On January 7th, Flint Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency as a result of the area’s contaminated water supply. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver estimates it could cost up to 1.5 billion dollars to solve the water contamination issue. Even though the city is located just 70 miles from the Great Lakes – several bodies of fresh water – citizens of Flint still have to fight to get fresh water.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Natural Resources Council filed a federal lawsuit against the Secretary of Treasury of the State of Michigan, several members of the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board, and the city of Flint. The lawsuit describes how the State Department of Environmental Equality failed to use an anti-corrosive agent in the water, which goes against federal law. Lead and iron began to get into the water supply, which spurred President Obama to promise up to $5 million dollars in FEMA aid for filters, water, etc. Politicians, reporters, and filmmakers fear that Gov. Rick Snyder’s inaction is a direct case of environmental racism, or “environmental policies, practices, or directives that differentially affect or disadvantage (whether intentionally or unintentionally) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color.”
According to U.S. Census data, the population in Flint is 57% black, and 41% of residents live under the poverty line. This is just one of many examples of where the American government has deprived a predominately black or brown population of its basic environmental needs. Chemical companies have been dumping toxic sludge in predominately black, working class areas for decades. The Commission for Racial justice “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty” study found that black Americans are more likely to live near toxic waste sites than white Americans.
In Stokes County, North Carolina, the NAACP has taken a stand against fracking and its effect on black communities. Even though the county is 90% white, black residents are being affected the most by the fracking sites. Appalachian Voices Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams asserted, “If you look at what population is most impacted from the [Belews Creek Steam Station] coal ash pond, it is a disproportionate number of people of color and low-income people surrounding that pond.” Environmental racism is a problem that extends beyond racial boundaries, and really targets anyone who is a member of the lower-income bracket.
USA Today reports “lead poisoning affects an alarming 49% of African-American children, residing in the inner city” and “68% for those with an income of less than $6,000.” Exposure to lead can affect every organ in the human body, and may even occur without symptoms. But that doesn’t seem to matter, because this cycle of environmental racism towards black and brown bodies is a recurring one.
As an African-American female, sometimes I question whether powerful white men will ever have the conscience to stop targeting the ancestors of the people who built this nation, and to start thanking about us.