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< William L Hawkins>

I would like to start by acknowledging I am writing this from the unceded ancestral lands of the Serrano people-Yuhaivatam and Maarenga’yam. After the Spanish Mission swept through in the late 1700’s, horrific white-settler violence in the mid 1800’s, and the subsequent relocation of people multiple times by the federal government, most of the Serrano survivors are split between San Manuel, Morongo, and Soboba reservations. Locally there is still reserved land in Twentynine Palms that is attributed to the Chemeheuvi, with whom the Serrano peacefully coexisted with starting in the 1860’s.

The federal government opened up the homestead act from 1863 to 1977, recipients receiving free parcels of land in exchange for developing it. The homestead act was created shortly after the US’ Indian Removal Act and Indian Appropriation Act which assisted in exclusively holding land for white settlement in the west and preventing indigenous communities from returning to their homes.

Some black Americans took advantage of access to the homestead act in the Mojave and Victorville area. Though documents portray a lifestyle of perhaps more freedom than where these families were coming from, social racism persisted in community exclusion. The return of extreme arid climate after some fruitful years of farming added in forcing families to move away. Although the homestead act was not blatantly racist in for whom it was accessible, it is noted approximately 1.6 million white families acquired free land through the act and only around 3,500 black families were able to jump through the governmental loops to do so- many of these presenting challenges to newly freed black communities. This of course reinforces just one hurdle in severe economic inequality - generations of inherited land, land ownership, and inherited wealth.

The nearest cities to me in the high desert have a 5% black population in Yucca Valley and 11% in Twentynine Palms according to US Census data.

A black man, Malcolm Harsch, was found hung from a tree in Victorville May 31. Another man, Robert Fuller, was similarly found in Palmdale, CA on June 10. Robert Fuller’s half brother was fatally shot by police days later next to a car he’d been in with a woman and her seven year old daughter, who witnessed it.

I am writing in response to the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin and the racist police state that allowed him to be a fucking cop that felt it necessary to murder an unarmed black man by holding his knee on this throat for 8 minutes and for his fellow officers to not stop him. It is possible to not have cops. It is possible to pay reparations. It is possible to admit and restore the histories of this country from perspectives that are not white.

Black thought is environmental thought. Black Studies is, at its core, an ecological critique.  - Joshua Bennet

You cannot talk about environmentalism without what and for whom the environment is. The environment is the air, the water, the soil- it is quality of LIFE, it is the ability to LIVE. Maybe ‘for whom’ feels wrong, but I will certainly say, access and quality have very much been denied, withheld, and stolen from the majority of humans to serve the wants, desires, aspirations, of the minority white population, in this country, and the world. The history of the United States rides upon denying these things, or just enough of these things to suppress the people who have continued to fight for them. As systematic genocide and displacement sought to destroy and remove the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans were shipped across the Atlantic to become the tools of mono-culture and capitol. When industrialization took over production and fortune, these communities became targets- for labor and for waste.

The Flint water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline were probably some of the most recent publicized versions of this- affecting the lives, safety, health, and autonomy of black and indigenous communities. But there is no Erin Brokovich movie for these. The poisoning of BIPOC communities across this country is nothing new. Toxins from mining/power/oil/extractive projects and nuclear waste are regularly redirected from white communities- with the aid of inherited wealth and lawyers to communities with less of these things. This of course severely affects, especially, the wellness and development of children exposed to these materials. As the global pandemic hit- it not surprising, the people most at risk- those medically pre-disposed, those with essential but low-income jobs, those with least access to running water and health resources are not white. It’s bullshit to say that this pandemic is an equalizer. It is a stratifier. It has very effectively pointed out every level of inequality in our country. Its insidious, and one more facet to institutional racism that stems from America’s post-slavery identity trauma- extracting labor, health, and capital under the guise of freedom and equality.

The term ‘inner city’ developed out of housing policies beginning in the 1930s that slowly concentrated minority populations with low income into dense urban areas by limiting availability of home loans and home ownership opportunities (not to mention severe social racism for those that were able to achieve these things) while white flight took job opportunities out of cities. Historically these areas have very low percentages of green space, and as has become commonplace with development, those that are given priority in creation and access for parks and community garden space are subject to green gentrification- often quickly shifting out historic populations in favor of higher paying, whiter ones. 

Though there were a significant amount of black farmers and land owners at the turn of the 20th century, as generations passed away, technical issues with land transfers, literacy for deeds, proper documentation, and extreme discrimination within banks and federal loan agencies shrank these numbers and pushed rural black communities out of vast portions of the country and into more suburban and urban areas.  

For much of the 1900s, black Americans looking to travel and connect to their country outside these areas were subject to terrorization by white Americans. The Negro Motorist Green-Book (1937-1967) was specifically established as a collaborative guide book by Victor H. Green to assist in avoiding hostile, segregated, and dangerous parts of the country.

These policies and relocations intersect the ongoing mythologies that pollution and toxins in and near urban areas are not relevant to the environment or count as ecologic crises and that the work of environmentalists support people’s lives equally. It is, and it does not.

The beginnings of what we consider the environmentalist history in the US favored and supported a white-nature. These ideals discounted and disregarded the cultivation of the Americas for countless centuries pre-western contact by indigenous populations who were incredibly active in the shaping of the landscapes considered ‘wild’. Many even grounded their environmentalist beliefs in eugenics as a way to target population growth and shift blame to lower income communities and people of color, despite as we are well aware of now that the richest 10% create half of the world’s carbon emissions (this conversation started well before carbon was the focus, but nonetheless remains an accurate portrayal of who uses and pollutes the world). Apart from constant sweeps to remove indigenous people from their lands or from returning to their lands, the creation of federally reserved wilderness and parks also denied access and ability for poor and black Americans to live self sufficiently by denying a true commons. Instead- the reservation of these publicly owned lands has done little to support the livelihoods of the people, and largely served to provide resources to corporations to build power from and who often go on to poison the communities around them with little to no consequence. As this type of capitalist-fueled destruction ramped up, it was under the general title ‘environmentalism’ that began fighting to preserve the white-wilderness for white people.

These are incredibly abbreviated histories. The level of complexity that shrouds disparity between people in this country and world is buried in its establishment, and therefore every facet of its existence and those living it. Working towards destabilizing historic amnesia feels like part of the necessary work in reclaiming a land that has the possibility to serve those who are here now. It’s a lens into HOW and in which ways we’ve been manipulated into upholding these systems so that we can see where to start unraveling them. The attempted genocide of the original American peoples and the hundreds of years of enslavement of Black Africans are what made this country possible- reparations are due, re-oganziation is essential, and re-evaluation is necessary.

It is and has been a consistent goal of mine with this project to maintain awareness of how and where whiteness (colonialism, capitalism, racism) has shaped relationships and history with both nature and animals. It is also a goal to explore the possibilities of these relationships reaching beyond the confines of their racist histories and imagining together how to open up the world to the possibilities of equitable existence among humans and other species. Being a white woman in a rural area having started the project with money I got from my grandmother- yes I have so much more work to do (I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot by now), and I feel the necessity of doing it-  I would not have taken on this project if I didn’t want to try and confront these things. This is a slow project though (I started this newsletter two weeks ago and like I said, its just an abbreviated start) and I’m committed to taking the time and effort needed to push harder on making it feel like an equitable space digitally and physically. It is an immense privilege to live in a diverse world- maintaining and supporting the physical, mental, and spiritual well being of BIPOC is part of shaping a more beautiful existence for all. SUPPORT BLACK TRANS LIVES.
(on going research)
For the Gworls
The Okra Project

Gofundme for Tony McDade
Marsha P Johnson Institute
black food justice
Soil Generation
The Audrey Lorde Project
Herbal Mutual Aid Project

Perfect Knowledge of the Ground (google drive compiled by Raina Martens, so amazing!!)
soul fire farm- actions
black vegan activists
black vegan restuarants
outdoor afro
center for diversity and the environment
Ocean Collectiv



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Institute for Interspecies Art and Relations · 751 Bushwick Ave · Brooklyn, Ny 11221 · USA

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