Environmental Justice is Racial Justice. Most people think that environmental justice is just electric cars and solar panels, but it’s much deeper than that. The very nature of how we live our lives and where we live are our environment. Where does the justice part fit into that? Why would I (and others) say that environmental justice and racial justice are the same? The United States social and legal systems are based on a racial caste system. Where should the waste be dumped? Who is allowed to live where? Public transportation is only for people who can’t afford cars so it doesn’t need to be in wealthier neighborhoods. Who can buy and develop property? Where should the city invest money for parks, sidewalks and trees. There are laws still in place that allow for waste dumping in certain zip codes and prohibit it in others.
The story about the South Bronx is a story that is known across the country in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods and cities. Lax governmental accountability and negligent regulatory agencies, this is also the story of the Flint water crisis and the story of the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, where levels of lead poisoning in children were higher than children in Flint in 2014. The number of children exposed is still rising and the city of Grand Rapids received a $4.2M grant to address this issue starting in 2019. The area code of 49507 where the highest concentration of children with lead poisoning are is only 6 square miles and is disproportionately Black (39%) and Latinx (25%). This is the story of Black Americans, forced to live in neighborhoods through the practice of redlining. Then using those same neighborhoods for the manufacturing industry where pollution exceeds the legal limits and has little if any green spaces or trees. This is important to distinguish because green spaces and trees filter out pollutant gases. This is why Environmental Justice is Racial Justice.
I grew up in a city much like Flint, MI — Gary, IN was also a city whose economy and very existence centered around large industrial factories conveniently located near water where they could use hydroelectricity to power large machinery. The South Bronx, Detroit, Flint, Muskegon, St. Louis, and Baltimore just to name a few of the cities across the country that depended on People of Color in the manufacturing industry and whose populations are disproportionately affected by globalization and manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas–resulting in higher unemployment rates, poverty, food and housing insecurity, and health disparities. These effects are generational because by altering the family structure and other childhood conditions, the loss of manufacturing work may also impact the decisions regarding work, education, marriage, crime, and fertility. The 2020 Global Pandemic and Covid-19 health crisis shined a light on these disparities for the entire world to see. “Researchers examined a sample of 7,868 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus at 88 hospitals across the country between Jan. 17 and July 22. The data was collected from the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease Registry. The average mortality rate for all patients was 18.4%. The researchers found that white patients accounted for 35.2% of the sample, Hispanic patients for 33%, Black patients for 25.5% and Asian patients for 6.3%. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that white people make up 60% of the nation’s population, Hispanic people 18.5%, Black people 13.4% and Asian people 5.9%.” (Stanford Medicine News)
What Majora Carter did with Sustainable South Bronx was a multi-point approach to address several systemic issues at once. While focusing on greening the environment meant cleaner air, it brought new spaces to live and play as well as new jobs and more efficient public transportation. When cities invest in neighborhoods that are highly populated by People of Color — companies and nonprofits usually follow, this is usually called revitalization. Revitalization literally means to give new life to something… in this case these green spaces and rooftops are living things creating oxygen and filtering pollutants — to sustain the lives of the residents of the South Bronx.
- TED (Majora Carter), https://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_greening_the_ghetto
- Stanford Medicine News, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/11/deaths-from-covid-19-of-inpatients-by-race-and-ethnicity.html
- Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/07/18/471198/trade-and-race/
- Vox EU, https://voxeu.org/article/manufacturing-decline-has-hurt-black-americans-more