ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM

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Dr E Faye Williams1
Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.

TriceEdney – I remember a time when few, if any, Black people expressed interest in environmental issues. Our primary focus was on the day-to-day events that we could see and feel, and knew to be more tangible than air or water “pollution.”

When the conversation centered on coal production or coal-powered plants, our conversations didn’t focus on how clean the coal wasor the level of sulfur dioxide emitted by the plant.  Our first comments usually questioned the number of Black people currently on the payroll. When there was a question of automotive fuel efficiency, our response was generally concerned with the fair representation of Blacks on the assembly line. Like most practical people, the “bread and butter” issues captured the attention of the larger portion of the Black community.

Thankfully, times have changed and many more of us have started listening to the scientists and measuring their theories with our own observations to come to the conclusion that “Global Warming” is real! Not only have we acknowledged the reality of a man-made effect on Earth’s climate, many of us are connecting the dots of institutional racism and realize that Black people, other  people of color, and low income people are the recipients of disparate and negative consequences related to the impact of climate change.

We may be conditioned for greater deliberation in pondering the long-term consequences of our decisions, but we’re far from ignorant and know a stacked-deck when we see or experience it.

One of the biggest wake-up calls in recent history was Hurricane Katrina. She was, undoubtedly, indiscriminant in the totality of her destruction, but her greatest impact on the human condition was centered in the low-lying areas of New Orleans’ 9th Ward. Any serious observer (looking through the lens of objectivity) could easily predict that a storm of major proportions could threaten an out-of-date levee system and inundate a community that, for generations, had existed below sea-level. The mainstream media will routinely NOT take you to the next level of understanding by telling you how regularly people of color are relegated to those or similar residential circumstances by a variety of socio-economic discriminators.

If we take a close look at the residential areas that border the major thoroughfares and interstate highways that transect major urban centers, we can easily confirm that the residents of these border areas are disproportionately Black and other people of color. The logic of this circumstance readily conveys the understanding that those disproportionately represented in these residential pockets are disproportionately exposed to the fumes that spew forth from the exhausts of the vehicles that use the roadways.

Recently, our President has created the design to generate greater public interest in the health impacts of Climate Change, especially among African Americans. Supporting this measure, the National Medical Association has released a study that concludes a connection between climate change and increased illness and mortality among African Americans.

NMA members report increased severe cold-weather injuries among patients. These physicians also report increased air pollution-related increases in chronic illnesses, increases in allergic symptoms, and heat-related effects. Other conditions include vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile Virus which correlate to increased frequency based upon climatic conditions.  Although it is somewhat a stretch to bring reference to the recent discord in Baltimore to a discussion about environmental racism, the connection is clear. Placing politicians who look favorably upon our circumstance into decision-making positions is a matter of collectively exercising our right to vote. The vote – that same tool that made it possible for Baltimore State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, to bring charges against 6 rogue Baltimore cops can also be used to position those who are dedicated to the protection of the environmental interests of citizens without regard to race or color.

Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788