Working with Roma street sweepers in Bulgaria, Elana Resnick realized that the Anthropocene is more than the age of man-made climate change. She noted that the marginalized women she worked with for almost a year represented the racization of the Anthropocene – the way the damage of the era falls on color communities.
The Anthropocene – what she described in academic articles as “a very common topic of late” – collided with “something very real in the everyday life of Roma women that I have swept next to. But what they had to do every day – their view of the Anthropocene – was very different from that of the white Bulgarians whose garbage they were sweeping away. It was proof of how racial the Anthropocene is. “
Resnick examines the intersection of race and climate change in The Limits of Resilience: Managing Waste in the Racialized Anthropocene in the American Anthropological Association’s flagship journal, American Anthropologist.
She argues that color communities employ “anthropogenic management” – their strategies for dealing with the everyday humiliations of the age.
“Anthropogenic management is the day-to-day work that is required to cope with the conditions of the ever-racialized Anthropocene,” she explained. “This includes the daily work of removing the middle class materials – burger packaging, newspapers, plastic cups, etc. – that street sweepers deal with every day from sight.”
Roma have been marginalized across Europe for hundreds of years. They fared no better in Bulgaria, where they are viewed as “social trash” even by educated and politically progressive white Bulgarians.
“The street sweepers I worked with – most of them were Roma women doing this environmental work – were often treated like trash,” Resnick said. “They would be pelted with garbage and poured water buckets from the balconies above.
“So anthropogenic management means to manage the long-lived afterlife of capitalist accumulation, to clean up what we might commonly call garbage, but also how people deal with or manage the conditions of this racialized work.”
For Roma garbage workers, Resnick said, managing their property at the bottom of the Anthropocene’s planetary garbage heap revolves around a strategic and active type of management they call “habituation”.
As she writes in the newspaper: “’Getting used to’ is anything but passive. This includes active management of both the accumulation of waste with which the sweepers work and the racization of their everyday lives. This includes getting so used to their physical presence that causes disgust that they expect it and anticipate it.
“The strategies of the Roma waste workers for anthropogenic management underline the connection of the urban Anthropocene to both hierarchies of racialization and local waste landscapes.”
Resnick is very familiar with the plight of the Roma. Since 2003 she has been working on various projects in Bulgaria. It was her long association with Roma communities that made it clear to her that her life was strongly shaped by a racized Anthropocene.
“I hope this article and my in-process book will help readers understand how race and racialization are taking shape around the world,” she said. “I also hope that it represents the important work that is required to achieve neoliberal ecological sustainability goals – which are also international. So much of this often unrecognized work around the world is being racialized. “
In addition, Resnick said, “The case in Bulgaria is just one of many where colored communities are doing the work that governments recognize without paying workers a living wage or recognizing their contributions.”
“The women I swept with made Bulgaria’s ‘Europeanization’ possible (via EU accession), and I see my letter as an honor to their work, their lives, their politics and their commitment,” she said. “I am deeply indebted to your generosity, kindness, and willingness to welcome me into your home and life so that I can conduct this research.
“They believed in me, trusted me and I work every day to keep my promises.”