The Nature of Nature
Ecofeminism and Environmental
Racism in America1
A political advertisement on British late-night television opens with a newborn baby alone in a nursery at night while a storm rages outside the window.2 A white woman in a nightgown enters and cradles the pinkish baby protectively. Then a fully clothed, white businessman enters the nursery, apparently the father, and the commercial concludes with the reassuring message that the Conservative Party would stop the threat of environmental destruction that hangs over us all.
Although this advertisement is British, its assumptions are not dissimilar to those of mainstream American culture, and we might ask: What does this ad suggest about the relationship between social locations and understandings of nature? The white mother and child signify ideas about nature, womanhood, and race.3 Is the middle-class nuclear family indispensable to the survival of the “natural” world? What is meant by the call of some ecological (and political) movements to save the world for “our children,” and whose children does this refer to? How do the woman’s whiteness and motherhood function in this political ad? What about its use of the phrase “our children” and the image of the white baby, signifying an apparently white future in the face of threatened environmental destruction?
The way a person thinks and speaks is grounded, shaped, and limited by one’s personal experience. That experience is influenced by one’s gender, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and so on; in other words, one’s social location. Not only in the humanities, but even in the so-called hard sciences, questions are raised about who is doing the research, who is included in the study, and how racist and sexist biases might impact the scope, method, and validity of the study.4 Issues of identity and social location shape peoples’ understandings of nature and therefore should be considered in environ