Feeling Draped In An Overcast Of 'Diversity'

Diversity—a word swirling around me like the wind that blows around me on windy days. And like the wind, I feel entwined in it and sometimes overshadowed by it.

When I decided to go into the environmental field, it was admittedly to fill a void that I felt in my college classes about the environment; I became committed to an unknown journey in search of a place where I saw resemblances of my existence saturated in intersectionality.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and Bruno Latour’s The Politics of Nature inspired in me an awakening reinvigorating a lost love for science and nature that had been pushed down inside of me due to outside cues and my notions of societal boxes I was to fit in.

Over the years, I had forgotten about my love of Earth Science in high school and about my Earth Science teacher complimenting me for shattering his tests by getting perfect scores. I had forgotten about the times my friends and I rescued kittens hiding under porches as a kid and my love for camping and the pleasant smell of the Yosemite National Park air I experienced with my family.

And while being exposed to several environmental authors awakened in me the connection to nature and love for environmental exploration, I often felt unable to fully adapt these texts to my life experience.

Even though I had watched my grandmother garden every spring on Chicago’s Westside, I felt that the nature represented in many environmental works was separate and far from my personal experiences. The images clear in my memory of my grandmother knelt down in her front yard flower garden as loud bass-blaring cars drove down busy, concrete streets and through busy alleys past her back yard tomato plants did not fit with images conveyed in class. The nature around my grandmother’s house wasn’t pristine, but neighborhood kids, majority black, climbed trees and spent long amounts of time outside interacting with their outdoors. Still, these images felt in contrast to the nature I was being taught about in school.

I became addicted to finding out what this nature was and why my version of nature differed from what was presented to me as the norm in my first environmental class in Illinois. I wanted to identify myself within the plurality of nature that Latour suggested in his texts, making it plain for someone like me to see and identify with one day. I wanted to be a part of a new narrative that automatically included my nature—my grandmother’s nature, my inner-city nature.

My inquiry involved educating myself in taking sustainability, ecology and other environmental courses. I found empowerment and disdain in discovering long trails of black environmentalists celebrated to an extent but hidden beneath the shadows. I found privilege in rediscovering my own family’s connections to nature: backyard barbecues, gardening, great grandma’s Mississippi walnut trees, hunting, and outdoor family reunions.

The further I immersed myself within environmental studies, the more I found that diversification is where my experience best fit—outside the realms of dominant experience with the outdoors or nature. My search to find my experience led me down a road that often perpetuated the narrative that black people or other people of color were less interested in outdoors due to differing experiences with nature.

The word diversity became a part of me—something often shoved into my path as I strive for my experiences to be included authentically within the plurality of “natural” experiences and as I seek to further develop my love and support for biodiversity and responsible stewardship of our resources.

As a person of color, I look forward to the day when the word “diversity” and the lack there of is as easily viewed as the discussion of biodiversity being an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. I search for a day when I don’t feel draped in overcast in search of a place of plurality where my nature is also the norm.