July 16, 2020 – Cecilia Toro
There are communities that are far more vulnerable to today’s political and social climate than others. For example, poor, non-White communities have been shown to be extremely susceptible to COVID-19 as a result of environmental racism.
In light of recent events, such as the BLM protests and COVID-19, society has begun to dismantle, question, and reassess old beliefs. Both these events have shifted the way we socialize and the way we enact change. If we’ve learned anything at all from this is that change must happen.
The evidence is undeniable. This pandemic has proved that years of racial and social disparities will and have continuously affected black, brown, and native communities.
Environmental racism can be defined as “the way in which minority group neighborhoods… are burdened with a disproportionate number of hazards, including toxic waste facilities, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution.” The term was first seen in a report published in the 1980s, Toxic Wastes and Race In The United States, where several black communities spoke up about the amount of waste dumped in areas they lived in.
Forced to confront such an insidious reality, these communities are unable to move against a system that actively disregards them and the environmental issues that directly affect them. People who live in environmentally unsafe areas are more likely to remain in these parts of cities as it’s an inherent structure of residential segregation.
An example of this kind of segregation can be seen through gentrification. This has been a massive issue for poorer communities as they’re being displaced to make space for parks or public spaces that seem appealing to potential newcomers. It goes without saying that gentrification puts marginalized groups at risk by pushing them further into areas that are hazardous.
So, why bring this up if it’s been happening for years?
Well, with a spike in COVID cases and the BLM protests showing us that racial injustice exists and seeps through every aspect of life, it’s clear that these marginalized communities will suffer most. These factors paired with years of inequity and living in very unsafe conditions will drastically worsen minority groups’ standards of living.
Because this has been such a pervasive issue all these years, the best way forward is to educate ourselves. There’s always so much to watch and read to help point us in the right direction.
One very useful article for understanding environmental racism’s history in the United States was published by The New Yorker in 2015: Environmentalism’s Racist History. Somini Sengupta, published a comprehensive reading list on the subject of environmental racism, which targets a variety of different subjects and essential readings. KeiSei’s reading list on racism is good to read in tandem with Sengupta’s list.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and policy advisor, wrote an article for the Washington Post discussing the relationship between racism and the environment. Johnson writes:
The sheer magnitude of transforming our energy, transportation, buildings and food systems within a decade… is already overwhelming. And black Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis.
If you’re looking for more specific literature on the subject, Sengupta’s list also mentions a few books worth reading. The Yellow House, The Hungry Tide, Tale of Two Planets, and Parable of the Sower are some books that explore environmental racism’s effects on different places of the world, such as India, Argentina, and the U.S.
Should you want to watch documentaries on environmental racism, there are a few to choose from.
There is Something in the Water (2019)
This documentary focuses on marginalized communities in Nova Scotia, how their lands are directly affected by racism, and the actions they’ve taken to prevent losing their lands to pollution. Inspired by Ingrid Waldron’s book, There is Something in the Water shows how industrial waste has ruined poor communities’ water sources and increased cancer rates. The documentary shows how horrifying a reality this is for those who have to endure environmental crimes.
Come Hell Or High Water: The Battle For Turkey Creek (2014)
This documentary follows the life of a Boston teacher, Derrick Evans, and his return to Mississipi. Here, where his ancestors are buried, he spends a decade “stand[ing] up to powerful corporate interests and politicians… in [his] struggle for self-determination and environmental justice.”
Should you want to explore other notable films on the subject of racism, check out some of KeiSei’s suggestions on some of the best Social Justice Movies and Documentaries.
We can no longer deny that environmental crimes and racism go hand in hand.
Though these are just a few examples of how real and damaging environmental racism can be, there’s so much more. If you need some extra guidance, we’ve a few articles on how to continuously show support for black communities.
Keep reading, watching, and listening to raise awareness on injustices that have existed for too long.