Wretched of the Earth

Race Matters
A coalition of climate justice groups led by Indigenous people and people of colour who organise talks, campaigns, and publications to address eco-racism and white privilege in direct action tactics for climate justice


Several climate groups have been criticised for failing to think sufficiently about how racism is woven into capitalism’s environmentally damaging practices, how differences of race and class can alienate activists from one other, and how the use of activist tactics such as civil disobedience put people of colour at disproportionate risk of arrest and imprisonment.1For example, Extinction Rebellion. See Karen Bell and Gnisha Bevan. “Beyond Inclusion? Perceptions of the Extent to Which Extinction Rebellion Speaks to, and for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Working-Class Communities”. Local Environment 26, 10 (3 October 2021), pp. 1205-20 <https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2021.1970728>.


Naming themselves in honour of the Martiniquian political philosopher Frantz Fanon’s book on anti-colonial theory, Wretched of the Earth Coalition represents the interests of the Global South and people of colour in the context of climate change and climate justice activism.2Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated from the French by Richard Philcox ; Introductions by Jean-Paul Sartre and Homi K. Bhabha (New York: Grove Press, 2004). The coalition has participated in marches and direct action campaigns, and has written open letters highlighting several critiques of environmentalist action.3The Wretched of the Earth, ‘An Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion’, (3 May 2019) <https://www.redpepper.org.uk/an-open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/> [accessed 21 November 2023]. They base their actions and publications on three salient ideas. First, the idea that hierarchies akin to colonialism will only repeat themselves if climate activists suppress the voices of Indigenous people and people of colour in climate protests. Second, a critique of climate protests such as those organised by Extinction Rebellion, for pronouncing apocalyptic diagnoses for the planet. Such pronouncements erase the experience of Indigenous people and people of colour who have faced genocide and ecocide for centuries.4The coalition emphasises the year 1492 as a watershed moment when European colonisers landed in the Americas and initiated settler and plantation colonialism, incurring lethal climate change through environmentally racist extractive and exploitative practices. Third, an understanding of privilege. The coalition states that directives for climate action should consider the way activist tactics assume white privilege by promoting strategies such as street protests that endanger Indigenous activists and activists of colour who account for a disproportionate number of people arrested, brutalised, and imprisoned.5Damien Gayle, ‘Does Extinction Rebellion Have a Race Problem?’ The Guardian, 4 October 2019, sec. Environment <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/04/extinction-rebellion-race-climate-crisis-inequality> [accessed 10 November 2022].

Wretched of the Earth’s organisational structure as a decentralised coalition has the potential to democratise governance by bringing different interests together to collaborate, often temporarily, in a partnership towards a common goal, without centring around one dominant organisation or leader. Climate’s intersectional nature requires precisely this kind of multiplicity of perspectives.6Matthew Taylor, ‘The Evolution of Extinction Rebellion’. The Guardian, 4 August 2020, sec. Environment <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/04/evolution-of-extinction-rebellion-climate-emergency-protest-coronavirus-pandemic> [accessed 10 November 2022]. Practices of universal design, for example, could learn from this approach in considering an expanded ecology of users and implications. Wretched of the Earth’s organisation as a coalition, meanwhile, demonstrates the potential of working in flexible alliances that draw from members’ various disciplinary and professional skills (including law, policy, design, organising) to work across different contexts and with different methods, towards a shared goal of environmental justice.


External links

Black Lives Matter—the decentralised political and social movement highlighting racism and racial inequality  

Movement 4 Black Lives—a coalition of more than 50 groups representing the interests of black communities across the USA