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Racism and Water Supplies


It’s not just Flint where racism has led to a complete indifference by government toward water supplies. Keri Leigh Merritt on how this is playing out in Jackson.

Over the past several days, the city has made significant progress in repairs, restoring water to most of its residents. However, two major, potentially deadly issues remain. First, the water pressure is extremely low and unreliable in certain neighborhoods, particularly in the poorer parts of south Jackson. More importantly, city testing has revealed that the water in Jackson is still unsafe to drink, as USA Today reported, “because of high turbidity — cloudiness that increases the possibility water might contain disease-causing organisms.” The capital of an American state is still under a boil-water advisory — an advisory originally issued nearly a month ago, on February 16. Jackson’s problems, like those of so many other US towns and cities, are a blight on the political ideals White Americans traditionally claim.Jackson, Mississippi, is a microcosm of our nation’s massive failures to make amends for centuries of colonialism, slavery and racism. The story of Jackson is like those of Flint, Michigan; Centreville, Illinois; and Shreveport, Louisiana. While the details from each city may vary, the core issue that binds these places together in anguish is painfully obvious.

Our problem, our shame, is that American poverty springs not from lack of funds, but instead from White supremacy. Due to the ravages of history — from slavery and the failures of Reconstruction to more modern tactics of redlining, White flight and the crisis of mass incarceration — poverty in America is almost always dependent on racism, even when the impoverished are White. From pitting laborers of different races against each other to stoking racist and xenophobic fears through a sensationalistic and profit-driven media, America’s White elite have always used the specter of racism to prevent the formation of a broad coalition of people with similar class interests, regardless of race. And poor and working-class whites historically have been all-too-willing to join in this Faustian bargain.

We are one of the richest nations in the world, but among those nations, we are one of the most unequal. Nearly all other developed nations offer a better standard of living to their citizens, regardless of income or wealth.

Currently, White Republicans control Mississippi’s state legislature. As Mississippi Free Press reported, Governor Tate Reeves and other White lawmakers are essentially holding the Black-led, Black-populated city hostage, refusing to fund repairs. While the citizens of his state are literally going on a month without the very basics of survival, Reeves instead focused his attention to passing the nation’s first anti-transgender law of 2021.

Yeah, I mean what is there to say? The poor whites of Mississippi have chosen their white identity over their class identity over and over and over again and are more concerned with canceling Dr. Seuss or whatever the fake outrage of the day is over ensuring clean water to everyone. Given the Black population of Mississippi, it would take relatively few whites to vote Democrat and make the state competitive. But it never happens because Republicans have defined themselves as the White Man’s Party and that remains as powerful a pull for white Mississippians as the Democrats were in 1920.

Meanwhile, Black Mississippians get sick.

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