No Justice, No Peace | Sustainability

There is a threadrunning through almost all major headlines in our country this year: racial injustice.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich head shot

There is a thread running through almost all major headlines in our country this year: racial injustice.

In July 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people of color at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. This is due to historic discrimination; poverty; less access to quality healthcare; educational, income, and wealth gaps; housing; and occupations.

In May 2020 the Pew Research Center reported that COVID-19-related job losses have hit people of color the hardest. Some 61 percent of Hispanic Americans and 44 percent of Black Americans reported they or someone in their household had experienced a job or wage loss due to the outbreak, compared with 38 percent of white adults.

In late May 2020, the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis was an outcome of historic law enforcement policies that allow for biased laws and a lack of humanity by police officers towards Black Americans that resulted in yet another death of a black man over a minor violation.

This August and September, the frequency and intensity of severe weather such as Hurricane Laura and the Western wildfires have been boosted by climate change, doubling the number of extreme risk days for wildfires. And while climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Laura, scientists agree that it made the storm worse. Racism is part of these events as well as inescapably linked to climate change. Historic injustices and present-day policies have left people of color more exposed to environmental threats than white people.

Climate injustice can look different from region to region. In urban settings, researchers have found that redlining—racist banking policies about minority neighborhoods—has created a direct link between minority neighborhoods and increased exposure to air pollution and extreme heat. In the southeast we find historic Black settlements in the lowlands which are more vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm surges from increasingly severe hurricanes attributed to climate change. In every region impacted by deadly weather—wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and heatwaves—economically disadvantaged minority communities are more likely to find themselves “surviving in place.” They have fewer funds to finance options to leave an area as severe weather moves to their location. In all of the above examples it becomes clear: Climate injustice has deep roots in racism in America.



Anytime you read about change management in an organization you will find that starting with a necessary sense of urgency is key to success. I’d say the events of 2020 have presented an ample sense of urgency to address racial justice, wouldn’t you?

Last year I wrote about the importance of social cohesion to the creation of community resilience, which includes actively fostering connection and activating our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) as a critical component. So, this may sound familiar. However, after what has transpired in the past several months, my hope is that you are feeling a supercharged sense of urgency around this issue. EDI work is essential to creating a sustainable library that contributes to community resilience—now more than ever.

Many colleagues I speak with these days are feeling overwhelmed. From the emotional shuttering of library facilities to combat the spread of COVID-19, to continued concerns about library worker safety as libraries reimagine in-person services, to the furor surrounding the need for police reform and the tension in communities around the country that have boiled over into confrontations—there is a lot to do and think about right now.

Let’s not lose sight of the central issue of justice as we deal with the acute impact of COVID-19. While we solve the problems of social distancing, we cannot allow issues related to EDI, climate change, and civic engagement to be put on the back burner. I am reminded of the famous Alvin Toffler quote from his book Future Shock: “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” The next several months will shape our society, economy, and the natural world for generations to come.

Last year I spoke on a panel with David Biello, the author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age. During the question and answer portion of the session Biello was asked, “What is the greenest thing we can do?” His answer was simple and to the point: “Vote.” Biello urged the group to vote for policymakers who understand that everything is connected, that we cannot blindly pursue economic policies that continues to degrade the environment. This extrapolates to all areas of injustice. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it has driven home the need to vote like your life—and the lives of those you care about—depends on it, because it does.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich is Executive Director, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY; a judge for LJ's 2015 New Landmark Libraries; and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker.

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Joseph Montuori

Thank you for these timely reminders, Rebekkah. You've underscored a key value of our mission as supporters of libraries and the communities we love and serve.

Posted : Oct 19, 2020 03:57



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