and incredibly middle-class, surprise surprise (23) . Unfortunately this is all too similar to the story of most pro-eco movements. Friends of the Earth chief executive, Craig Bennett, did research in 2017 finding that the ‘environmental profession’ – including workers for green NGOs – was the least second diverse of all sectors in the UK. Bennett even describes them as ‘white middle-class ghettos'(24).
Guardian journalist Damien Gayle describes XR as a protest movement’…rooted in a new age hippy aesthetic of paisley robes, circus skills, camping, roll-ups and psytrance music(22) This highlights, not a lack of solidarity with non-white and working class values but a mismatch of cultural relevance. Minorities don’t feel alienated by protesting in itself – just take a look at the creative wealth of the UK Black Power Movement of the 1970s(25)- but the lifestyle which comes as a package deal when joining XR.
An activist with Wretched of the Earth, Guppi Bola, mentioned that ‘…grassroots organising is often very isolating for people of colour, particularly in the kinds of cultures or activities that are decided on.'(22). Whether it be meeting in a pub to discuss action as a muslim or Britons from ethnic minorities being asked to get involved with activities in ‘conditions people are not very comfortable with’, such as camping on streets or hiking, it can be an incredibly alienating environment. For Bola the only solution to this is XR finding ‘…a strategic, well-organised aligned action that would involve people of colour at the start of the decision-making process.’ to ensure inclusivity(22).
I hope you enjoyed engaging with my creative shenanigans! If you so happened to find this topic interesting or have any questions/suggestions, I love a good chin-wag so please do get in touch. Thank you for reading!
TATIANA AND THANKI, NATHAN, 2019, Stop Asking People of Color to Get Arrested
to Protest Climate Change. Vice. [online]
[viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mbm3q4/extinction-rebellion-xr-is-shaped-by-middle-class-white-people-it-does-not-serve-people-of-color
(22) GAYLE, DAMIEN, 2019. Does Extinction
Rebellion have a race problem? The Guardian. [online] [viewed: 03/03/2020]
(23) TAYLOR, MATTHEW,
2018. ‘We have a duty to act’: hundreds ready to go to jail over climate crisis.
The Guardian. [online] [viewed:
03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/26/we-have-a-duty-to-act-hundreds-ready-to-go-to-jail-over-climate-crisis
(24) BAWDEN, TOM,
2015. Green Movement must escape its ‘white, middle-class ghetto’, says Friends
of the Earth chief Craig Bennett. The Independent. [online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-movement-must-escape-its-white-middle-class-ghetto-says-friends-of-the-earth-chief-craig-10366564.html
(25) Brown, Mark,
2013. Britain’s black power movement is at risk of being forgotten, say historians.
The Guardian. [online] [viewed:
03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/27/britain-black-power-movement-risk-forgotten-historians