The Black and the Green
British-Jamaican audio artist and DJ Weyland McKenzie-Witter explores the sometimes uneasy relationship between the Black and the Green, as political movements and ideas.
It's the untold story of their longstanding relationship, first as political movements developing in the United States, a wariness that continues today between new organisations such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion – the latter (along with the wider environmental movement) criticised for being overwhelmingly white, idealistic and middle-class. Climate activists meanwhile have sometimes dismissed what they’ve called ‘identity’ politics as too parochial in terms of looming global climate disaster. It’s a real tension, with very different emphases between local and global; material issues vs idealism.
As radical movements, both the Black and the Green have their roots in 1960s political consciousness and activism. But there were key cultural moments when they came together, around the release of Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 album ‘What’s Going On’ and in the work of eco-conscious, Black Power spoken word group The Last Poets. Both artists addressed environmental racism within the ghetto and the promise of a new Black ecology.
By drawing on his Jamaican lineage, Weyland explores the deeper affinity between the Black and the Green, symbolically joined by the Jamaican national flag, the Black of the People and the Green of the land are inseparable, crossed by the Gold of the sun. But Jamaica and the Caribbean are also highly vulnerable to the devastation of climate change. Weyland writes: ‘As the climate catastrophe becomes worse, the effect it is having on our homelands is something affecting Black people uniquely. With the face of climate activism being so predominantly white, and with Black political attention elsewhere, which voices will be heard?"
This feature explores the differences and reasons for separation of the movements, but asks if there might be a growing alignment between the Black and the Green with new thinking around ‘climate justice’.
Contributors include founding member of the Last Poets Abiodun Oyewole, barrister and author Ulele Burnham, Professor Michael Taylor, a climate scientist at the University of the West Indies, theatre maker and actor Fehinti Balogun, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Dr Gail Bradbury, Black Lives Matter organiser Adam Elliott-Cooper, journalist Greg McKenzie, author on climate justice Jeremy Williams and Kevin Le Gendre, who has written extensively on the history of Black music.
Produced by Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4