Blacks and the Environment: A “White” Issue or Universal Concern?

Celebrations for Earth Day 2008 kicked off on Sunday April 20th with a concert at the National Mall. Despite the weather conditions that eventually cancelled the concert, a crowd estimated at 30,000 people showed up to support the environment with their presence.

Of that 30,000, Earth Day concert attendee Raymond Greene did not observe as much diversity as he would have liked. “Most of the people that I saw there didn’t look like me,” he said. Greene is African-American.

The Earth Day Network organizes Earth Day, which is officially observed on April 22nd of each year. The group was founded by the organizers of the first observed Earth Day in 1970. Though it celebrates Earth Day once a year, the group works to encourage environmental responsibility and engagement throughout the year.

According to the Earth Day Network’s website, Earth Day is a celebration enjoyed by all. The site states that, “Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the world by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities.”

While unsure of the faith aspect, Greene did see a few people of his nationality and background during the Earth Day 2008 concert in Washington, DC. According to Greene, however, people of his background were less of a presence in the crowd than on stage “ Mambo Sauce came on stage for a bit. I heard one of the Black Eyed Peas [group member Wil.i.am] was supposed to perform too,” he said.

The absence of a significant presence of African-American participants has caused some to view Earth Day, and many of the related environmental issues, as pet causes of the majority population alone. Nyanquoi Yargawon, however, does not believe that is the case.

Yargawon, a graduating senior biology major at Howard University , says that minorities are interested in the environment as well. “I care about the environment, but I don’t get what concerts are going to do about the problems,” he says. He goes on to add, “Just because I don’t participate in the events doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

Looking to replace his SUV with a hybrid vehicle , recycling plastics, and replacing his home’s light bulbs with energy-efficient models are all ways that he is trying to care for his environment. “I’m doing my part,” he says. He adds that, “The environment affects us all as people, not black or white. I’d like to think that we’re all doing our part.”