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Issues USA: Environmental Racism

Confronting Environmental Racism Among African American Populations

by McKinley Dyer

Environmental Racism in Louisiana
by Courtney Johnston

Environmental racism is a sensitive subject because it is something that concerns many people and it is happening within the United States. “Environmental racism is an issue of political power: The negative externalities of industrialization – pollution and hazardous waste - are placed where politicians expect little or no political backlash” (Ross & Soloman, 2016). This is because the demographics of these communities tend to be those living in poverty and who are mostly African American.

There have been studies conducted that show that poor, in particular poor African Americans, “are more likely to live near industrial plants and are exposed to toxic pollutants at a rate much higher than more affluent whites” (Lee, n.d.). These residents do not have the power to stand up for their communities and those who are in power do not want to listen to them.

One huge example of environmental racism is Cancer Alley, which is “an 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is home to more than 150 plants and refineries” (Lee, n.d.). This area is also the most toxic area in the United States (Allen, 2006). The most well known plant that is located here is Exxon Mobil, “the 11 largest oil complex in the world” (Lee, n.d.). These areas are so contaminated that most of the residents have to leave or they eventually become sick, hence the name of Cancer Alley. Of those who live close to the river, “35% suffer from respiratory problems, 21% from allergy problems, and 17% from other sinus problems, in addition to claims of elevated cancer rates” (Allen, 2006). This is a huge problem because people in this area do not have a lot of money so they cannot afford to move. They are stuck in this area and they are becoming sick because of it.

A reason why there may be so many problems with the pollution is because of underreporting. The companies are not reporting the correct amount of how much pollution they are actually emitting (Lee, n.d.). The area that is now named Cancer Alley used to be safe and clean and residents could play outside and have fun, but now the factories and plants have changed all of that. “’It’s not just health we’re talking about, we’re talking about transformative wealth being stolen by property values being devalued because of environmental racism,’” (Lee, n.d.).

Environmental racism is very real and it is unfair and dangerous. More people need to become aware of the problem so change can start to happen. Companies need to recognize the damage that is being done to the people and they need to change how they run their company so that future problems can be avoided. Stricter policies and regulations need to be created by health officials to eliminate these problems in the future. Creating change may not change the past but it can help create a difference for the future.


Allen, B. L. (Jan 2006). Cradle of a revolution? The industrial transformation of

Louisiana’s lower Mississippi River. Technology and Culture, 47. Retrieved from

Lee, T. (n.d.) Cacncer Alley: Big Industry, Big Problems: Cluster of poverty and sickness shadow America’s industrial South. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.com/interactives/geography-of-poverty/se.html

Ross, T., Soloman, D. (2016, February 9). Flint Isn’t the Only Place with Racism in the Water. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/flint-isnt-the-only-place-with-racism-in-the-water/

Environmental Racism in Flint, Michigan
by Courney Johnston
            Environmental racism is “the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color” (Energy Justice Network, n.d.). This is an important topic, but many people do not like to talk about it or even think about it. However, it is essential to talk about because it brings about a lot of various problems that is happening throughout the nation. One of these places is Flint, Michigan. The environmental impact that the case in Flint, Michigan left was huge. It gained nationwide attention and people talked about it constantly.

What the public did not know about the issue was that many people associated it with being an act of environmental racism. “Flint was abandoned by capital decades ago, and as it became an increasingly poor and Black place, it was also abandoned by the local state” (Pulido, 2016). The public saw this as unfair and thought that it needs to be justified. The abandonment is seen in “shrinking services, infrastructure investment, and democratic practices” (Pulido, 2016). The area is poor and most people who see a poor area tend to make stereotypes about the people who live there.

The Flint, Michigan issue became, not just a state problem, but also a nationwide problem because it showed the injustice being done to the environment and to all of those who were affected by the water. It displaced many people, many lost their homes, many became sick, and this was all because of an issue the officials believed to not be important. “We must see racism as a material discursive formation that is routinely and differentially harnessed across space and time by capital and state power” (Pulido, 2016). This needs to change because it is not fair for those who live there. The government treats them poorly and their voices become unheard because of where they live. The public needs to know more about this because then something may be able to change.

Energy Justice Network (n.d.). Environmental Justice/ Environmental Racism. Retrieved
Pulido, L. (July 27, 2016). Flint, environmental racism, and racial capitalism. Capitalism
Nature Socialism, 27(3), 1-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2016.1213013

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