Environmental Justice and its effects on the Black community
Almost every quantifiable indicator of systemic racism — all leads back to the pervasive and government-sanctioned policy of redlining across the United States. The practice of redlining, and ultimately environmental injustice of all forms, is still happening today and I’ve witnessed it in my community.
I'm from Saginaw, Michigan, an old industrial Midwestern town. You know the story; industry comes in and the town flourishes. But then, industry leaves and the town is left to its own vices & crumbling infrastructure because 70% of the tax base goes with it. Then, city services and expenditures are cut to compensate for the losses.
What makes this bad situation even worse is when industry and big business decides to twist the knife on its most vulnerable citizens.
Picture a side of town left by industry that is majority Black. Town leaders decide that this area is irredeemable & place a tag on it: Green Zone. Green Zone sounds good, right? You might picture trees, greenways, parks, and trails. That is sadly, not the case. In municipal government, deeming an area green means it's to be left alone to go back to nature. It means no city services. No clean ups. Unkept. Unwanted.
It also means that if you have a home there, no bank will sign off on a home improvement loan, so your property goes into disrepair. You can't buy the empty lot next door. You can't even count on trash pickup. If a tree falls? Good luck. If a water main breaks, they'll come and fix it, but won't replace the road it damaged, so now there's a dirt patch.
These zones are out of sight, out of mind for municipal government.
Then comes the developers to capitalize on the vulnerability of these neglected communities. Mass buy-ups, rezoning, and a lack of oversight from government lead to polluting industries to pop up right in these family’s backyards.
This has been happening for decades. When America’s highway systems were formed in the early to mid 1900’s, majority Black neighborhoods were further segregated and erased. New, bustling highways ripped apart Black neighborhoods like the North Saginaw section, and the Black Bottom in Detroit, historic Black neighborhoods in Oakland, California and countless others all over the country.
Whether it's redlining in Detroit, Royal Oak, Pontiac, Inkster, etc -- or switching the water supply intentionally & leeching ungodly amounts of lead into the water supply in Flint or Benton Harbor, or rezoning land to industrial and polluting urban communities in Flint or Saginaw -- the legacy of redlining and municipal government disrepair is a legacy that sadly continues today.
And because of this intentional benign neglect, we cannot truly heal.
Environmental injustice is a stain in the fabric of this country, and until we address it, our laundry will never come clean, and cycle after cycle, we will continue to wonder why we waste time in the spin cycle of racial denial.
We cannot move forward unless we address the pains of the past, and the present remnants thereof.
That's not an easy task. It's not supposed to be, and saying that doesn't absolve us from trying.
It just means there's work to be done.
Our humanity is at stake.
Or do we care enough about those with a legacy of being forgotten?
Time will tell.
President and Co-founder
Community Alliance for the People