Exploration of Blackness: Sustainability

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Green Movement, as we call it, is progressing rapidly. We are seeing shifting ideals in almost every professional setting but it is, as many movements have, moving forward with a lack of racial analysis. Essentially it is leaving people of color out of the conversation-- specifically Black people.
This lack of analysis is happening both at the micro and macro levels. When I decided to apply for a MBA program in Sustainable Enterprise, I figured I would be one of few people of color in the class, but never thought I would be the only Black person in my graduating cohort. The lens through which I apply my thinking is so substantially different from that of my classmates that it makes it near impossible to not be enraged every time discussions occur that lack inclusiveness.

I imagined developing innovative new business models that posited themselves as the solution to our society’s social injustices that government was unable or unwilling to address. I was a true believer that the market could self-correct a majority of our country’s ailments if steeped in the rational thought of “people & planet before profit”. Halfway through my first semester, I realized this was not the program I had imagined and quickly became disillusioned.

Early on I realized that my disillusionment made my classmates think I was crazy. Getting a MBA in a program that claims to be progressive, and by MBA standards really is progressive yet lacks even an elementary level race analysis, is frustrating to say the least. The hardest conversation to have about race is with a self-diagnosed White liberal that has no clue how their privilege shows up in the world-- meet my classmates.

Being in this program has brought me to a crossroads that I have been at before: spending my energy on building bridges with people who claim to be liberal but are unwilling to acknowledge privilege or take what I have learned and share it with my community. The former used to be the path I chose-- teach White people about their Whiteness and get them to share what they have. The latter is where I am currently at-- take my knowledge and bring it home.

I am done sitting in class, shaking with anger because the latest conversation has really topped itself in being the most superficial on the topic of sustainability. As a fellow MBA colleague that identifies as a woman of color said about communicating with our peers, “It’s like we have to learn their language and they don’t even try to learn ours”. I am not against bridge-building, just no longer willing to be the instigator. I would rather invest my time in something much more fruitful: my people.

It is with huge gratitude for all those who assisted me on my journey to receive a MBA and that I haven’t dropped out. My community invested in me and therefore I have a deep need to show my community a return. Why sit in a MBA class if not to highlight the plight of people who look like me? Why sit in a MBA class if not to create a business plan where the return on investment is in the form of positive social impacts? Moreover, why, if I am so passionate about the people I care about, not take an opportunity to use what I learn to uplift those around me?

Sustainability is vital to moving forward the success of communities of color. I hope that, if nothing else, I have provided my classmates with an idea of what it means to think outside of your own privilege when designing programs for the masses. Programs that work for one group of people sometimes don’t work for others. Blackness as it intersects with sustainability needs a distinctive and culturally appropriate lens – one that is sensitive to the needs of the people it serves.

Lanese Martin is an MBA Candidate in a Sustainable Enterprise program in the Bay Area and is the Operations Manager for an Oakland based civic engagement organization.