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Tacoma environmental group adopts new name after outcry over perceived racist overtones

Principal activists with the group formerly known as RedLine Tacoma gather on stage during a victory celebration at The Swiss, April 24, 2016. The group, whose efforts helped to scuttle plans to build a methanol plant on the Tideflats, recently changed its name to Redefine Tacoma.
Principal activists with the group formerly known as RedLine Tacoma gather on stage during a victory celebration at The Swiss, April 24, 2016. The group, whose efforts helped to scuttle plans to build a methanol plant on the Tideflats, recently changed its name to Redefine Tacoma. phaley@thenewstribune.com

After coming under fire for what some felt was a racist name, the local environmental group formerly known as RedLine Tacoma has undergone a transformation.

It’s now organizing for environmental justice under the name “Redefine Tacoma” and has launched a new website, www.redefinetacoma.org.

“Effective today, 8 September 2017, we have changed our name to Redefine Tacoma. We’ve made this change to address the concerns expressed by community members and to reflect more clearly the mission of our group — to transition this region’s environment and economy away from a toxic and polluted past and toward a healthier and more sustainable tomorrow,” the group said in an introduction on its website.

Redefine Tacoma did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The News Tribune.

Jamika Scott, an organizer with the Tacoma Action Collective, had been publicly critical of the RedLine name. Scott called the change a step in the right direction.

“I think it can only be a more positive thing because the environment does matter. It’s not that anyone was trying to negate the work they’ve been putting in. It’s more that if they are really truly calling themselves inclusive, they need to be listening to what’s being said by the community that they’re trying to represent and serve,” she said.

“The fact that they finally got to the point of changing the name to something that doesn’t have historically negative connotations, the people who do want to get involved ... are going to be able to hopefully find a place where they can fit in and where they can start learning more about the environment.”

Concerns over the group’s former name spilled onto social media several weeks ago after one of its members shared a post on its Facebook page denouncing white supremacy, racism and the violence that had taken place in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous weekend.

The post didn’t sit well with some members of the community, including many people of color, and stirred up longtime resentments about the group’s name, which critics said evoked a racist past. “Redlining” refers to discriminatory housing and lending practices that were prevalent in the United States in the 20th Century, including in Tacoma in neighborhoods like the Hilltop. Such practices have had long-lasting impacts on home values and quality-of-life issues in certain neighborhoods.

Leaders of the environmental group wrote on the new website that they meant no disrespect with the original name.

“The name RedLine Tacoma was chosen to reflect an international movement emphasizing indigenous perspectives. We did not think anyone would associate a progressive environmental movement with the racist and unfair practice of ‘redlining,’” according to the Redefine Tacoma website.

“Clearly, we misunderstood how readily our group’s name would evoke a history of institutional racism, and we sincerely apologize to anyone for whom the name recalled the trauma of discrimination in housing.”

Many people said the group had been asked to change its name several times before and had been told about the racist connotations. When the group declined to do so, it further stoked anger from those who felt the group didn’t care about their concerns.

The group was born during the controversy over a methanol plant that had been proposed for the Tideflats, and many credit it with helping to defeat the plant’s construction.

Scott added that the time it took for Redefine Tacoma leaders to change the name is something that still bothers her and others who’ve been critical of the group.

Nate Bowling, a Lincoln High School teacher who was the state’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, told The News Tribune this week he hopes the new name is accompanied by other changes within the environmental group.

“While I'm glad the name changed, I hope the name is accompanied by a change in demeanor and deportment,” Bowling said. “In the big scheme of things we all want a clean environment, and I really want them to be successful in building an environmental coalition. … One of the things that’s obvious to me is people of color and low-income people are most impacted by environmental issues, and when I see (Redefine Tacoma) leadership, that’s not who I see.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

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