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Environmental Racism

Racism rears its ugly head in many ways including the creation of environmental ghettos.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Columbo 685)

The powerful words of The Declaration of Independence were announced some two hundred years ago, yet this country still toils with the problem of racial discrimination. Racism comes in many forms such as employment, wages, housing etc. There is yet another facet of racism which is being recognized called environmental racism. This is racial discrimination in environmental policymaking, law and regulation enforcement, and the deliberate targeting of people of color for toxic waste facilities. (Bullard)

Racism is defined by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as:

Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in political, economic, social, cultural or any fields of public life.

The problem of racism has become so widespread in this country that it is hard to keep track of where the battles are being fought. Minorities are the unheard and unseen in this country, and are therefore taken advantage of by big money enterprises such as governments, industries and other corporations.

Many industrial companies are choosing to build their facilities in low-income neighborhoods where there is little regulation and cheap labor. The companies think that they can get away with endangering the public?s health because the people living in these communities are mostly uneducated and would not know what to do and who to complain to about the pollution problems. The industry leaders are also well aware of the fact that these people are often alienated from the political process due to language barriers, and socio/economic issues. Hence, they pose the least risk of resistance and taking public action. (UIA)

This problem exists all over this country from Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" to South Central Los Angeles and from Native American reservations to Brooklyn and Chicago's South Side, millions of Americans live in housing and physical environments that are over- burdened with environmental problems, hazardous waste sites, incinerators, petrochemical plants, lead contamination, dirty air and drinking water, and other threats to the public health. (Bullard)

According to Robert D. Bullard, a member of the Clinton Administration's Environmental Justice Transition team and author of Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color, environmental laws have been inconsistently applied, so that low- income communities and people of color suffer disproportionately from public health hazards. (Bullard)

Everyone has a right to live in a toxic free neighborhood, regardless of race, ethnicity and culture. No one should have to bear an undue burden of environmental pollution, yet the fact remains that toxic racism exists. Studies done on national, regional and local levels have shown a strong correlation between ethnicity and environmental hazards such as landfills, polluting factories and toxic waste dumps.(Toxicity Project)

This problem is certainly prevalent in Southern California. Though the U.S and Mexican borders are steel fenced, polluted air and water are traded freely along with other manufactured goods. The 10 mile section of the US/Mexico border which separates San Diego and Tijuana is one most heavily industrialized, populated, and polluted. (Environmental Health Coalition)

The maquiladoras, companies which operate on the U.S/Mexican border, are negatively affecting the environment and damaging peoples health with industrial pollutants. According to The Environmental Health Coalition which is based in San Diego, hazardous waste sites dot the border area like cancerous warts. Heavy heyyools, acids, solvents, and other industrial poisons pour out of company pipes and air stacks and into the surrounding communities. (Environmental Health Coalition)

Every year more and more companies are rushing to take advantage of the cheap labor and loose environmental regulations on the US/Mexican border area. For this reason there is a free flow of poisonous run-off directly into the nearby communities due to a lack of regulation and pre-treatments of toxic waste. Unfortunately the public is at a disadvantage for there is a lack of information available about chemical use, storage and disposal. Attaining this information would allow for the Mexicans to initiate protective measures. Hiding this information puts the public at high risk, but keeps the companies from public scrutiny and possible government action.

Huntington Park is another place where many racial minorities live, and where the dangerous practices of environmental racism are in effect. Recycling has an environmental-friendly image in L.A. Since consumption is very high there the reuse of basic resource materials creates hope for a sustainable future. Therefore recycling is the city's big growth industry.(EcoNet)

People living in low-income communities do not share the same sentiments towards recycling. They are having a hard time seeing recyclings green image. The reason for the animosity towards recycling is that they live right next to these plants. (EcoNet) Local residents living near a glass recycling plant complain that there is always glass in the air. Mercedes Arumbula, a mother whose house is kitty-corner from the glass recycling plant says that the since the plant set foot in her neighborhood her kids have developed asthma and her little daughter is always sick. She says, I feel like my lungs are filling up with glass. (EcoNet)

A little further down the road is a heyyool recycling plant which crushes cars and heyyool appliances. The houses of these residents are cracking due to the earth shaking from the bone-jarring thumping of the heyyool crusher. Besides the many problems they are facing, their children are developing skin rashes in which they have found that heyyool granules are pushing up through their skins. Angry mothers went to the city authorities to complain, but were defeated due to city zoning regulations. In a nutshell, the city told them that they were living in the wrong place in town and that they should move. (EcoNet)

Such problems are unimaginable in places such as Hollywood. These places have too many wealthy families in the neighborhoods, and city official would not want to upset them or put them in any kind of danger. Besides, these well educated families have the clout and money to stop it from happening.

All is not lost for the people. There have been many victories in communities where plants have been shut down due to the dangers that they possess towards the environment and the people. Though there is still a long way to go to bring about racial and environmental harmony, peoples faith in hope of change still continues. Through community organizing and lobbying, people are standing up for their right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Columbo 685)

Ibrary References

Rereading America

Gary Colombo

Every essay is enjoyable and enlightening revealing the experiences of women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, working people and many other groups through their voices.

Confronting Environmental Racism

Robert D. Bullard

Exposing a not-so-obvious aspect of racism and the 'environmental oppression' endured by minorities.

Faces of Environmental Racism

Laura Westra

A collection of essays on dealing with many issues surrounding racist actions on an environmental scale.

Irtcles by Sangeeta

Animal Rights and Wrongs

A thought-provoking essay on our interaction with animals.

Environmental Racism

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Holistic Education

Thoughts about education from some of its greatest contributors.

Jonathan the Seagull

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Season for Non-violence

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The Myth of the American Dream

Revelation of some realities behind the American Dream.

Triumph of Love

A story about a baby whale whose vision creates an ocean of love.

Vivisection Science or Insanity

A look at the sense and insensibility of using animals for medical and scientific research.A look at the sense and insensibility of using animals for medical and scientific research.