Moving Toward a Red, Black, and Green Ecology

This essay is part of a series entitled “From the Schoolhouse to the Field: Abolition Toward an Education for Liberation“.

The juxtaposition of Red, Black, and Green Pedagogies, the intersections where they challenge, refuse, and unsettle various forms of enclosure, both within and outside of the institution of schooling, lays the ground for a revolutionary synthesis: a Red, Black, and Green Ecology of Leaning. While “red” refers to the theories and praxis of indigenous folx, “black” to that of the African diaspora, and “green” to practices rooted in right-relationship to land, and to the Earth as a whole, it is also my intention to invoke the colors of the Pan-African flag. 

I troubled definitions of “Indigenous” and “Black”, situating them in the global triadic relationship between settler, native and slave, as opposed to arbitrary — and geographically relative — racial categories. While Black and Indigenous people have different histories, trajectories, and positionalities, through the research and writing of this section, it has become clear to me that their struggles are overlapping and inexorably intertwined. 

In discussing various Red and Black pedagogies of resistance some common themes emerge. Where education is anchored to the practical experience of living, it rejects the alienation of learning and labor. Centering Black and Indigenous health, safety, and wellness — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — in recognition of our common humanity, rejects enclosures of the body and mind imposed by carceral logics and the subordination to capital. 

Community-grounded

Indigenous education, or “Red pedagogies”, both in precolonial times and spaces, and in response to colonialism, situate all pedagogic action within the sociocultural context. Red pedagogies refuse and resist enclosures of community foisted onto young people by capitalist schooling by cultivating knowledge of self in relation to the community and the land, and reject enclosures of body and mind to foster a sense of “indigenous nationhood” that “radiates inward” to include mind, body, and spirit.[1]Simpson, L. B. (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. United States: University of Minnesota Press.

Similarly, Black pedagogies are inherently collectivist, all education oriented toward the preservation, resistance, and resilience of Black communities in the face of incredible violence and exploitation. This orientation is deeply historical, one might say ancestral. It bound us together in the barracoons, and kept us alive on the slave ships, in spite of language barriers, and were carried with us across the Atlantic. They manifest most clearly in the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life to teach others how to read and write. It was evident in how even prior to Emancipation, Black people, both enslaved and free, “constituted a community of practice dedicated […] to furthering transformation personally, locally, and on a massive social scale”.[2]Gundaker, G. (2007). Hidden education among African Americans during slavery. Teachers College Record, 109(7), 1591-1612. This grounding of education in the needs of the community actively resists enclosures of community and knowledge imposed by state schools. 

Affirmation of Body and Spirit

Where the “promise” of education within white supremacist colonial school systems forestalls the fulfillment of young people’s material needs in favor of “productive activity”, both Red and Black pedagogies recognize that the very purpose of education must be the affirmation and protection of Black and Indigenous life. The Panthers first organized to protect Black bodies and to feed Black children before they attempted to “teach” anything to the community, just as indigenous learning systems place a high value on cultivating the skills, knowledges, and relationships that enable indigenous people to thrive within their social and ecological contexts. 

Black and Red pedagogies reject the “insidious, “Western” distinction between physical and intellectual labor”[3]Rickford, R. J. (2016). We are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination. Oxford University Press., and the “distinction between formal, conformal, ,or informal education”[4]Tedla, E. (1992). Indigenous African education as a means for understanding the fullness of life: Amara traditional education. Journal of Black Studies, 23(1), 7-26., resisting not only enclosures of body and mind, but the material and spiritual. 

Cultural Uplift and Continuity

Settler colonialism and white supremacy have been relentless in their erosion, if not wholesale destruction of indigenous culture, a process which has been parallel and analogous to dispossession, which has forcefully removed indigenous bodies from the land. Black culture, on the other hand, has been commodified, as has Black labor, and in both cases, Black bodies are the undesirable excess. Both Red and Black pedagogies defend against these assaults through the transmission of culture and values from one generation to the next, particularly those which ground people in history, identity, and spirituality, and which are inherently at odds with the exploitation and extraction. 

Education as Resistance

Given the treacherous relations of domination within the settler-native-slave triad, positioning Black and Indigenous people as either obstacles to or as the excess of capitalist production, it is to be expected that Black and Red pedagogies would take on an expressly political character. 

Black political education has always been intended to “ensure a new generation of correct thinkers and doers” and “inspire the masses of black people to seek the newness of life, which can come only from total immersion in revolutionary struggle”.[5]Churchville, J. (1970). On Correct Black Education. In Wright, N. (1970). What Black Educators are Saying. Hawthorn Books. While Red pedagogies seek to “create generations of people who are capable of actualizing radical decolonization, diversity, transformation, and local economic alternatives to capitalism.[6]Simpson, L. B. (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. United States: University of Minnesota Press.

The Primacy of Land

Red Pedagogies have an explicit focus on land, and centers the relationship to the environment. As Simpson says, “education comes from the roots up. It comes from being enveloped by land”.[7]Simpson, L. B. (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. United States: University of Minnesota Press. Indigeneity itself is defined by one’s relationship to the land, and where that relationship is mediated by the settler, it is the very purpose of land-based education to make “ideologies and structures of settler colonialism explicit”[8]Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to Manifest Destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 24-36., and to emphasize “educational research that engages acute analyses of settler colonialism as a structure, a set of relations and conditions”[9]Tuck, E., McKenzie, M., & McCoy, K. (2014). Land Education: Indigenous, Post-Colonial, and Decolonizing Perspectives on Place and Environmental Education Research. Environmental Education … Continue reading.

The more secondary role of land in Black pedagogies might be explained by the distance (spatially and temporally) between the Black diaspora and the lands to which we are indigenous; our relationship having long been extractivist in service to the white imperialist/capitalist project, not for our own well-being or self-determination. Yet the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program issued a demand for land, which recognized the need for a physical base for community sovereignty.[10]Newton, H. P. (1980). War against the Panthers: A study of repression in America (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz). While the climate crisis had not fully entered the public consciousness at the height of the Panthers’ power, the demand for land is also implicitly and automatically a demand for environmental sustainability. 

At the same time, the spectrum of resistance from fugitivity to marronage calls land back to the forefront of Black struggle. This is most evident today in the urban landscape, particularly those communities where the demands of capitalism coincide with the deposit of Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies as the “excess” of production — areas which have been historically targeted for disinvestment through redlining and other racist policy. In these places, the community garden, the backyard plot, the herbs in repurposed containers, are all that’s left to invoke that spatiotemporally distant possibility of life beyond capital. 

Interconnectivity and Collectivity

Indigenous knowledge ecologies resonate with the Black pedagogical focus on grounding people in their relationship to community. Both are deeply collectivist, rather than individualist, effecting a radical pluralism that centers personal and group identity. At the same time, while Red and Black pedagogies are especially concerned with meeting the material needs of the community, this does not preclude the cultivation of a spiritual relationship between people, or between people and the land. This focus explicitly rejects enclosures of body and mind, not only in response to white supremacist impositions, but as a fundamental, ancestral quality of Black and Indigenous thought.

Dreaming New Worlds

In the face of white supremacy, settler colonialism, and the relentless processes of capitalist exploitation and extraction, Black and Indigenous survival literally depends on our ability to dream. As we contend with both the manufactured scarcity and precarity, Black pedagogies have taught us to carve out a living from relatively little, while Red pedagogies reorient us toward new relationships between people and land based on the reality of abundance outside capitalism. The powers of the Radical Black and Indigenous imaginaries enable us to dream, to theorize, to prefigure new realities at the same time as we mobilize to subvert and overthrow existing systems of domination. 

From Pedagogy to Ecology

Black and Red Pedagogies complement each other “by providing alternative means for the transmission of knowledge and understanding of land and one’s place in it”.[11]Engel-Di Mauro, S., & Carroll, K. K. (2014). An African-centred approach to land education. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 70-81. By outlining the parallels and overlaps between Black and Indigenous theories and praxis, it is my intention to properly situate them in relationship to the land and the Earth as a whole. So-called green pedagogies lead toward a synthesis by emphasizing land-based education, done in community for purposes of cultural continuity and uplift, as well as self-determination, achieved through political action. 

In using the word “ecology” instead of “pedagogy”, I mean to propose an “end of teaching” — a sensationalist statement on its face — but which means a reimagining of the many ways adults and young people can engage with each other in the co-construction of knowledge, shared struggle, mutual support, and building community. 

The words economy and ecology have a common root in the Greek word “oikos”, which means “home”, and it is my feeling that the essence of the above definition is revisioning Earth as our home, rather than a resource, one that we steward and regenerate in perpetuity. What makes a home, too, is the relationships of those who occupy the shared space, and so ecology speaks most of all to the cultivation of relationships between people and planet.

Ecology (n.) — the study and cultivation of relationships between people, and between humans and the rest of the natural world that affirms and regenerates life and builds resilience for the future. 

A Red, Black, and Green ecology of learning, then, must be 1) grounded in knowledge of self, community, and history, with an understanding of each as a continuity across both time and space. It must 2) cultivate the skills and knowledges conducive to self-determination, liberation, and resilience, and 3) work to restore severed connections between people in community, people and land, past, present, and future. 

In the next section, I introduce the Earthseed Framework for community education and organizing, in explicit refusal of and resistance to the various forms of enclosure imposed by settler colonial and capitalist schooling systems. I offer the framework as an actionable expression of Red, Black, and Green ecology, for the purpose of realizing a vision of sovereignty, self-determination, and liberation.



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