Environmental Racism in North America

Source: NBC News

Throughout the last few decades, the racial equality movement has clearly gone a long way. While society has improved its treatment of people of color, racial oppression at the advantage of white (and white passing) people is still a reality. Unlike history’s blatant show of its’ dislike and disregard for people of color, racism today has become more implicit in our society, and has managed to express and manifest itself in multiple ways. An aspect of racism that is mainly ignored and neglected by mainstream media is environmental racism.

Environmental racism is defined by the English Oxford Dictionary as “racial discrimination in the development and implementation of environmental policy, especially as manifested in the concentration of hazardous waste disposal sites in or near areas with a relatively large ethnic minority population”. This term was coined in the 1980s during the rise of the environmental justice movement in the USA. In 1983, Shocco, a predominantly black town in Warren County, North Carolina, had discovered water contamination due to a PCB landfill next to the town's highway. At the time, Warren County was one of the only counties in North Carolina with such a high number of black people and Shocco itself had no mayor. They had already previously complained about the landfill. This event finally brought the issue of environmental racism to light, and after going through multiple public hearings, lawsuits and scientific researches, Warren County finally formed the means to remove the PCB from their land. The situation in Warren County can now be inferred as the main reason as to the upsurge of environmental justice in the United States.

Presently, there are multiple accounts of environmental racism, particularly pertaining to the Indigenous, Latinx, and Black communities. For the Indigenous, particularly in Canada, their community is subject to water advisories. A water advisory is when a government subjects a certain area to boil its water due to possible contamination of pathogens. This is extremely common for the Indigenous community that lives on reserves and can even go on for over 20 years in some cases, without any changes made by the government. Another example of environmental racism is the case of the community of Fair Haven. Fair Haven, a poor neighborhood of latinx and black people, previously had a coal-powered plant next to it, which had many negative reactions on the health of the community. After being closed for a few years, there had been talk of reopening it, which lead to activists and eventually the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to push the company in control of the plant to close it down before further intoxicating the air of Fair Haven with PCBs linked to cancer. This situation is very similar to Flint’s situation,  an area that is populated majorly by black people who are subject to atrocious environmental conditions. Flint is already one of the poorest towns in America and now with water that is laced with lead due to actions taken by Governor Snyder, life is not looking up for the people of Flint. Sadly, the world and social media has moved on from the town, without realizing that their problems haven't been solved - they are just getting worse, as they are forced to use the contaminated water due to the lack of donations.

Those minorities are not the only ones to face this  issue as Pacific Islanders and Asians are also subject to environmental racism. In comparison to the other communities who fall victim to this type of racism, there is far less research and articles written on environmental racism’s effect on Pacific Islanders and the asian community. This is due to these minorities being seen as the “model minority”, which glosses over their experiences, while claiming they have the same equal and wonderful opportunities as white people due to “hard work”. This automatically causes their experiences and issues to become invisible ,contributing to the neglect and ignorance of the reality that asians and Pacific Islanders face.

Environmental racism is present in many communities of color, but we have the chance to change it. We cannot let people of color continue to suffer in silence. Together, we have the choice to bring light to certain situations and with these choices comes change. Voice concerns of the reality of environmental racism and be the change today.

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