the philosophactivist

Monday, January 28, 2013

Environmental Racism- A Journal Throwback but Forever Relevant

I stumbled across a blog/journal a few students and I had from March and April 2010. It documented our journey into learning more about environmental justice and environmental racism. A group of us worked throughout our time at school toward supporting an environmental justice group called MEAN (Mossville Environmental Action Now) in Mossville, Louisiana. Environmental racism is something occurring all over this country and world, actually. Many people don't really stop to think about why refineries, power plants and other types of factories set up shop in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Or why these communities may have toxic dumps, brown fields and wastelands and other wonderful biproducts of capitalism that end up in our backyard and doorstep so many times. There are many stories of people (a lot of times women) who have come together to fight against places like Conoco-Phillips who pollute their water, air, and soil. These chemicals lead to chronic asthma, birth differences/deformation, cancer, and all kinds of health issues for generations down the line. The majority of folks affected are low-income communities and communities of color.

Mossville is a community that began with freed formerly enslaved people. You may know a similar story. They were doing ok for generations and then the greedy (white) capitalists showed up. The land was/is "unincorporated" and not owned "legally." These businesses/entrepreneurs (gluttons?) began to build their factories (14 right now in Mossville to be exact) and dump their sludge into their water and their chemicals into the air and ground. People started getting really sick but there wasn't a lot that could be done. Have you ever tried to take on a million dollar industry?

The state government is in "cohoots"- collaborating with these factories. Many people work at these factories and when we talked with them, we found they had a strong allegiance to the companies who gave them such great health care. (??) It is a really complicated situation and the federal government paid lip service for some time before CNN did a story and colleges, outside organizations, and the United Nations started listening and demanding action.

Unfortunately this is a common story for communities of color and many communities don't have the media or government's ear. You may be living in one right now or have family living in a community like this. A toxic town. Maybe a part of cancer alley?
Mossville Video

You can read my reflection on our community organizing and "participatory action research" here.
**Participatory Action Research or "PAR" is a way of collecting information for organizing that honors, centers, and reflects the experiences of people most directly affected by issues in our communities.For more about Participatory Action Research:

The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice- written by People of Color at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, 20+ years ago:

Environmental Justice Movement Background:

"Up to the late 1960s, racism was defined as a doctrine, dogma, ideology, or set of beliefs. The central theme of this doctrine was that race determined culture. Some cultures were deemed superior to others; therefore, some races were superior and others inferior. During the 1960s the definition of racism was expanded to include the practices, attitudes, and beliefs that supported the notion of racial superiority and inferiority. Such beliefs and practices produced racial discrimination.

However, researchers argue that to limit the understanding of racism to behavior misses important aspects of racism. Racism is also a system of advantages or privileges based on race. Racism is thus more fully understood if one sees it as the execution of prejudice and discrimination coupled with power, privilege, and institutional support. It is aided and maintained by legal, penal, educational, religious, and business institutions, to name a few.

Environmental racism is an important concept that provided a label for some of the environmental activism occurring in minority and low-income communities. In particular, it links racism with environmental actions, experiences, and outcomes.

The term environmental racism, or environmental discrimination, is used to describe racial disparities in a range of actions and processes, including but not limited to the:
  • increased likelihood of being exposed to environmental hazards
  • disproportionate negative impacts of environmental processes
  • disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies, for example, the differential rate of cleanup of environmental contaminants in communities composed of different racial groups
  • deliberate targeting and siting of noxious facilities in particular communities
  • environmental blackmail that arises when workers are coerced or forced to choose between hazardous jobs and environmental standards
  • segregation of ethnic minority workers in dangerous and dirty jobs
  • lack of access to or inadequate maintenance of environmental amenities such as parks and playgrounds
  • inequality in environmental services such as garbage removal and transportation

During the 1980s people of color began organizing environmental campaigns to prevent the poisoning of farm workers with pesticides; lead poisoning in inner-city children; the siting of noxious facilities—landfills, polluting industrial complexes, and incinerators—in communities like Warren County, North Carolina; Altgeld Gardens (the "toxic doughnut" on Chicago's South-side); Convent, Louisiana's "cancer alley;" and Kettleman City, California. Activists also demanded the cleanup of communities like Triana, Alabama that had been contaminated with DDT (dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane), and the monitoring or closure of facilities like Emelle, Alabama's commercial hazardous landfill (the largest of its kind in the United States). In addition, they questioned the placement of large numbers of nuclear waste dumps on Native-American reservations.

Meanwhile, activists, scholars, and policymakers began investigating the link between race and exposure to environmental hazards. Two influential studies exploring this relationship—one by the U.S. General Accounting Office (USGAO) and the other by the United Church of Christ (UCC)—found that African-Americans and other people of color were more likely to live close to hazardous waste sites and facilities than whites. The study by the UCC was particularly important because it made an explicit connection between race and the increased likelihood of being exposed to hazardous wastes. The studies also made the issue of race and the environment more salient in communities of color."

You can read more here:

Mossville is Like a Toxic Town
A paper on Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice groups:

Health is a serious issue for QPOC and POC. With all this energy and focus on just surviving it can be the first to be overlooked. While some of our health is affected by the individual choices we make, you can see that there are some huge determining factors that are involuntary. Do we control what's in our air and soil and therefore our food? Are diabetes and cancer actually  genetic? Do we as POC have a "predisposition" to these chronic dis-eases or is it tied to pollution of our environment and food sources? How can we gain more autonomy- more control over our environment and bodies?

I'll return to environmental justice, sustainability and intersections with food and economic justice in the future.

As always- giving you food for thought.


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