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Issues USA: Environmental Racism

Confronting Environmental Racism Among African American Populations

by McKinley Dyer

Segregation in American Housing:

Spotlight on Disproportionate Environmental Impact

by Matthew Palagyi

Although environmental justice has been in recent environmental and social spotlight, there’s a question that begs to be asked regarding why black and white Americans vary greatly in their neighborhood location and quality in the first place. Unfortunately, as I read through the book The Color of Law, I learn that environmental justice as we know is a continuation of the racial profiling that has existed in the United States long before. The issue of environmental justice was indirectly created by 20 century housing policies that barred blacks from living among whites.

With the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934 and ambition for their American citizens to own their own homes, the federal government began to subsidize development of suburbs outside of cities for middle-income citizens and families to purchase. In addition, the FHA insured bank mortgages up to 80% for those that they deemed qualified financially and that were deemed a low level risk of defaulting on their loans. This combination primarily is what allowed many Americans to own their own suburban home outside of the urban city.

Out west in California during the time of WWII, public housing was a highly utilized option for most people. Public housing actually was the norm at a time when the war efforts in the San Francisco Bay area brought upon major job growth and opportunity but with little ability for private developers to keep pace with population. Both races dealt with the often poorly constructed units and buildings, and it wasn’t until the private market caught up to the housing shortage with help from the federal government that the Bay area then started to truly segregate.

The caveat to the FHA in 1934, it only backed mortgages on properties that were sold to whites in white-only neighborhoods. The government claimed that neighborhoods needed stability that depended upon monoculture of race and social class versus an integrated and diverse neighborhood. In addition, due to stereotypes and racial undertones, all blacks were denied by the FHA, because they were deemed a ‘high risk’ of defaulting, no matter their income.

Thus, for cities like East Palo Alto, CA and Richmond, CA that were already integrated, their neighborhoods became increasingly black as whites moved out to secure federally-insured loans for their future home. As whites began to move out into the suburban fringes of cities, blacks stayed put in the shoddy public housing or took up affordable rentals in apartments, which were often restricted from being in and around white suburban neighborhoods.

Due to this lack of a capitalist footprint to have value as a tax-payer in local city commissions, black neighborhoods fell victim to the local policy and planning that redistributed industrial land uses to be near black neighborhoods who had no real participation in such meetings. This federal and local policy cycle led to the inequities we see in public health today.

From higher risk of lung diseases due to poor air quality, to the lack of clean water due to lack of investment in municipal services in black neighborhoods, equity is one of the biggest issues focused on in public health today and will need to be for years to come.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. First edition. New York ; London: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.

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

Ross, T., Soloman, D. (2016, February 9). Flint Isn’t the Only Place with Racism in the Water. Retrieved from

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.

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