What does justice look like? Racial justice, planetary ethics, and the welfare of other species are inextricably entangled.
What does justice for all look like? That question rolled through my mind as I heard a newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden assert, “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”
The speech set off cries on social media for “unity,” and I found myself perplexed. More questions swam in my head: Is unity really possible? And what does unity even mean?
In a typical dictionary definition, unity is “the state of being one.” We often follow suit within spiritual conversations—particularly when talking about nonduality or the experience of mystical connection with divinity. And yet, to apply oneness to humans is problematic, as it implies sameness is needed, props up dominant narratives, and can further saturate us all in whiteness.
Unity Among Humans
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
And yet, injustice does not affect us equally. Before we can call for unity among humans, we need to understand the distinct needs of the individuals and groups around us. “The domain of the ‘human’ or ‘humanity’ is not just about whether or not one belongs to the species homo sapiens. Rather, ‘human’ means a certain way of being, especially exemplified by how one looks or behaves, what practices are associated with one’s community, and so on,” offers anti-racism activist Syl Ko. “So, the ‘human’―or what ‘humanity’ is―just is a conceptual way to mark the province of European whiteness as the ideal way of being homo sapiens.”
Indeed, gathering under the banner of “humanness” as our foundation for unity is not enough. According to Ko, whiteness must be decentered. Thus, rather than declaring all must embrace unity, we must first listen to diverse voices. Further, Ko advises, “de-centering whiteness requires taking seriously non-white art, literature music, systems of belief, and other rituals as a way of reimagining the world.”
Unity With Others
Earth, peace, and animal activist Judy Carman challenges the very classification of homo sapiens, suggesting we redefine what our species stands for to “stop the mindless destruction and domination of people, animals, and nature.” This starts by denouncing Carl Linnaeus’s 18th-century classification homo sapiens as “wise beings.”
Carman asserts the description of wise resulted in humans placing themselves above all other species, allowing us to exploit the “less wise” for our purposes. To be in unity with other lifeforms, Carman suggests we become homo ahimsa. A Sanskrit word roughly translated as non-harm, ahimsa moves us from prizing our intelligence to valuing relationships with others.
[Also read: “Ahimas: How to Practice Nonviolence in Nature.”]
Carman’s suggested tactics for this transformation include:
- Using meditation and prayer to become aware of the “socially-acceptable violence” we perpetuate
- Engaging in spiritual practices to shift to a stance of lovingkindness, and
- Adopting non-harming practices such as plant-based eating.
Above all, Carman advocates for removing ourselves from the center of our decisions by considering non-anthropocentric living.
Learn how to embrace nonviolent living. Read: Homo Ahimsa: Who We Really Are and How We’re Going to Save the World by Judy Carman.
Unity With the Earth
Most of us would agree that human existence relies on our relationship with the planet. And so, we purchase from companies that claim “sustainable practices,” and at home we diligently recycle. Yet, a growing body of evidence suggests we need to be much more radical. “Our way of life doesn’t need to be saved. The planet needs to be saved from our way of life,” declares the authors of Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. “It’s no exaggeration to say that industrial civilization is consuming the planet.”
The authors insist that our individual choices are not enough to stop the current wide-scale ecocide. Nor will the right human technology save us. Instead, we need to allow other life on this planet to do what it is good at. For example, they note, “Stopping deforestation and restoring logged areas would remove more carbon dioxide from the air each year than is generated by all the cars on the planet.” Laying out a nine-point manifesto of bio-centric goals, Bright Green Lies suggests unity with Earth will require us to build communities that are self-sufficient and based on biological integrity.
Learn how to be part of a planetary solution. Read: Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert.
Indeed, racial justice, planetary ethics, and the welfare of other species are entangled. It can be messy to figure out what actions will truly bring justice to all. But it is clear, each one of us must be involved beyond declaring our outrage on social media and pointing fingers at each other. Justice requires us to unite in a willingness to learn more about what separates us from each other.
Keep reading: “So You Want to Read About Race.”