Scholars and Activists Speak Out About Why ‘Black Life Matters’

Hundreds of scholars, activists, policy makers, and artists converged late last week on the University of Arizona for a conference titled “Black Life Matters.”

The conference, which was free and open to the public, attracted scholars from 19 campuses nationwide. It was sponsored by the university’s department of gender and women’s studies; Lehigh University; The Feminist Wire; the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and gender equity; and dozens of academic departments and centers across the Tucson campus. It focused on areas including racial disparities, the “criminalizing” of black communities, sexuality, violence against women, and immigration.

The conference’s academic speakers touched on a variety of issues, including the forces that are weighing on the black community. Here’s a sampling of some of those scholars’ comments.

Carolyn Finney, assistant professor in the department of environmental science, policy, and management at the University of California at Berkeley

Some people say black people don’t have a relationship with the environment. Every time I hear that, it makes me crazy. When I showed up at Berkeley eight years go, there was a large introductory course on the history of culture and natural-resource management in the U.S. I looked at the syllabus. I saw readings on Native Americans and Asian-Americans and Latinos, but there was nothing about black people.

How can we talk about the history of natural-resource management in this country without talking about black people, who toiled the land against their will and stayed there anyway and lived their dreams?

My parents were caretakers for a 12-acre estate outside New York City that belonged to a wealthy Jewish family. I grew up in the gardener’s cottage. It was a beautiful place, with a small pond with fish, flowers, and gardens. My parents never considered themselves environmentalists. But for me, at the core, it was their love of the land and working it, caring for it, and understanding how you’re connected with it that made them environmentalists. Where do they fit in the larger story of who we are in the country?

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