Rooted in the Earth – A Testimony of Love for the Environment

Dianne Glave has been a friend of Outdoor Afro from the beginning, starting when I discovered her important work related to African American foodways to research for a blog I wrote last year. Dianne’s newest book, Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage has just begun arriving in mailboxes this week. So we asked Dianne to share with us some of the journey leading her to write this terrific work, and we hope you will be inspired to purchase your own copy that covers a ground-breaking perspective of African-American historical engagement with the outdoors.

My parents took me camping in upstate New York when I was a child. We stayed in cabins for one week each summer from when I was a small child to my early teens. I was basically set free to roam around the property of the camp. I saw my parents at meals in the common dining hall. I sat on the dock with my fishing pole putting worms on the hook, catching fish, and then throwing them back in the water. I had so much freedom. I’d row from one side of the lake to the other by myself. I ran around the woods by myself jumping over logs and sitting in fallen leaves. My grandparents also had a farm in Jamaica in the Caribbean. I was down there visiting them often during the summer as a child. I saw a pig slain—his head and neck placed on a low swing. I looked into the well that provided our drinking water; it was filled with golden fish which I now understand cleaned the water.
It all came together when I went to Stony Brook University to work on my M.A. and Ph.D. in history emphasizing African Americans and the environment. Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage is more than a decade of effort from my time at Stony Brook. Actually, it goes back to my parents and grandparents. My audience, of course, is African Americans because that is the focus of the book. I do feel though that the book holds universal truths about the environment that anyone around the globe can relate to. For example, somehow someway we all go back to agriculture even if we trace back to the pre-history of the dawn of humankind in the cradle of civilization we call Africa.

I also owe so much to the internet community who have taken me in and embraced me through my blogging and the upcoming book. I have known Frank Peterman and Audrey Peterman, co-authors of Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care for several years as part of the world of diversity and the environment. I met Evonne Blythers through Keeping it Wild about the same time I learned about the Petermans.  I was able to reconnect with all of them. Rue Mapp and Jarid Manos, new friends, keep in touch online, share about my work, and call me regularly to check-in on me. I am also glad to have gotten to know Dudley Edmondson who wrote Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places.
There are so many others to recognize,  including Rona Fernandez who blogs at Brown Girl Going Green. I think Rona reads all my blog posts! Mayra McQuirter another one of the first people to find my blog and was quick to write about the book. And Danielle N. Lee invited me to do my first blog carnival; what an experience! I think that starting the blog back in January 2010 really helped me to view the environment in new ways. It keyed me into the many perspectives that make up the whole, and also connected me with the little, yet important things around me, like slugs and birds. Through my blog, I also get to tap into my love of popular culture and reflect on movies and books. I hope I have given people something to think about through the blog and later the book. For me the experience has given me more opportunities to connect to people and nature. For that, I am grateful.
Purchase Dianne’s book at your local independent bookstore or on Amazon today!

Avatar and Environmental Justice

In an interview yesterday with Dianne Glave author of Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage (August 2010), she shared some of her insights with me about the movie Avatar, and its connection to people of color and the environment.
So you finally  saw Avatar! What are some of your initial thoughts?
Many people were raving about Avatar, so I had to see it! And while director James Cameron is breaking his own record [over Titanic] with more than a billion dollars in gross sales, I was pleasantly surprised by something different: the emphasis on environmental justice on the fictional planet Pandora, and its native people, the Na’vi.
Tell us more about what the movie meant for you as an environmentalist.
Movies amplify and parallel societal concerns. Even though the recent film 2012 also told a story of environmental destruction, Avatar went further because it takes the movie-goer on a very personal journey, an intense love story between characters from literally different worlds:  Jake Sully and Neytiri.

Dianne Glave

Why do you think a love story was an important narrative device here?
Love and relationships are fundamental to the earth’s sustenance and survival. In the movie, the love of Jake and Neytiri empower them and their respective communities to effectively battle a hostile military presence.  Futuristic Earth is in trouble and needs Unobtainium, a mineral located under a sacred tree that contains the spiritual life of the Na’vi, whose worship and biological lives are literally connected to everything in their environment. For example, the Na’vi’s tails symbiotically fuse to plants and the creatures they ride as a symbol of empathy and interconnection to all living things.
Why is Avatar an important story now?
The conflict between the military and the Na’vi reflect modern day concerns regarding who controls and exploits natural resources here on earth—in countries like the United States, and in your own backyard. People who are marginalized, particularly people of color who face environmental racism, deserve environmental justice. This includes access to natural resources like water and land, along with recreation facilities like parks and accessible open space.  Here in the United States, no one should have to live near a toxic waste dump or around the bend from a nuclear plant. The same was true for the Na’vi, who battled to keep their planet pristine filled with wondrous trees and creatures, protecting it from becoming a strip mine for a mineral.
Anything else you want to add?
I will stop here although there is so much more about the movie I would love to share and how it related to current issues with people of color and the environment. And I certainly don’t want to ruin it with spoilers for those who have not seen Avatar in 3D! At the very least, I encourage everyone to see it for the spectacular visual effects and compelling love story. The environmental themes are a real bonus for those of us who are green.

Dianne D. Glave lives in Atlanta and teaches in the department of history at Morehouse College. She is the coeditor of To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History.

Available August 2010