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America Needs Environmental Equity Essay

3597 words - 15 pages


"...We live in a breakable takeable world, an ever available possible worldÖ" These words, by poet and singer-songwriter Ani Difranco, articulate the relationship between the environment and its inhabitants. Society is constantly manipulating the environment. Our capacity for changing the environment is kept in check by the destructible aspect of nature. The changes we make, those advancements in technology, are limited. While the industrial revolution, per say, is over, industry is ever expanding, moving us into a faster, more efficient lifestyle. However, efficiency and advanced technology are not without their price, and that fee, even more so than monetary in nature, ...view middle of the document...

Instead, the white middle and upper class people have abused the power they have in the form of environmental racism.

We take for granted, in the United States of America, that we are safe in our homes. At least, this is likely the perspective of the middle-class, white majority citizens, and in good reason. White middle-class people are, for the most part, not personally confronted by environmental risks. However, members of the ethnic minority and lower socio-economic class deal with issues of health and safety, as the environment, daily influences them. In 1987 Reverend Benjamin Chavis, Jr. coined the term "environmental racism" to describe the phenomena of the existence of racial inequalities as related to living conditions. Chavis defines environmental racism as:

ÖRacial discrimination in environmental policymaking, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of color from leadership of the environmental movement." (Bullard 1994)

Environmental racism is not a modern manifestation; it has been documented since the early 20th century, and could be argued to have existed ever since the colonization of North America by white Europeans. According to Charles Lee, research director of the Commission for Racial Justice, the United States suffer today from a long history of oppression and exploitation of ethnic minorities. Racially aimed abuse is evident in "genocide, chattel slavery, indentured servitude, and racial discrimination in employment, housing and practically all aspects of life in the United States." (Bullard 1994) By the 1980's, researchers began to examine closely the relationship between race, poverty, and environmental conditions. Researches looked at the populations living in areas surrounded by hazardous waste sites of various kinds and in areas with poor air quality. Their data was consistent regardless of where the study was carried out; the people who live the closest to toxic waste sites and areas with a lot of air pollution are ethnic minorities and those who are poor.

Factors of Environmental Racism

Upon careful analysis, researchers determined that although economic variables exist, the primary factor that determines the extent to which an individual will be negatively affected by their environment is race (Bullard 1993). In 1992, Bryant and Mohai found that people of color face elevated toxic exposure levels even when social class variables, such as income, education, and occupation, are held constant. Many independent studies determined race to be an independent factor, not reducible to class, in predicting 1) the distribution of air pollution (Freeman 1972; Gianessi, Peskin, and Wolff 1979; Gelobter 1988; Wernette and Nieves 1992), 2) contaminated fish consumption (West, Fly, and Marans 1990), 3)...

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