One of the reasons Critical Race Theory is so necessary is because every institution in America is infused with the traditions and histories of racism and it shapes all the decisions we make as a society today. One example of this is where industry gets sited. As scholars of environmental justice movements have long explored, industry intentionally chooses sites for toxic development where it believes it will see the least resistance from the local populace. Because this is an inherently racist society, those choices almost always target communities of color. Those communities can and do fight back. One of the battles right now is over a gigantic grain facility in rural Louisiana, an area with a long history of slavery and then independent Black communities.
Joy Banner, 42, stands at the edge of her hometown of Wallace, La., looking over a field of sugar cane, the crop that her enslaved ancestors cut from dawn to dusk, that is now the planned site of a major industrial complex. Across the grassy river levee, the swift waters of the Mississippi bear cargo toward distant ports, as the river has done for generations.
“This property is where the proposed grain elevator site would be set up right next to us,” she says. “As you can see, we would be living in the middle of this facility.”
A bitter fight has broken out between the powerful backers of this major new grain terminal on the Mississippi River in south Louisiana and the historic Black community that has been here on the fence line for 150 years. Charges of environmental racism are coming from her and fellow descendants of enslaved people, who believe the silo complex is an existential threat to the community of Wallace.
On this sunny Juneteenth, a couple dozen folks — mostly Banner’s extended family — sit under a 300-year-old oak tree on the grounds of the Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe in Wallace. They eat roast beef sandwiches and peach cobbler, drink whisky and daiquiris, and enjoy the laid-back, rural life on this lazy bend of the mighty river.
“I have grown up here my whole life,” says Banner, the community activist leading the fight against the grain terminal. “We don’t want this way of life to be ruined.” She and her twin sister, Jo Banner, are co-owners of the cafe.
Banner and the rest of this predominantly African American, unincorporated town of 1,200 are alarmed at the plans of Greenfield Louisiana.The company plans to put in 54 grain silos to store 4.6 million bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans.The grain would float down the Mississippi River from the Midwest on barges, get loaded onto cargo ships at a new Wallace terminal and then be delivered around the globe.
Supporters — from the governor’s office to the local parish council —say the grain terminal will create jobs and expand international trade. But neighbors see a massive industrial installation with one structure standing as tall as the Statue of Liberty, operating 24/7 with constant truck and train traffic, machinery noise, and dust escaping when grain is loaded and unloaded.
Some 200 industrial and petrochemical plants are located along the twisting river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
People at the Juneteenth picnic say that their air is already foul and that a giant grain elevator next door is bound to make things worse.
“You got red dust, black dust, white dust. All these plants, they all got dust,” says Lawrence Alexis, 93, in a thick Creole accent. He’s a lifelong Wallace resident and former sugar-refinery worker. “That thing they wanna put right there, I don’t think it should be there, not close like that.”
Put the thing in a nice wealthy white neighborhood in Jefferson Parish if you have to put it up at all. It’s unconscionable that all of the pollution is placed into Black and Brown communities around the nation. Again, this is the definition of structural racism.