When we think about racial injustice, we often link it to instances of police brutality against people of color or the overall, broken criminal justice system in the US. But what about our segregated water and air?
Yes, you read that right — the water we drink, as well as the air we breathe, continues to be racially divided through a subtler form of systemic discrimination: environmental racism.
Environmental racism is a system where those who are already at a disadvantage because of their race and economic status, are also made sick and poorer by the environmental contamination of their communities. It includes the policies and practices that purposely install landfills, sewage plants and other polluting facilities near minority communities.
Diverse groups of people live in the very same area code and still experience a wildly different quality of water and air because of their race, ethnicity or wealth and income bracket. And while poverty has a lot to do with this issue, racism trumps classism.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a quintessential case of environmental racism, where one hundred thousand residents have been poisoned with toxic water contaminated by high levels of lead. The city is around 57% black, with 40% of its population living in poverty. These residents protested the dirty water for over a year but were unsurprisingly ignored by the state in an attempt to save a buck. This is how environmental racism plays out — minority communities have much less political clout so officeholders can and often do ignore them.
I know what you’re probably asking yourself by now — why isn’t the federal government protecting people of color from environmental racism? Well, it supposedly does.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an Office of Civil Rights to enforce laws that prohibit public discrimination by its fund recipients. However, in its 22-year history, the office has never formally found a single case of discrimination. In fact, more than 90% of the communities that make complaints find them rejected or dismissed.
To make matters worse, Trump and his administration have recently proposed a 31% budget cut for a wide array of EPA programs, including those aimed at helping low-income and minority communities. The elimination of such programs would have a devastating impact on communities of color across the US that are already suffering disproportionately from environmental contamination.
Environmental racism — while not always the most visible form — is clearly widespread. Racial injustices are also without a doubt intimately tied to the environment. That’s why social justice is an environmental issue, too.
So, when is enough enough? There’s never been a more important time than now to RESIST by joining Greenpeace's Summer of Resistance!
Through Summer of Resistance, you can gain the tools you need to stand up against injustices in your community. Whatever issue you’re passionate about — climate change, clean water and air, social justice — Summer of Resistance is the next step to give it your all and DEFEND!
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