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Environmental Racism in Action

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The field of environmental justice is well established as a scholarly inquiry and few other areas so starkly demonstrate the horrors of American and global capitalism. These scholars delineate how corporations quite intentionally seek out poor communities of color to dump the worst pollution upon, utterly indifferent to the cancers and other diseases that will result and happily accepting the paychecks that follow. It’s really horrifying. I was glad to see the Post run a story on toxic roofing shingles being dumped in a poor largely Black neighborhood in south Dallas.

Shingle Mountain didn’t just appear from out of nowhere. It formed just south of a section of Dallas settled by formerly enslaved people, an area that for more than a century has been zoned for everything White citizens didn’t want in their neighborhoods: industrial rail yards, chemical plants, concrete mixing facilities, warehouses that lure up to 100 diesel trucks per day and a massive landfill.

And now, even as Dallas is currently more than 60 percent Latino and African American, with a Black city manager and mayor and a diverse city council, redlining and other historic land-use decisions by White leaders and planners who are long gone continue to have a lasting negative impact.

When two White business partners looked at the area in 2017, they figured it was an ideal place to start a dump. They redirected truckers hauling shingles to the landfill and charged them a fee to unload their cargo on their vacant land instead. One of the partners set up an illegal recycling operation that ground black shingles into dust, a process that spewed toxins and fine particulate matter into the air around Jackson and about 100 of her neighbors.

With so much industry already in south Dallas, city officials didn’t notice even when it reached the height of a six-story building. Over the course of seven months starting in January 2018, Jackson complained to the city, and no one answered.

Jackson, 62, is certain that particulate matter from the shingles is in the air she and her 12-year-old granddaughter have been breathing for two years. Her voice comes and goes, she says, because “it gets up in my throat.”

Recent studies have shown that minority residents in Dallas breathe more polluted air than White residents and have a significantly shorter life expectancy.

That finding fits with a reality nationwide reflected in other studies. Black and Latino residents in the United States are far more likely than White people to live near landfills, power plants, concrete mixing facilities and other sources of emissions that foul the air.

And they are far more likely than White people to die from exposure to pollution.

Why, it’s almost as if Black and Latino and Native people having much higher hospitalization and death rates from COVID than whites has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with a lifetime of racism, poverty, and toxicity!

I’ve been reading Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, which is a thought-provoking book at the very least. Kendi doesn’t really talk about these sorts of issues, but the reality is that if we are to be anti-racist, these are exactly the kinds of issues we have to face head on (as well as of course racism in schooling, which Kendi does discuss even if commenters here don’t want to). There has to be real equity in the disposal of toxicity. And if we just shrug our shoulders and say there’s not really anything we can do, that’s just actively showing indifference to racial inequality, which itself materially reinforces the racism that is killing people through COVID right now. Environmental injustice is a huge piece of the racist puzzle in the world and it is unacceptable.

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