graphics by Queenie Chen, Graphic Design Member
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is said to be the civil rights movement of the 21st century, the deep extent to which racism has been embedded in our society is becoming more and more widely known by the privileged. But one form of racism that is often overlooked and not widely known is environmental racism. The urban dictionary defines environmental racism as, “A type of discrimination where people of low-income or minority communities are forced to live in close proximity of environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as toxic waste, pollution and urban decay.”
This disparity became particularly evident in the COVID-19 pandemic. The African American community got hit the hardest, being the most vulnerable to the virus and facing the highest mortality rates compared to other racial groups. The reasons for these disparities come down to many interconnected factors, the main one being that African Americans make up a large portion of frontline and essential workers, leading to a higher risk of exposure. The wealth disparities in income mean that many Black Americans have to continue working instead of safely social distancing in order to provide for their household. The low rate of insurance coverage in the African American community makes it very expensive to go into hospitals, and if Black Americans are not going into hospitals, the racism in the health care system can result in misdiagnosis or lack of treatment.
Environmental racism was a term first coined during the study of waste disposal and toxic dumping, but now refers to everything from industrial uses to the disproportionate harm of natural disasters, like the effects hurricane Katrina had on Black communities. Environmental racism is closely tied to racial segregation. Residential segregation, which is a result of systematic racism, means that people of color often live in neighborhoods that are financially disempowered and strained. This causes neighborhoods with a large concentration of people of color to have lower property values, making it easier for industrial companies to buy, thus leading to more pollution in that area.
At the same time, the disproportionately white representation in politics have allowed these dangerous environmental factors to be driven away from wealthy white communities, which often results in targeting communities mainly made up of people of color.
Similarly, the harms of pollution have affected communities of color much more than white communities because of the higher presence of sitting freeways and shipping centers, which cause the influx of more cars and trucks, once again increasing pollution. Historic segregation practices and wealth disparities have allowed for White Americans to move farther away from communities that have heavy pollution, but have prevented Black Americans from doing the same.
This cycle of pollution and industrial land keeps property value low, preventing people of color from generating wealth through their property. Communities of color then end up in areas that face more environmental harms and are more vulnerable to disaster. Residential segregation creates systematic hurdles and barriers which prevent people of color from moving to less environmentally harmful areas.
Bhavya is a sophomore at Basis Scottsdale in Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing the piano, baking, and volunteering at various non profits. She is passionate about reaching a status of equality for all people, and hopes to help spread awareness to the youth.