The Daily Show on race and the environment

My friend Bernie Zaleha shared this recent Daily Show clip with me on race and the environment in Turkey Creek, Mississippi.  Bernie is a fellow grad student here at UCSC, a former defense lawyer for Earth First!, and a former member of the national board of directors of the Sierra Club.  You can see some of his work here and here.  I love getting his insider’s take on how the big national environmental groups work, the pro’s and con’s of democratically run organizations like the Sierra Club, and insight into the history of radical environmentalism.

Bernie and I disagree on the Daily Show clip.  He sees it as an offensive attack on environmentalism in general, and in particular those doing the important and difficult work of protecting animals and their habitat.  I see it as a hilarious depiction of how wrong things can go between mainstream environmentalists and communities of color.

Either way, the clip would make a great discussion piece in class (see here for other ideas on how to teach environmental justice themes). I would use it after an introduction to ‘framing’ in social movements and the media, or in contrast to this clip (also courtesy of Bernie) that depicts the same community from a different vantage point.  Here are a few potential discussion questions:

  1. How does Wyatt Cenac frame the problems in Turkey Creek?  How does he frame the Audubon Society?
  2. How do the residents feel about the Audubon Society’s involvement in their town? Do they all feel the same way?
  3. Can you think of any other examples of tensions between people of color and the environment?
  4. Can you think of any examples of times when people of color and environmental groups have worked together on common goals?
  5. What is the value of a people-centered approach to the environment?  What is the value of a nature-centered approach to the environment?  How can the two approaches be linked?

ps.  The “Bird Like Me” section of the clip is a reference to this book from the 1960’s.

5 thoughts on “The Daily Show on race and the environment

  1. Pingback: Creating “Principles of Collaboration” documents « The Long Haul

  2. It’s a little hard to take that clip seriously, because it’s so silly. Doesn’t really do serious justice to the Audubon, nor to the community either.

    • It certainly portrays them both simplistically – though even in its heavy-handed approach there are some hints at complexity. Although Wyatt Cenac is down on the Audubon Society, the featured activist seems glad that they are there in the end, and one of the other residents was clearly enjoying the bird-watching. I think it makes a good discussion starter in the classroom because even if you can’t trust how it depicts the issues in Turkey Creek, it certainly represents tensions that regularly come up between ej activists and environmentalists elsewhere. What I want to know is why the Audubon Society decided to participate at all! They clearly knew they were going to be lampooned. I wonder this about lots of people that agree to interviews with the Daily Show… Any press is good press, perhaps??

      Another way to go would be to use it as a starting point for a conversation about media literacy and politics…

  3. Pingback: Teaching my first environmental justice class « The Long Haul

  4. Pingback: Teaching Environmental Inequality: Watching “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek” | Tracy Perkins

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