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Environmental Racism

Kierra Wright

Environmental racism refers to the perpetual location of environmental hazards near economically and socially disadvantaged areas that are generally populated by people of color.

Black and brown people are disproportionately affected by low quality water and air, two natural resources necessary for survival that should be free, safe and equitable. If everyone had access to the same water and air as affluent areas, environmental disparities wouldn’t happen.

In a 2017 article for the Atlantic, Van Newkirk stated that environmental racism is the New Jim Crow—a legitimization and incorporation of anti-black racism. Five years later, this sentiment continues as we see rising cases and consequences of environmental harm impacting communities of color.

Newkirk argued that the same segregationist measures that were implemented by Jim Crow laws are reflected in the impacts and consequences poor people and people of color experience as a result of their exposure to environmental risks. Pollution, political neglect and poverty are interrelated issues that contribute to the public health crisis that includes low air quality, water contamination and lead poisoning.

The relationship between poverty and the environment is reflected in the detrimental impacts that are concentrated in communities of color and those that have populations with high unemployment and low education. While weather and climate change related disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and floods are not necessarily any respecter of persons, it is no coincidence that “the most polluted places in our nation are close to predominantly non-white communities.”

Poor people and people of color are the most impacted and displaced due to natural disasters, airborne pollutants and cultural contamination. Their proximity to nuclear power plants, landfills and hazardous waste sites leaves them especially vulnerable to long-term consequences including respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer.

Environmental racism is not geographical, it is national. Recent examples include the water and lead crisis in Baltimore, air pollution in North Birmingham, and water pollution in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey and Jackson, Mississippi.

Environmental injustice is not accidental, nor is it irreversible. We need to think about who the decision-makers are in our own communities and why environmental racism continues to jeopardize the lives of marginalized people, who experience its worst consequences.

According to Green Action, environmental justice will require decent paying and secure jobs, quality schools and recreation, affordable housing and health care, democratic decision-making and personal empowerment. Environmental justice is only possible if we address the problems and commit to their solutions.

I’m Robin Boylorn. Until next time… keep it crunk!

Written by Robin Boylorn

Edited by Brittany Young


Robin M. Boylorn is a college professor, founding member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, and host of the award-winning Crunk Culture commentary.