Green politics has a whiteness problem
Let's do something about it
The EU bubble has a whiteness problem. Which is kind of controversial considering Brussels is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. But if you take a look at the European institutions, you’ll see a clear lack of representation.
The European Parliament currently only has 3% MEPs of colour and there has never been a Commissioner of colour. If you look at the thousands of people who work for the EU, you won’t find many more people of colour represented in positions of influence and power.
The issue goes beyond the institutions. Browse the websites of the hundreds of NGOs, lobbies and agencies gravitating around them and you’ll see they’re overwhelmingly white. As if the many minorities that make up Europe are simply forbidden from entering the sacred grounds of the EU bubble in any capacity, and especially into leadership roles.
This is problematic for many reasons. Not only does it mean racialised communities do not have access to these organisations, the lack of representativity has an impact on the policies adopted here in Brussels. Environmental NGOs play a key role in influencing policies, especially at a time where the climate and environmental crisis are some of the top priorities of the EU. Yet, we know that a lack of diversity and inclusion in decision-making leads to policies that easily ignore the needs of marginalised communities.
Racialised communities, who are already systematically marginalised, carry the heaviest burden of the climate and ecological crisis, which furthermore exacerbates already existing inequalities.
They should not only be at the centre of the climate action work but leading it. Yet, in Brussels, these spaces are occupied by white people.
Can we really expect sustainability policies to be ambitious enough to address the crisis when the people influencing them have never experienced environmental racism themselves?
There's no doubt it is complex to address an issue that is interconnected with the problems outside of the NGO world. While the Brussels green NGOs cannot erase structural racism from Europe, there are steps we can take.
It's great to see that there are NGOs who have kickstarted efforts to address this issue and we congratulate them for taking the lead. But it’s unfortunately not enough. As white people benefitting from this system and witnessing the lack of diversity on a daily basis, whether in our offices, in meetings or events, we are challenging these organisations and by definition us as a sector to do better. To lead by example and to walk the talk even when it’s uncomfortable and requires unlearning, restructuring, sharing power and giving space.
It is a work in progress and we need to start today.
Below we list concrete actions that could help NGOs start rebuilding their work and organisational culture to be more intersectional and anti-racist. These actions are informed by the recommendations of ENAR and conversations with Jana Degrott, Alice Bah Kuhnke, Julie Pascoët, Sarah Chander and Yasmine Ouirhrane.
We are calling on NGOs to commit to do better by implementing a policy that includes one or more of the following points:
Create and implement a strategic and public anti-racist policy that addresses internal processes like recruitment policies, existing and future staff but also events and subcontractors, as well as public work and communications, and includes a commitment to creating a safe space for people of colour, with an appointed person to whom racialised staff members can go to for support:
Develop a positive action scheme for the recruitment for racialised communities, especially into leadership roles;
Offer a paid traineeship specifically for young people of colour and identify relevant platforms to share the offer;
Develop metrics and collect data to ensure progress;
Organise mandatory anti-racism training for staff at least once a year;
Encourage affinity groups for racialised communities if not within your organisation (specifically for smaller NGOs) with the organisations in your coalition;
Develop an event and public communication policy to ensure fair representativity and intersectional anti-racist communications practices;
Develop an anti-racist policy strategy to analyse and restructure your work from an antiracist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial perspective, for example including links with migration, fortress Europe and the disproportionate impact of climate breakdown endured by those in the global south.
This petition and campaign has been developed and curated by the Burning Case Podcast, a youth led initiative that aims to mainstream the links between politics and sustainability. It relies on the decades of work of anti-racist activists who have been pointing out these issues for years. We’d like to specifically thank Julie Pascoët and ENAR, Jana Degrott, Alice Bah Kuhnke, Sarah Chander, Yasmine Ouirhrane and members of the POC Affinity Community Brussels for their advice, wisdom and insight and for leading anti-racist work for years.
We will deliver the petition to the heads of the following green NGOs in Brussels by 29 March 2021 and follow-up with them by the end of 2021.
Bellona, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, CAN Europe, Carbon Market Watch, ECOS, EEB, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace EU, HEAL, Oxfam EU, Seas at Risk, Transport & Environment, WWF EU, Zero Waste Europe
Who are we?
This petition and campaign has been developed and curated by Chloé Mikolajczak and Marianna Tuokkola from The Burning Case Podcast, a youth-led initiative that aims to mainstream the links between politics and sustainability.
As white climate activists working in the field of EU policy and particularly in environmental NGOs, the Burning Case team wants to highlight the issue of diversity and inclusion. Following a report from the US highlighting the lack of diversity in the green movement, we started wondering if the situation was the same in Europe and what we found was pretty telling. While this isn’t based on a scientific methodology or a funded study, a preliminary research on the staff of the main green NGOs in Brussels showed a clear lack of racial and ethnic diversity - on average, 85-100% of employees in the top green NGOs in Brussels appear to be white*.
*These figures are not based on scientific research. The Burning case Podcast team analysed the staff pages and LinkedIn of most of the green NGOs in Brussels and the result gives an approximate idea of the situation.
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