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Elizabeth Clare Responds

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When the editors at AGENDA gave me Mr. Lyon's letter and suggested that I respond to it, I bad mixed emotions. In general I don't like the give-and-take that letters to the editor genérate. They seem to foster a defensive tone and a tit-fortat attitude. But after some thought, I decided to wríte a response. I don't want to defend my article and thinking or prove Mr. Lyons right or wrong, but hope to use this opportunity to provoke further dialogue about race and environmentaJ destruction, not necessarily in the pages of AGENDA but in our communities as we struggle to make a better and more just world. As I wrote the paragraph to which Mr. Lyons refers, I knew that his understanding of it - that I was excluding people of color, assuming my audience was only white, and implying that people of color don' t have a role in the fight against environmental destruction - was altogether possible. At the same time I wrote the article in an attempt to understand my complicity and responsibility as a white, rural-raised, college-educated, progressive lesbian who sits on the cusp between the working class and the lower middle class. I believe that our responsibility for and complicity with destruction - be it domestic violence, war, queer bashing, or environmental degradation - have close links to race, class, and gender. The ideas, policies, practices, and history that underlie environmental destruction in this country are European and European-American in origin, regardless of who espouses those ideas now. This means that white people who want to save oldgrowth forests, preserve watersheds, maintain biodiversity have a different relationship to the struggle than do people of color: different from Native peoples, whose genocide has been and still is intimately connected to environmental destruction; different from Americans and Latinos and Asian-Americans, who, along with Native peoples, often do the dirty work - whether it be digging uranium, cleaning up toxic waste, drilling for oil, working in sweatshops, harvesting pesticide-laden foods, etc. - andor live with the consequences in their backyards. In addition to acknowledging our differences, we need to come together to struggle against destruction. ButI believe that the lattercannot happen without the former. To suggest that everyone play s the same role in environmental destruction and therefore has the same responsibility to end it is to make the mistake of ignoring race. But that certainly differs from the implication that people of color have no role in the struggle against environmental destruction. I apologize for not reworking my story to a point where the hurtful and disrespectful meaning Mr. Lyons found there didn't exist. My intentions count for very little here. Today in many struggles for justice and liberation, there is atension between the work of white progressives who, while paying cursory attention to racism, render people of color invisible and the real jieed for white people to honestly and intelligently address race. Unwittingly that tensión and both impulses entered into my writing.


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