The Trouble with Resilience: Racial Capitalism and the Meaning of Climate Justice in Washington, DC

Authors: Malini Ranganathan*, American University, Eve Bratman, Franklin and Marshall College
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Abolition ecologies, black geographies, racial capitalism, gentrification, climate justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What would it mean to imbue climate justice with an abolitionist sensibility? Across America’s cities, extreme weather events have the most deleterious effects on those who are worst affected by cycles of racial segregation, environmental racism, disinvestment, and the predations of real estate and finance capital. Fostering “resilience” is proposed by experts as an overarching end-goal for vulnerable groups, placing the burden of coping on local neighborhoods, and subtly validating the very processes of racial capitalism that endanger residents in the first place. We focus on some of the most climate-vulnerable communities in Washington DC, a city which until recently was majority black and where extreme socio-economic inequalities are pervasive. This paper first provides a critique of resilience thinking. It then argues that “climate justice” has the potential to be imbued with abolitionist meaning if specific racial histories and contemporary gentrification processes are foregrounded. Through historical analysis based on oral histories and archival research drawn from the Ward 7 neighborhood of Kenilworth-Parkside, it suggests that climate justice would mean: (a) an historical appreciation for legacy environmental racisms, (b) an intersectional understanding of material, socio-spatial, and political-economic drivers of vulnerability, and (c) an abolitionist imperative to center the voices of those most at risk to climate change, even if those voices do not articulate within the discourse of “climate change”.

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