Trying to Make Green the New Black

Bringing Environmental Activism to a New Audience

By Published on .

Karl Carter Karl Carter
Sometimes you have to live a little life to give voice to the journey. I've been gone a while, going through life's adventures -- some professional, some personal, some good, some hard. All in all its been a mixed bag but never dull. An experience I had in Memphis at the Dream Reborn conference really inspired me to write about people of color's role in the emerging green movement.

Al Gore, Little Brother and members of Hall of Justus
Al Gore, Little Brother and members of Hall of Justus
For me this topic actually began several years ago when we helped launch Current TV. This was right in the thick of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" launch and its subsequent success. I saw how genuinely he moved in the hip-hop circles we introduced him to and was in turn received and treated with respect. This accessibility no doubt impacted artists like The Roots and Little Brother, who all performed on Current's Take Back TV launch events.

Not long after, we started to see references to "Inconvenient Truth" and global warming in hip-hop music. If you doubt this, check out the Roots' new album "Rising Down." Because of his popularity, Al Gore was able to bring the awareness to a different segment of the population.

This topic always interested me, as many people in our community perceive this as a "white" issue despite the fact that poor communities suffer the brunt of environmental racism. Quite frankly, this creates an image problem for the green movement, which in turn means that some of the communities that need the info the most are not being communicated to in a fashion that they will receive it.

Trickle-down consciousness doesn't work any better than Reaganomics did for our communities. Not only are communities of color the worst hit by environmental danger zones, we also are some of the worst perpetrators with little awareness of recycling, adoption of hybrid vehicles or other ways we can be part of the solution. But don't fear, all is not lost.

Here's where the activists, artists and culture come in to play. What has emerged are two dynamic leaders of color who are raising the dialogue about the environment within the context of "Green jobs, not jails." The program stresses that we can be involved in our own environmental self-determination with job-training programs dedicated to retooling our communities to be environmentally sustainable. Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center and Green for All organization and Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx are attacking the problem from the West and East Coasts simultaneously.

Why is this approach working? Because they are speaking to our communities with touch points that resonate with our people. How can we benefit economically from the green movement? How can we do well by doing good? How can we save money long term by going green? This is how you reach communities of color.

God forbid all these hybrid cars actually start to look good and we start to recognize green as a new form of luxury or status. Looking at what Lexus is up to or the BMW Hydrogen 760 li that's on the way, this is not far off.

I'd take a look at two YouTube videos that show how this trend will be adopted. The first video is shot in Europe during a test drive with a BMW spokesperson explaining how they basically made 100 priceless cars and then handed them out to specific people to test them out and give feedback.

The next video is of Jay Leno driving and living with one of these cars.

Clearly, he's been identified as a tastemaker that will help spread the word and excitement. The spokesperson even goes on to say that the main purpose of the car was to influence decision makers to move into a hydrogen world. Trend Adoption 101.

While it may seem shallow, our purchase decisions are driven by vanity. Like it or not, this may be the route to go, since not everyone is into saving mother earth purely for her benefit. Self-interest is the ticket, in the form of economic upliftment via green jobs and green economic programs and good old ego-stroking accomplished by increasing the sex appeal accessibility around alternative energy and vehicles.

These are ways to get the urban consumer to look at the green movement in a different light. We all have a role to play in this new ecosystem. If you're a marketer with a product, know that you have an audience but you need to play to our culture to make it fly. If you are an activist or community person, take a look at how going green can help our people's bottom line both via job creation and money saving on the incredible vice grip of energy. This time of insane gas prices is a perfect backdrop to market alternative energy and start a trend that will get picked up for all the right reasons (and even some wrong ones).
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