Olivia Juarez: Environmental health means being pro-black

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Black Lives Matter protest at City Hall Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

Black and brown communities throughout Utah are hurting for the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Darrien Hunt, Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal and many more victims of police brutality.

Our hearts are broken. Not just for the wrongful death of these people at the hands of police. We’re hurting for Christian Cooper who was harassed by a white woman for being black while birdwatching. We’re hurting for Ahmaud Arbery who was lethally shot by two white men for being black while jogging. We’re hurting for missing and murdered indigenous women whose lives are often taken by men working in man-camps near resource extraction sites.

We’re hurting for local Latinos and Pacific Islanders whose airways are poisoned by air pollution. And we’re hurting for the black communities still without clean drinking water in Flint, Mich., and all over the country.

The white violence that has harmed these lives has shown that outdoor activity comes with immense risk and lethal consequences to people of color. Despite colloquialisms in the outdoor community claiming “outdoors for all,” it is our experience as people of color today that the outdoors are not for all. Not while racism is acceptable enough for most people to passively stand by as police brutality and racism in the outdoors degrades black and brown wellness in America.

As nationwide protests including in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo have tried to relay, living as a person of color in America is dangerous. Police brutality threatens community racism as prevalently as environmental racism pollutes, antagonizes and kills black, brown and indigenous people in the United States daily.

Racism in the outdoors bears heightened harm today. Spending time in Utah’s ecological beauty is well-sought out for mental and spiritual reprieve in this arduous spring. In the pandemic it’s one of the few safe activities to do outside of the home. Getting outside is a particularly healthy activity for recipients of social and environmental racism. Encountering plants, animals, running water, clean air and exercising mends physical, spiritual and mental wounds. Nature doesn’t discriminate. People of color need nature now more than ever.

We’re calling on our outdoor community to make Utah safe for black, indigenous and brown people in the cities and in the wild.

To anybody who has enjoyed a walk, park, trail, river or bike ride this spring; those dedicating their energy to environmental conservation and restoration efforts; business owners and managers profiting from people’s outdoor recreation needs; educators teaching people about ecology and safe, responsible outdoor ethics; and federal, state, and local employees administering public lands: Consider adopting a pro-black, pro-indigenous, and pro-people of color framework to the structures in your life.

This affirmative framework means actively participating in the wellness of all communities of color. As a group of young Latinx professionals in Utah’s environmental sector, the Environmental Chinampa of Imaginemos Utah is starting by asking Salt Lake City Council to defund the Salt Lake City Police Department. In our pro-people-of-color framework, we are also asking all who are not black or indigenous to recognize and root out anti-blackness and colonialism in ourselves and among our communities. This is because we know that advocating for a healthy Earth means eliminating racism on Earth.

Nature is a place for reprieve from racism, not a place for violence against people of color. It’s going to take all of Utah’s outdoor community to make our mountains, deserts, parks, and walkways truly safe for all. Please join us in this effort to foster black and brown wellness in Utah’s natural environment.

Olivia Juarez

Olivia Juarez is a co-lead of Imaginemos Utah’s Environmental Chinampa. She lives in Salt Lake City.