For the past year, a young Ugandan activist has been protesting and joining the global movement – the 23-year-old Vanessa Nakate. Unfortunately, as per usual, being a young black activist hasn’t been proving easy. In January, she attended the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with Thunberg and other activists. She found herself cropped out of a photo with Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson. She then took it to Twitter to comment on race and media representation. “You didn’t just erase a photo,” she tweeted after the incident. “You erased a continent. But I am stronger than ever.”
It is a known fact that, unfortunately, racism is affecting the environmental movement. In fact, a recent survey on the diversity of the US’ 40 largest environmental NGOs found that people of colour make up just 27 per cent of full-time staff, on average, at the largest environmental organizations. For senior staff, the percentage of people of colour drops to 14 per cent.
“I think that there is an issue of white privilege,” Nakate said in a recent interview. “Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. Media loves news that is a hot piece of cake for them, news that will sell… I believe that if they cover news from activists from the Global South, they think it would not cause as much impact.”
For several months when she started, Nakate was the only protester outside of the gates of the Parliament of Uganda. Luckily, her peers began to respond to her calls on social media for others to help draw attention to the plight of the Congolian rainforests. She then went on and founded the Youth for Future Africa and the Africa-based Rise Up Movement.
“I wanted to do something that could enact change in the lives of the people in my country, so I started researching,” she explained. “Climate change really caught my eye because… in school, it is taught as something that we don’t have to worry about, something that is coming in the far future or that happened in the far past.”