What The Hell Am I Doing Here?
That was the first question that came into my mind when asked to attend one of the many climate strike protests across the UK. My manager asked me to go and everyone else in my team was going. So why did I still feel like I didn’t belong? Why did I feel so out of place? Why was I not as eager as my colleagues?
Maybe it’s because it was my first ever protest? Maybe it’s just not what I expected? I assumed it would be a pretty typical march (the kind you see on TV) with people waving funny banners. There was a little bit of a march around Parliament but it was more of a gathering than a procession. They hung out, sharing resources, listening to speeches and live music. There was a great sense of community, which was intergenerational. I saw a lot of parents with their children. Including my manager and his son. That part of the day I loved.
But there was another part of the day, which as a South Asian woman I just couldn’t connect with. That’s because climate change is a product of racism. Yes, I just said the R word.
I’m tired of hearing that “our house is on fire”. For many people of colour, our house has been on fire for a very long time. And it didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution, it started with colonialism, slavery and the installation of power structures that the West have used to cripple the global south.
It’s largely communities in the global south that are hit first. They know all too well about displacement, floods, drought and hunger. My home state, Kerala, in South India experienced some of the worst flooding the state has ever seen (which triggered many landslides in part down to deforestation) during the monsoon season in 2018. It killed hundreds of people. Our communities know about the pressing need for climate action because we’re the ones experiencing it the most.
So, what’s all this got to do with my initial question? I think it’s coming from a place of wanting more recognition of where this all came from.
From conversations I’ve had many ethnic people believe that climate action is a white protest. Some say ‘why tell governments of the global south to stop profiting from fossil fuels when the West were the first?’. Others believe that there’s an obsession of studying scientific trends which disregards the stories and lived experiences of real people. A lack of compassion and action for the people who lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods.
I’m not the spokesperson for all ethnic people. These are just a few thoughts from the conversations I’ve had.
And despite it all, despite that lingering question of what I’m doing here I couldn’t help but be inspired by the many young people (of all backgrounds) I saw marching that day. Young activists putting action to their words. It gives me hope for the future that these conversations are being shaped by young people all over the world.
It particularly excites me to see increasing trends of women and women of colour being the ones to push these conversations forward.
That question of ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ still lingers but has shifted a little to ‘what the hell am I doing?’.
What am I doing to better speak out on the suffering of millions of people in my home country and the global south?