Building a road to recovery for subtle racism in conservation (commentary) – Mongabay

In almost equal measure, discussions and actions around racism in 2020 have been extremely painful, and extremely hopeful. The following scenarios came from a wider discussion around race and privilege that began in February at the Pathways 2020 Human Dimensions Conference held in Nairobi.

The group involved in the discussion that’s continued since the conference includes CEOs and leaders of organizations, conservation biologists, ecologists, conservation practitioners, researchers and community conservation managers.

 

Promisingly, in a few short months, people who historically haven’t been staunch allies have spoken up about issues surrounding race and put their support behind the global movement against racism. While we may comprise a vista of Black bodies, the African continent has been the scene of vile racist subjugation for hundreds of years. Most would believe that at least on our own soil in the 21st century it would show up less and less.

 

It is not yet so, at least for the conservation world.

The conservation sphere in Africa has its foundation in the fortress model of conservation by exclusion, separating African people from nature as a rule. While it has evolved, much of the ideology behind it has remained. In many parts of Africa, conservation is still elitist, centered on non-African “heroes,” and run in nongovernment organization (NGO) styles that offer limited leadership opportunities to people from within the countries.

While this article centers on race, we recognize that issues of diversity and inclusion go much further, especially on a continent with 2,000 languages and an abundance of cultural contexts. And although the article is a rallying cry to look inward, we do recognize that there are some external forces at play. Donors to conservation work, who are often from the Global North, play a vital role, but the obvious power skew can muzzle conservationists who often jump through hoops to get funded, rather than prompt difficult discussions about some attitudes and mindsets that need to be addressed.

 

For a just conservation space in Africa, care should be taken to consider varying African cultures and systems put in place to ensure results are met, and people should feel cared for, seen, and respected in the spirit of equality. Ultimately, however, there should be a recognition, not just to create equality in organizations, but to ensure that the destination is to have African conservation have African leadership, and specifically leadership from those living closest to the resource — those whose cultures, history, land and all that lives upon it are inextricably linked.

 

Much has been written about the fundamental need for change, but not enough has been done to describe everyday situations in the workplace that lay bare microaggressions. Less has been written to help organizations and people recognize themselves in the illustrations, and provide a road to recovery.

 

The following examples are centered on Africans suffering microaggressions in the workplace which they take as a given. For us, this is a shared experience between people working in very diverse contexts. The schema is a compilation of stories — sometimes comical, sometimes tragic — based on very real events across the conservation world in Africa.

 

Each scenario is prefaced with a call to action, and closes with questions that we believe those working in the conservation field should consider, from those who contributed.

 

Find out more...

 

 

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