Racism and Classism
Environmental crisis may be defined as a current state of our surroundings which is constantly being subjected to unnecessary elements such as air pollution, water pollution, global warming, soil erosion, natural disasters, depletion and exploitation of resources etc. The definition of environmental crisis has been ever-changing with time depending upon the changing face of man’s inflictions on the environment in every stage of history. From satisfying basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, to uplifting of living standards in the name of technology, advancement and sustenance, man has always turned to his environment in almost every stage of his life. This dependency has led to misuse and exploitation of resources which has caused a major environmental crisis throughout the world. Be it the use of resources, extraction and utilization of energy or treading in the path of advancement, this environmental crisis has become one of the major problems in almost any nation. From polluting the air around us, to exploiting water resources, to being responsible for grave consequences such as ozone depletion, the crisis gets deeper as we delve deeper into the black hole.
Racism and the Environment
The effects of environmental exploitation can also be seen in the form of racism and classism. In spite of living in the post era of racism, religious intolerance and classism, the United States, till today, witnesses such instances where huge factories and waste dumps are located in black communities, who do not have the resources to stop them. This kind of racism exists as early as the 1990s when there was an environmental justice movement named ‘Dumping in Dixie’. The movement rose to oppose nearly 100 percent of landfills that had been established in Houston in a locality of a community with black majority (Truth Out 2013). Most of the city-owned incinerators also existed there. According to Dr. Coleman Adebay, an environmentalist, Manchester is house to several refineries, trash incinerators, chemical factories, massive liquid storage terminals and a car-crushing facility. It also houses a major highway which gives way to non-stop traffic of industrial trucks, 24 hours a day (Truth Out 2013). Toxic chemicals such as bitumen coming out of refineries is known to be highly carcinogenic and is known to increase the risk of leukemia in children by up to 56 percent if they lived in close vicinity of such refineries. Such is the environmental crisis in minority black communities.
The Flint Case
The Flint Case is another classic example of an environmental crisis due to racism and classism. The majority of Flint population is made up of African-American people with 40 percent lying below the poverty line. In 1997, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality granted an air permit to establish a so-called ‘mini steel plant’ in Flint. The mill would let out 100 tons of lead and other toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. Residents filed several complaints to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but with no response. They were then, already facing the brunt of a nearby Genesee Power Station which left no stones unturned in polluting the air of Flint. The real problem began when Flint residents switched its water supply to their original source which was the Flint River. The Flint River was highly contaminated with high levels of toxic substances such as lead. This led to poisoning and corroding of pipes and machinery which caused great loss. High levels of lead in drinking water can lead to neurological and behavioral disorders. If left untreated, it can even cause death. The residents of Flint were also exposed to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease. Several complaints have been filed and dismissed without due consideration and nothing eventful happened in deciding the fate of the residents of Flint. This was a case of extreme damage caused in the name of racism and classism.
It can be seen that racism and classism are vital factors which contribute to the environmental crisis. It is ironical that we live in an advanced era of development, technology and modernism, yet we fail to see the little things in life: the value of a human being, irrespective of his race, caste or creed. Racial discrimination, though not spoken of much in the U.S., continues to be one of the major problems of the country. There are several factors that govern such mentality. One factor is the reduced number of colored staff in vital decision making bodies of environmental protection. A 2005 study has shown that there were only 11 percent of employees and 9 percent of board members who were colored people. Out of the 158 environmental institutions in the U.S, there were no colored people as staff in 33 percent mainstream groups and 22 percent government groups (Truth Out 2013). This reduced participation or the less opportunities offered to the colored people have led to the formation of policies that are highly biased to the white population. This is one reason why several pleas in the Flint Case were rejected unreasonably without even looking into the basic civil rights of the black community.
Racism and classism are one of the vital concerns in the United States. Though living in an era post to witnessing extreme racial segregation, it continues to attach to the society as a stigma yet to be removed. The Flint Case and The Manchester Case are only few of the numerous incidents of racism and classism seen in the country. Revised policies, regulations and acts may be the key to solving several such problems. The black community must be encouraged to participate in environmental fields and their talents must be recognized as they move on higher into the environmental regulations ladder and be capable of making important decisions pertaining to the welfare of the black community. Proper civil rights and justice can also be attained in this way.
“Flint Water Crisis is Classic Case of Environmental Racism.” The Hill. 2016. Web. 8 May
“Racism and Classism are Alive and Deadly: U.S Public Policies Create Environmental Injustice.” Truth Out. 2013. Web. 9 May. 2016.
“The Environmental Crisis.” The Anarchist Library. 2016. Web. 9 May. 2016.