|Image by Durova from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA|
|Image from Pintrest|
...the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
Environmental racism refers to the to the fact that marginalized communities comprised of people of color are frequently exposed to much higher levels of pollution, thus exposed to much higher risk than predominantly white communities. The Goldman Environmental Fund noted that race
...plays a determining role in environmental policies regarding land use, zoning and regulations. As a result, African American, Latino, indigenous and low-income communities are more likely to live next to a coal-fired power plant, landfill, refinery or other highly polluting facility. These communities bear a disproportionate burden of toxic contamination as a result of pollution in and around their neighborhoods. Moreover, these communities have historically had a diminished response capacity to fight back against such policies.
|Image by Alfred Palmer from Wikimedia Commons, public domain|
Environmental decisions are often related to political power. In some cities, garbage incinerators have been built in African-American neighborhoods that do not have the political clout to block them. In Michigan, where blacks are 14 percent of the population and the state government is dominated by Republicans, Flint has little political power.So, while the Flint crisis may not have been an overt gesture of environmental racism, it is an example of systemic or institutional racism, a manifestation of Whiteness. The dangerous nature of the water was well known, indeed, "years ago ]the river[ was a repository for industrial waste from the city’s once booming, now almost extinct, factories," Eligon wrote, but the people of flint were all but invisible to the state.
Ruth Frankenberg wrote that Whiteness is a "'stand point,' a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society" and is "a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed" (as cited in DiAngelo, 2011, p. 56).* DiAngelo expounds on this point when she observed that
Whiteness is thus conceptualized as a constellation of processes and practices [that are] dynamic, relational, and operating at all times on a myriad of levels. These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purportedly to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people. (p. 56)Whiteness is largely invisible to those who benefit from it and thus makes very little sense to them when learning of it, but it can have very real and even drastic effects on people of color. In the case of Flint, the environmental racism manifested itself in that decision makers completely ignored the health risk for the sake of finances. Profits over people.
|A young woman in Louisiana's Cancer Alley, image from Pintrest|
If tRump's proposed cuts to the EPA hold up, there are sure to be at least dozens of more Flints and Cancer Alleys in our future.
* DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.