Cheryl A. Canino
Imagine police (or the governmental equivalent) being called about a black man in “nature.” In your mind’s eye, what do you see? If I could step back in America’s history with all its splendor, I would venture that some of your responses might include...in the 1830s “an escaped slave in the woods of Georgia”…1860s “a California freedman being forcibly removed by a sheriff from farmland he has occupied and tilled from seed to harvest for the last five years based on a white settler’s claim”…1938 “a Negro man given a traffic citation by a Maryland trooper for being unsafe with a motor vehicle because he was taking pictures at the peak of Negro Mountain”…1955 “the body of Emmett Till being dragged from the Tallahatchie River of Mississippi”…or perhaps you saw in 2020 “video footage of “Karen’s” call to police reporting feelings of being unsafe in New York City’s Central Park because of African American, Christian Cooper’s birdwatching…
This prospective unit, entitled, Blacks in Nature…Oxymoron or Paradox? based on the seminar Social Struggles of Black Contemporary Art is intended to create a body of work to present students with an opportunity to gain language to discuss issues and concepts related to the “whiteness” in nature. It is an attempt to counter the “whiteness” of the environmental justice movement, by exposing students to a diversity of art, literature and nonfictional texts defining, documenting, examining, challenging, and elaborating the presence of nonwhites in nature text by illuminating its convergence with land and the Civil Rights’ movement. Students will be afforded an opportunity to examine the foundations and assumptions made of the various text as well as the basis of their own as it relates to the inclusion of nonwhites in and the study of nature and the environmental justice movement.
This curriculum uses reflective writing, visual creation, small and whole group discussions to explore the concept of nature and the environment as a human construct. Using art, literature and nonfiction texts, students will be asked to critically analyze ideas of nature, preservation of wilderness, and endangered species against the human concerns of hunger, toxic waste, culture, and urban planning in the context of environmental justice. Students will have an opportunity to critically analyze perceptions, foundations, and/or myths contained or on which the various text is constructed.
The curriculum forces students not only to gather information about nature as a concept from fictional narratives and historical, sociological, and economic essays but it asks them to expend synergistic energy to evaluate various expressions to develop agency, to determine the presence and role of nonwhites in nature and the environmental justice movement. Using critical analysis of text and related concepts (both visual and literary), students will garner a greater appreciation of both their connection and envision a greater potential role in the environmental justice movement. Further supported by a myriad of representations of art, literature, and nonfiction text featuring artists and writers of color the curriculum documents the presence of nonwhites in nature and the environmental justice movement. By extending personal connections to nature to nonwhite students, they will shift their perception from passive recipients of environmental injustices to members of a larger environmental justice community where they are active and viable change agents within a larger global community.