For Kat Yang-Stevens, a gender non-binary self-proclaimed radical known for their anti-colonial (post-colonial) rhetoric, environmental justice seems to revolve around conceptions of what justice for disenfranchised indigenous populations looks like. Having recently spoken at Marymount Manhattan College on “Understanding Settler Colonialism as an Ongoing Structure,” Yang-Stevens’ name has become somewhat familiar to students. It is my hope by presenting this analysis on Yang-Stevens’ writings on environmental justice, one might consider responding to Yang-Stevens’ rhetoric more critically.
Kat Yang-Stevens’ works on environmental justice include two critiques on the movements of “big greens,” which Yang-Stevens defines as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) classified as being a part of a larger “non-profit industrial complex.” The analysis “How Big Greens Contain & Dissolve Resistance,” Yang-Stevens refers to non-profits such as Green Peace, the Sierra Club, and 350.org as being combative to the interests of localized grassroots organizations who they seize in the name of upholding their “colonialist imperialist ablest white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy.” The result of which is the mindless financial and ideological support given by the ignorant yet well-intended masses of predominantly young people, allowing NGOs to socialize the issue of environmental justice in ways that align with their own interests driven by the accumulation of capital. Yang-Stevens goes as far as denigrating the People’s Climate March for being inclusive of pro-Zionist green organizations, collectively reprimanding the Green Zionist Alliance and participant sympathizers for the “theft of indigenous Palestinians’ lands” and the genocide of Gaza’s Palestinian inhabitants. The destruction of Palestinian settlements is inherently environmentally unjust given the pollution, the destruction of food and water resources, and ultimately the mass killing of Palestinians, a fair point made by Yang-Stevens.
What is problematic with the discourse presented by Kat Yang-Stevens is that while it retains a self-proclaimed radical framework, it proposes nothing constructive and is in turn divisive. The collective guilt proposition of those who benefit from historical colonialism also implies that all colonialism and imperialism is white-on-color; that is to say that there is little regard for imperialist or colonialist relationships that do not involve western whites on indigenous non-white populations. The implication that all imperialism and colonialism exists within this narrow framework is patently false. Additionally, Yang-Stevens proclaims that “single¬-subject movements inevitably absorb every form of oppression which they do not identify and seriously begin to dismantle.” However, a single anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and environmentally just movement expected to resolve even the smallest of micro-aggressions slides into a dangerous realm of populism ruled by the desired recognition of all as if the desires of all are even nearly cohesive.
This same rejection of constructive discourse made a reappearance in Yang-Stevens’ presentation this past March. At one point, it was even implied that the vacation of indigenous lands by those with historically colonial attachments is necessary in blatant disregard to people of mixed race with no indigenous ties to any lands other than the ones we are on. This diversionist tone underscored the factual inaccuracies associated with colonialism being defined as strictly driven by western “whites.” It begs the question, what of Britannia and the colonization of Britain by the Romans? Or Japanese imperialism and its proclaimed Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity that dominated coastal Asian society during the 19th and 20th centuries? In Yang-Stevens’ rhetoric there is consistently one western antagonist and one indigenous victim, which is an inaccurate portrayal of history. What Kat Yang-Stevens truly brought to campus was a discussion on the use of supporting facts for convenience rather than equitable presentation of information.