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Women of Color

"Women, Home, and Community: The Struggle in an Urban Environment"
by Cynthia Hamilton
From Reweaving the Web: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

"Development, Ecology and Women"
by Vandana Shiva
From Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989.

"Wings of the Eagle: A Conversation with Marie Wilson"
(Spokesperson for the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en Tribal Council)
From Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings Were Discussed: October 6, 1991
Present: Miranda H., Colleen M., Catherine C., Betsy D., Cathleen M., and Charlotte V.

This month's readings were by or involved women of color. Our discussion was shaped by the fact that all the participants at this session were white women, both working and middle class. Although we missed direct input from women of color, we were all clear that it is not up to people of color to educate us. Their absence, however, gave us the space to talk freely and honestly. Being racially homogenous, we invariably referred to people of color as "they."

While grammatically permissible, this word sparked heated indignation over its innuendo of "Other," an "us versus them" connotation. One women suggested we make a conscious effort to say "people of color" instead of "they." Despite our intentions, it proved nearly impossible to carry on a conversation without using the pronoun "they." Frustrated by our sincere attempts to overcome dualistic speech, this example aptly illustrated how patriarchal language can generate divisiveness.

Cynthia Hamilton's article related the successful struggle of working class African American women in South Central Los Angeles to stop the city from locating an incinerator in their community. One woman wondered why there appear to be so few other examples of people of color fighting environmental racism. The implied assumption—that people of color have a low level of ecological consciousness—was vigorously challenged.

The following points were deliberated at length: 1) as a whole, white people certainly aren't any more or any less enlightened on eco-issues than other racial groups; 2) because of racism, people of color are economically held hostage more often by "primary emergencies;" 3) the mainstream environmental movement is defined and controlled by a white, economically-advantaged agenda; 4) health issues are environmental issues, and as such, communities of color are unquestionably active; and 5) infrequent contact with communities of color keep many white people unaware of local grassroots ecological struggles.

The discussion became more personal as women soul searched: Why does ecofeminism seem so white? Does ecofeminism even speak to women of color? Is it problematic that EVE is mostly white? Women unanimously wanted more women of color participation and suggested additional methods of outreach. We felt that for where we are now, though, our existence is not necessarily contingent upon the presence or absence of women of color.

Several women voiced that our past discussions and EVEnts indicated an ongoing concern for racism. Conscious to avoid any self-righteous back patting, we agreed that it is incumbent upon us to consistently engage ourselves with issues of race. One woman read out loud an edifying list of 26 common occurrences detailing how white people take even the most mundane privileges for granted (ex., asking to speak to the "person in charge" and being pretty sure that she or he will be someone of our own race).

Women were also concerned about the tendency of white people to appropriate the heritage of other cultures (although this is not necessarily a white phenomena). Ecofeminism encourages all people to rediscover their own prepatriarchal roots.

In our readings, Marie Wilson advised "non-Indian people...to go back in your own history, as many Gitksan have had to do." It may be that only when white people reclaim our own prepatriarchal history can genuine sharing with and true respect for non-dominant cultures become fully possible.

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