Friday, April 27, 2007

Environmental Racism is Real - check your facts

A reader commented on my Story beneath the Story post, claiming that the term "Environmental racism" is misleading. He wrote: "A more accurate term might be 'environmental classism.'" In sum, "If you are a minority you are also more likely to be poor, so the net result may be the same, but the motivations are economic, not racist."

What comes to mind is what Carmen at Addicted to Race calls "oppression olympics," a pattern of "competing" and arguing about which oppressed group has it worse, and in the process deminishing or denying valid experiences. What happens as a result is that groups pit themselves against each other instead of uniting for a common cause.

Well, in this case, the reader had it wrong. Though the socioeconomic factor is significant, numerous studies have shown that race and ethnicity are the single most determining factors in predicting toxic exposure from proximity to hazardous-waste sites in this country. For example:

"In the United States the single most important factor in predicting the location of hazardous-waste sites is the ethnic composition of a neighborhood. Three of the five largest commercial hazardous-waste landfills in America are a predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods, and three out of every five black or Hispanic Americans live in the vicinity of an uncontrolled toxic-waste site. The wealth of a community is not nearly as good a predictor of hazardous-waste locations as the ethnic background of the residents, suggesting that the selection of sites for hazardous-waste disposal involves racism. James T. Hamilton studied the zip codes in the US targeted for capacity expansion in plans by commercial hazardous waste facilities from 1987 to 1992. Locations for hazardous waste facilities had an average nonwhite population of 25 percent, versus 18 percent for those areas without net expansion. Hamilton suggests that differences in the probability that residents will raise a firm's expected location costs by engaging in successful collective action to oppose expansion offer the best explanation for which neighborhoods are targeted by polluting industries.[1] Another study in 1997 found that the communities most affected by hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities in the Los Angeles area are working-class communities of color."

Source: wikipedia

And more: Race, Waste, and Class: New Perspectives on Environmental Justice. The thesis: "Race is the central determining factor with toxic exposure."

And for a more current look, read this study, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007, which states:

"More than nine million people (9,222,000) are estimated to live within 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of the nation’s 413 commercial hazardous waste f acilities. This represents 3.3% of the U.S. population (281,422,000). More than 5.1 million people of color, including 2.5 million Hispanics or Latinos, 1.8 million African Americans, 616,000 Asians/Pacific Islanders and 62,000 Native Americans, live in neighborhoods with one or more commercial hazardous waste facility. . .

". . . Racial disparities in the location of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste f acilities exist in all EPA regions. For Hispanics, African Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders, statistically significant disparities exist in the majority or vast majority of EPA regions. Moreover, the pattern of people of color being especially concentrated in areas where facilities are clustered is also geographically widespread throughout the country. . .

". . . Racial disparities are more prevalent and extensive than socioeconomic disparities, suggesting that race has more to do with the current distribution of the nation’s hazardous waste facilities than poverty. "

So my response to those who want to deny racism and override it with classism arguments is this:

I hope that after reading this you won't turn a blind eye to the race factor. It's crucial to recognize racism as a huge factor in the denial of people's right to a clean and healthy environment. Denying racism in the arena of environmental justice is, in fact, racism.


cloudscome said...

I remember reading about this in Jonathan Kozol's Ordinary Resurrections, written in 2000. It makes me so angry! It is actually not surprising that there is a desire to supress and deny it - it is so outrageous and such clear injustice.

Esperanza V. said...

As a leftist of color in the US that works very closely with anti-racist whites...i must say that it is extremely refreshing to find a site for antiracist Los Angeles there is a group called (AWARE)anti-racist whites against racism everywhere forming...if your in this part of the country check em out!