Pray For [Blank]: Climate Disasters & The Narrative of Place

I can hear the water trickling back up through the pipes. It’s been off all day, probably ‘cause it rained like a motherfucker last night. They don’t call it a rain forest for nothing. We generally don’t realize how precious water is until our access to it gets interrupted, which brings me to today’s topic. My essay, A Country Within A Country: Climate Change, Privilege, and Disaster Survival was published in Bitch Magazine last year but I’m only now just getting around to sharing it with y’all, and, unfortunately, it’s relevance hasn’t waned in the slightest.  This Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of the major earthquake that devastated Ecuador last year, the event that sparked this series in the first place. It brought me to write this:

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina and its mismanagement were broadcast across international media for all to see, and while the hurricane took many lives and will impact the Gulf region for generations to come, the media spectacle showing the hurricane’s effects didn’t translate into solidarity. New Orleanians were abandoned, almost as an example for what we, the underprivileged in the most privileged place on the planet, have to look forward to.

With #45 and a bunch of dudes who get rich off of shit like this in office, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got a lot more Katrinas on the way. But the focus of this piece is how the narrative of climate disasters (and tragedies in general) shift based on where they happen and who they happen to, and particularly how this plays out on social and mainstream media. For example:

“If you turned down the sound on your television, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think it was Haiti or maybe one of those African countries.” – Soledad O’Brien’s reaction to Katrina on CNN. Then there’s Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine: “These things happened in Haiti, but not here.”

If Katrina taught us anything, it’s that those things do, in fact, happen here. They continue to happen and they will not stop. So can we retire this awful tendency of comparing tragedies on US soil to ones in “those African countries”? And what do they reveal to us about the myth of American exceptionalism? I turned to author Edwidge Danticat’s incredible essay, Another Country, to try to answer this. From her work:

“It’s hard for those of us from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, and those of us who are immigrants who still have relatives living in places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at times when an unimaginable disaster shows us exactly how much alike we are.” Let’s be real: This kind of rhetoric is a coded way of saying, “We deserve better. They don’t.”

Nope, the US isn’t disaster-proof, and being shocked that it isn’t operates from a flawed understanding of how shit works here. Because those folks in New Orleans probably have more in common with people in “those African countries” than they might with the wealthy hotel owners downtown in the French Quarter. Did we really believe that the resources the US has looted from the rest of the world, a primary driver of climate change, were equally distributed among the people of the US? That Tio Samuel is really gonna have our backs when disaster strikes?

I don’t think people like O’Brien or Gibbs consciously believe this, though. I think this is the message the United States sends to the rest of the world on a daily basis, from the events and ideals at its foundation, to its current foreign policies, to the way it treats migrants of all kinds right here in the god-blessed U.S. of A. I think people like O’Brien and Gibbs represent so many in the American public who feel the need to help craft a revisionist fairy tale about their country to boost its self-esteem and to swallow the reality that one in eight households here live in hunger (or “food insecurity”) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They treat the Story of America like a child crying home to his parents because the kids at school called him racist. The revisionist consoles the child, saying, “Now now, son, tell them you aren’t racist, you’re alt-right.”

Nothing will bring you back to your senses like a climate disaster. They lay bare the ugly reality of how things work here, and since we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these, we have to be real about who’s going to be hit the hardest, and why. (Hint: it’s race.) We’ll need more than Facebook filters that are usually reserved for majority-white victims of tragedies, more than a fake story about a shitty dream to unite us; more than a flag. Because what use is all of that when you don’t even have water?

Read the full essay here.

April POC Travel Book Club

Hey people, I moved the POC Travel Book Club over to TinyLetter so sign up here if you wanna join! April’s book club pick is Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, available on both Kindle and in print at the link above, and we’ll be discussing it on Sunday, April 30th at 3pm EST via Google Hangout. For those of you who’ve been unable to join us, here’s a list of the books we’ve read in the past:

  • Migritude by Shailja Patel
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks
  • Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
  • Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat by Paula Young Lee

More on Black Faces, White Spaces:

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

Happy reading!

Going Beyond the Binary

Hey folks,

A few months ago an essay of mine, Beyond Binary, was published in Archer Magazine’s THEY/THEIRS issue dedicated to non-binary gender identities. It’s the first time my travel photography has been published in a print magazine, and an internationally-circulated Australian one, at that!

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Archer Magazine Issue #7

It is when I’m moving in between places that I feel the most pressure to be pinned down. As a travel writer and diasporic person of color I spend a lot of time in transit, and it’s this condition that reveals to me time and time again that places, like identities, are always in flux, and that borders aren’t as binary as they’re made out to be. Borders, like the gender binary, cut right through me, through so many of us. They attempt to neatly and quietly delineate difference no matter how much it continues to overlap, intersect and blur. It is between the constructed binaries of place, language and gender that I feel the most at home and most under attack, for it is these in-between spaces that are the most heavily policed.

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Get your copy of the magazine here or see where it’s stocked around you here.

LISTEN: Traveling (and Eating) Better with Bani Amor

Hey people.

If you’ve yet to be blessed with the opportunity to hear my mousy voice chase an idea in circles in search of a point to make, then you’re in luck, ’cause the good folks of the Racist Sandwich podcast recently had me on their show to talk food, travel and power. For the uninitiated, the Racist Sandwich podcast is the best podcast, according to me (and many others). Hosted by journalist Zahir Janmohammed and chef Soleil Ho, both Portland-based POC, they tackle food, race, gender and class with guests doing dope shit in the food world, all while being cute, witty and smart. Listen to my episode here and if you’re down, back their Patreon here.

In other news, I’m officially one year older and am spending ~ me ~ time in Ecuador playing with kids and dogs, chillin’ with friends, cooking, and writing like a motherfucker. For those of you anxious about missing my birthday and scrambling to send me a belated fruit basket, step away from Amazon and put some change in my piggy bank instead. ‘Preesh!

I’ll check in with y’all next week with some more updates. In the meantime, make yourselves useful and punch some Nazis while I’m away.

 

New Year, Who Dis? Updates, Round-Up & POC Travel Book Club!

People, I’m glad we could all put our differences aside for a moment to collectively say FUCK YOU to 2016. If only we had that kind of consensus on actual shit and not a 12-month span of time, but I digress. Before I go into a quick round-up of Shit That Did Not Suck For Me in 2016, I wanna announce January’s POC Travel Book Club pick, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele.  We’ll be discussing it on Sunday, February 5th at 1pm EST over Google Hangout. Sign up here if you haven’t already. Read or die! Now for a few things I accomplished in 2016:

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Click to purchase
  • Having work published in Bitch Magazine, Apogee Journal and Archer Magazine
  • Speaking on panels at the Queens Book Festival, Comic Con NYC and reading at the Asian-American Writer’s Workshop
  • Meeting Edwidge Fucking Danticat, Jamaica Fucking Kincaid, and Dr. Sam Waymon, musician, composer, activist and Nina Simone’s brother
  • Being invited as a faculty assistant for VONA’s travel writing workshop for people of color and other travels

Here’s to a less shitty 2017!

Tourism Is Not A Positive Response to Unnatural Disasters

In part three of my series on climate change and oppression for Bitch Magazine to accompany my feature Unnatural Disasters: The Human Cost of Human-Caused Disasters in their latest Chaos issue, I debunk the popular myth that traveling to a region as a tourist in the wake of a “natural” disaster caused by climate change boosts local economies and helps residents rebuild.

Tourism as a response to ecosocial disasters, or preventable crises brought about by intersecting inequalities that meet at the environment, is often touted as unilaterally positive. Once a devastating natural hazard afflicting marginalized people pops up on Western social media feeds, we’re pressed to pray, to donate five bucks to the Red Cross, and then to visit the affected place, whether to aid in the reconstruction effort or to just “boost the economy” by tipping the hotel masseuse, I guess. But calls to “fly and buy” serve those who have the most to gain from disasters, and when you consider how much the tourism industry not only takes advantage of aid money for development but also contributes to climate change in already vulnerable regions, it becomes clear that this response is a capitalist ploy working to exploit Black and brown bodies while they’re still warm.

I go on to use Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the water crisis in Bali as examples of how tourist entities drain local communities of resources that are desperately needed before and after disasters. Also, mass tourism sucks for the earth. Read the article in its entirety here and if you got thoughts, comment below!

The Least Convenient Truth: White Supremacy and Climate Change

If we’re going to protect the sacred and prepare for the worst, we must look at the environmental effects of white supremacy.

Real talk: it’s been a fucked up month in a fucked up year and I, like many of you, am afraid. Since November, I’ve been hibernating, maybe because I feel safe inside, also because the cold weather is racist, and have tripled down on reading and writing. A lot of that writing was published this week, notably my series on climate change and oppression for Bitch Magazine that accompanies my feature on “natural” disasters in their latest Chaos issue. I’ll be releasing one essay per week, starting with everyone’s favorite topics, white supremacy and climate change. Just some light holiday reading.

“Poor places experience forest-cover loss because they are exploited by wealthy places.” Historical context for current crises demands accountability from those wealthy places, and this is key if what we’re fighting for is environmental justice.

I lay out a brief history of the deforestation of Haiti by colonial and imperial powers that took place way before the current (white, Western) environmental narrative decided it was an issue. The takeaway here is that these wealthy countries have been using the climate to punish Haiti for resisting white supremacy ever since they dared to overthrow their slavers.

I get capitalism, but if your goal is long-term domination, wouldn’t you be in favor of environmental sustainability? Turns out: Nah. Because they knew in the end, people of color would be the ones paying the highest price for the environmental consequences of settler colonialism.

I blame the creation of the settler state, which is predicated upon the genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of people of African descent, for being a major contributor to our current climate crisis, and the settler colonialist framework many environmental groups rely on that stalls progress. I think it’s detrimental that people of color remain stewards of the land, because we historically know how to take care of it best.

Read the essay in its entirety here.

Thoughts? Cries for help? Totally panicking? Share your feels below.

decolonizing travel culture

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