With this post shall initiate a series I’m starting called “Environmental Justice Pulse”! As the title would suggest, this series will be about the many instances where communities of color/low-income communities are pitted against hegemonic corporate/city-planning entities for the sake of capital gain. A basic macro/micro-economics course teaches us that more often than not, the environment – what occurs to our water, air,soil and our people that live on it- are often after-thoughts ,external to the economic decision making processes for the sake of profits or “economic development” – “externalities”.
A big reason for my choosing to do this is to push back against the mainstream environmental activists in what I’ve come to see as their own hegemony: white, liberal, anti-Christian, agnosto-atheist, priviledged-yet-denying-it, and in many ways anti-black. Going through college – especially a liberal , PWI majoring in ENVIRONMENTAL studies, I’ve gotten a heavy dose of all of this rhetoric. This combined with the common notion that “blacks don’t care about the environment” was quite disconcerting for a while to me. But what I’ve realized over time is that blacks DO care about the environment, just differently and ultimately more holistically. At risk of repeating what I’ve already written in my post, “Do Blacks really care!?” , it’s essentially more about starting where you are and becoming attuned to that which is immediate to you – a long-term committment to living with the Earth as opposed to just targetting (almsot exclusively)climate change through bombastic , short-sighted and ultimately ineffective instances of environmental advocacy.
Speaking of living with the environment – today’s EJ Pulse comes out of Uniontown Ala.! The article, which may be read here.
essentially tells of the citing of a coal-ash waste landfill near a poor, predominantly black community. It turns out, the coal ash being transported near this community comes from a plant in Tennessee and is the result of a disaster that occured there -hundreds of miles away from Uniontown ! So , essentially waste coal ash- which is incredibly toxic- is being placed near a community as a result of a disaster they had nothing to do with – talk about EXTERNALity..
Furthermore, it is stated that “Residents have reported headaches, dizziness, rashes, nausea and vomiting, symptoms they believe are related to the coal ash at the site”
The article also states the tension between a local activist who has allegedly reported arsenic ( a toxic component of coal ash- in addition to mercury) in water at incredibly high levels. A professional with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management who has been operating moniorting wells just outside of the landfill ( to ensure groundwater quality integrity) says he has yet to have seen this.
There are numerous instances in environmental justice history where industry has clearly done communities wrong and regulatory officials set up “monitoring” schema to ensure the protection of some environmental media- as if this washes away the sins of these industries against the burdened community lying in the trenches of poisoned watersways, airways, and soil. As Matthew Baca, a lawyer for Earth Justice states, “There’s a real question of why the landfill was put there in the first place, in this community that’s predominantly poor and African-American,” . We can complicate the issue further with legal jargon and monitoring schemes but at the end of the day this goes back to the famous three words of real estate- “location, location, location” , and when it comes to the citing of environmentally harmful nuisances/stressors that degrade at a community’s quality of life, it seems the three criteria are often, “Black, poor, helpless”:
“We’re a small group, we’re poor, and we’re black, so no one is going to help us,” said Ben Eaton, a 55-year-old retired schoolteacher who lives a few miles away from the facility. “People here just learn to accept whatever happens.”
This hopelessness characterizes many black neighborhoods that have been burdened by such instances of environmental negligence. When this is the case, your biggest environmental issue worth rallying for may not be protecting pristine forests or global climate change, but threats within your own community that cripple your way of life. Yet, these typically aren’t the sorts of issues we see young white (hipster) liberals fighting for on the front lines. When they are all worn out rallying, they have the luxury, more often-then-not of coming home to a nice, comfortable home in a neighborhood that’s probably not near toxic dumps and having adverse affects on their health. Such cases as presented in this article may not be the more “glamorous” environmental issues, but I believe this is where true environmentalism starts- it starts with identifying with those whose habitat has essentially been rendered a deep , dark trench- not worthy of pride of love.