Discussion 20: Black Resistance, Environmental Justice & Centering Black Joy with Dr. Chandler Puritty
Meet Dr. Chandler Puritty, a PhD in Biological Sciences, Encinitas resident, a passionate intersectional environmentalist and de-colonial scientist, educator, artist, and powerful and inspiring Black woman. She happens to be my (Heidi's) birthday twin, and it's one of my greatest honors in life to share a day of celebration with such a force of nature. In one of our first conversations, Chandler and I were talking about how she believes in both science and magic - the phrase on a bumper sticker on my car that not one other person has ever understood. She is an energy mystic with a dedicated TikTok following, a tarot reader, and proud owner of a cat who keeps an opossum as a pet (I'm not kidding - it's absolutely amazing - and no, the opossum is not actually kept, it is a willing participant in this arrangement). Her confidence, her competence and her sense of humor are unparalleled and are a balm for my anxious soul. You can learn more about Dr. Chandler, her pets, climate change, intersectional environmentalism, her tarot readings, native and invasive plants, and so much more over on TikTok - and, you can also follow along on Instagram. We are beyond honored to feature Chandler on our After Hours series, read on for a discussion on Black Resistance, Environmental Justice and Centering Black Joy.
February was Black History Month, and the theme this year was "Black Resistance". What does this phrase mean to you?
I’m always going to think about resistance and resilience through ecological
terms because it was the theme of my PhD but I think people and plants are
more similar than different so I’m not mad at it. In ecology, a resistant plant
community is on that can be battered by challenge after challenge and remain
unchanged. A resilient plant community is one that is heavily impacted by
challenges but continues to return to its original state time after time. It’s the
science equivalent of “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never
gonna keep me down.”
With this in mind, I’m obsessed with Black Resistance. A lot of surviving in
predominately white spaces and power structures involves turning the other
cheek, being patient, thick skinned and understanding. Being resilient. It’s
exhausting. Black Resistance feels like matching energy. It feels like “You’re
not allowed to say I’m being too much.” It feels like “I’m only giving my time to
people who appreciate and validate it.” It feels like “I am not the one or the
two.” It feels like “Fuck around and find out.” It feels good.
history?Thanks to slavery, I had to turn to 23 & me to get even general answers around
my African Ancestry. In the beginning of my journey, I turned to African
Spiritual practices, the Orishas, ancestor altars and books of African Magic like
“Of water and Spirit” by Malindome Patrice and "The Serpent and the Rainbow" by Wade Davis. Then when my results came in, I focused down on my immediate family, my great grandmother who migrated from Louisiana and Texas where our ancestors were enslaved to California as part of the great Migration. I honor and connect to them through food. My father never even met his biological father but he has always been drawn to southern, New-Orleans Cajun style foods and thanks to DNA testing we know that is not a coincidence. These days I try to remember that I have living ancestors. My grandmother passed recently and at her funeral I was reminded of the connections I have with living ancestors- people I can love and appreciate in the now. And finally, whenever I feel like I’m not enough, not doing enough, not working enough- I remember that this is the soft
life they dreamed for me.
Chandler wears the Maria Knit Dress
There is so much Black trauma shared on the news and social media. What are some ways you protect your heart and care for yourself during times of trigger, tension or unrest?It’s been a while since I’ve thought about this because riding these waves of
pain feels like second nature at this point. I grew up sheltered from a lot of
Black trauma. When I was in college the world exploded around Trayvon Martin
and the mainstream media and social media latched on in a way we hadn’t
seen before. Then later that year, it was my childhood best friend who was
murdered and a friend from college who was killed the same way a few months
later. I wanted therapy but I didn’t have access so I shoved it all down and/or
explained it away. In grad school, I spent a week crying over the shooting of
unarmed Black men before my first year exam- the pain somehow amplified by
the deafening silence of my now white peers. This is where I learned to cope. I
decided that 1) I would avoid watching those videos at all costs- there are real
physical consequences to being exposed to that kind of violence against
people who look like myself and my loved ones. Which by the way if you
watched the Dahmer show on Netflix- respectfully, what the fuck is wrong with
you? I couldn’t make it through the first episode. 2) I decided that I didn’t want
to give the perpetrator of the violence any power over my Black body too. It’s
easier said than done. I don’t mean to say I’m not still affected but I’m just not
comfortable giving some racist coward the power to ruin my day. They want to
destroy Black lives and at this point in my life, spending the whole day crying
feels like giving them what they want. If they want to instill fear in me, they’ll
have to find another way.
Is there a joyful piece of Black history that you hold close to your heart?
How do you center joy in your own life?
My favorite piece of Black history is the Howard university tradition of doing the
Swag Surf in community at graduation, at ball games, and at parties. We throw ourarms over each other’s shoulders and sway to an unspoken choreographed dance (HBCUs do this different than PWIs) and if you look up a video you’ll understand.
As far as actual historical moment- I was in college in Washington DC when
Barack Obama was elected for his second term. I was in bed when the results
were announced but I heard the entirety of my HBCU campus scream in
celebration and flood the streets to do a midnight march down to party at the
White House. It was fucking magic. Also I snuck in to see Beyoncé at Coachella
where she payed homage to HBCU culture and sung the Black National Anthem-
something I hadn’t heard since leaving Howard- to a mainstream predominately
white audience. I felt so seen and it remains one of the most powerful experiences
of my life.
Play and dance and song. Imagination. To keep depression at bay- watching
comedy, never consuming Black trauma. Spend time with community and friends.
Giving back through plants, pets, and service. Sometimes shopping and keeping a list of things I’m grateful for are a few that come to mind. I like to use window
markers to write my list somewhere I will see it every day. It can be easy to focus
on all the bad so I do everything in my power to program myself to find the good.
What are some of your favorite books on Black history?
Okay this is gonna be a two-parter. Personally, part of maintaining my Black joy
is limiting my exposure to Black trauma- as such I haven’t really read too many
Black history books on my own. The only one I read was required reading my
freshman year at Howard and it called “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel
Wilkerson. It follows many Black families as they migrate westward from the
south after slavery has ended. In fact, it’s how most Black communities came
into California so I would definitely recommend it. If you’re looking for
resources on Black history then my friend Joy shared this resource she
compiled from her work. It’s super thorough and should give anyone who is
interested in learning enough to read/watch/listen to for the rest of the year.
My favorite kind of Black history is actually science fiction. I prefer to learn
about Blackness in worlds created by Black people that represent the kinds of
futures that don’t end in apocalypse and pain. I love spending my time reading
what our future could look like, in a world were we’re not bound by systemic
oppression. Some of my favorites are How Long ‘til Black Future Month? By M.
K. Jemisin, This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, and anything by Octavia
Butler. Intersectional Environmentalism by Leah Thomas.
If you could sit and have dinner with anyone from Black history, who would
it be? And why?
Pamela Coleman Smith. This is such a hard question. Pamela Coleman Smith
comes to mind because she is the illustrator of the world’s most popular tarot
deck- The Rider-Waite-Smith deck. I like to think her depiction of the High
Priestess is a self-portrait as almost every other figure featured in the 78 card
deck is blonde. She took an assignment from Rider/Waite who both receive
most of the praise and turned it into something far beyond their imaginations
and comprehension. Her influence is everywhere and as a tarot reader and
artist myself- I’d love to pick her brain and let her know about her legacy.
Why do you feel it is important to know and understand Black history?
Everything is connected. It’s American history. Black history is US History. There is no United States of America without Black people. My enslaved ancestors built this country and all of its wealth. It turns out its really easy to accumulate wealth when you have absolutely zero overhead costs for hundreds of years. Black history and exploitation of Black and Indigenous bodies on stolen land is the bread and butter of this country and understanding the history helps us see how it
continues to show up today. A system built on hundreds of years of slavery doesn’t just go away because of the civil rights movement or a Black president.
Systemic racism is insidious and pervasive. It’s like a ball of slime- you can poke it and make a dent but the slime just moves to the side you can’t see. Systemic racism is meant to be hard to describe and impossible to see from positions of power. If you’re white, it’s not your fault that you can’t see it but it is your responsibility to listen to, learn from, and believe those of us who do.
Why is shopping sustainably important to you?
I love to be cute and I love to wear things not made by slave labor. We cannot harm the planet without harming people. Not only do synthetic fabrics create micro plastics in our water and ecosystems but more importantly to me, they cause extreme harm and exploitation of human workers- most often women and people of color. In environmental spaces it’s pretty common to focus on the pollution consequences but we must always remember the people who are harmed in that creative process. If we focus on protecting people first, we can stop the pollution in its tracks. We must people to protect the planet. WE MUST! Also sustainable fabrics are very soft and good for my fabric-sensitive skin. Also many of the new synthetic plastic fabrics have warnings that they can cause reproductive harm. Oil companies and their plastic products (including clothing) are some of our biggest polluters world wide. Anything we can do to shift our buying power away from plastics is good for our planet.
Caveat that although I love sustainable clothing, I can acknowledge that they can be quite expensive (apparently non slave labor is not cheap). If you can’t afford sustainable clothing- don’t fret! Climate change is a multifaceted issue and we don’t all need to be contributing to the same issue. Maybe you can’t afford sustainable clothing, but you can always thrift, learn how to grow your own food, or focus on education.
You offer a wealth of information, but sometimes creating a more sustainable lifestyle can feel overwhelming. What are your top three tips for focusing on environmental justice at home?
If you own more than one home- think about donating it to a family of color (my boyfriend and I are looking- feel free to throw a house our way).
If you see something say something when it comes to racist interactions in community. As a society, we value POC less than white people and that’s why we’ve felt so comfortable putting all of our pollution in those communities. This type of disregard doesn’t start when the factories are built- it starts with the little racist interactions in the day to day. Anything you can do to uplift, encourage, protect, believe in and invest in POC in your community can be part of the solution.
If you are engaged in environmental activism already, is it focused on the most vulnerable communities? How many of you all are involved in barrio Logan where children develop asthma everyday because of pollution in the neighborhood? If you love the ocean- did you know water quality goes down below the I-8 interstate? That we in north county have cleaner water than predominant Mexican communities closer to the border? If you’re not ready for community action- how can you be kinder to yourself? It’s so hard to have empathy for those around us without empathy coming from us. Growing your self empathy is a great first step to start seeing the world through more loving eyes.
Lastly, the most important step for environmental justice is education. Try to find time to learn more about the connection between harming people and harming land. The punchline is that each and every one of us world round is connected. When one community is harmed, no matter how far away from us, we are all harmed. If environmental solutions create harm for anyone else in the world (ahemmm Tesla mining) they are not climate justice solutions and they are making the problem worse in the long run. Be wary of greenwashing and any environmental intervention that requires you to buy more things. Build out your community and share resources! Contribute to small, local POC run climate initiatives. Be Anti-Racist! Educate yourself on the importance of Land Back and maybe even reading Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas. It's not really my job to tell you what to do but I can point you in the direction of resources and activists to learn from so that you can make better informed decisions. Some of my favorite people in the space on Instagram are:
Remember that we are nature and do your best to spread that message to everyone you know.
What are your top 5 songs right now?So hard to pick! But my most recently liked on Spotify are:
- Knuck if you buck-Crime Mobb, Lil Scrappy
- Forever- Jend
- My girl-temptations
- Tulum- Deep Chills- (love a saxophone solo)
- Breathe (demo) Felix Jaehn, Miss Li
Check out Chandler's sustainable picks from the shop by clicking below: