On Trash Bags and Transformation

Personal transformation can occur in an instant, yet it can take us much longer to concretely cultivate change in our habits, choices, and the systems we inhabit.

In response to the blog I wrote earlier this week on racism, a few people noted that we live in a time where slavery is no longer legal, Jim Crow laws are no longer in effect, and people ought to "move on" from a slavery mentality. In thinking through this, a helpful analogy came to mind: Trash.

I know many sustainability-minded people who, like me, take out the trash every few days. We still buy things shipping in plastic containers. We parents of infants may still have disposable diapers we're throwing away (even when Courtney and I were primarily cloth diapering, we still supplemented with disposables that don't ever go away...). We can talk a big sustainability game, see the flaws in our systems, and do the best to start making new behaviors now. And yet,

The system is still in effect.

My recognition that I am still creating waste and contributing to the waste pile didn't stop me from doing it, nor did it overhaul the system overnight. Not only am I still throwing away rubbish, so are many (most) others.

Sure, we recycle. There's been some improvement. There is legislation to reduce, reuse, recycle as well as plenty of propaganda to coach people to do more of this. However, we are still constantly creating waste.

Back to racism: The system is still in effect. Some very old programming and code we built into the fabric of our country is playing out like a bad game. Sure, maybe not all of the wealthy land owners are white supremacists, but white supremacy is still baked into the recipe of our system. Jim Crow laws may not be in effect, but we have a school to prison pipeline and all kinds of profiling and assumptions that are reinforced day to day. We may have hidden the landfills from common view, but we're steeped in the filth of this "whiteness trash."

I still believe in personal power. I still see how important an "inside-out" personal transformation is for any kind of lasting change. I also see how we need to assess and address our systems.

What do our smallest actions contribute to and how are they shaped by the systems we inhabit?

We must consider this and other questions as we take account for ourselves and begin to tear down and reshape the systems and powers that be. Whether the issue is race, sustainability or something else, we need both personal and systemic transformation.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on 

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