Thanks to Michelle for beating me to the punch and posting the recent Metro Times article about the 20th anniversary of the Toxic Waste and Race report. Overall it was a decent article–really anything that highlights the reality of environmental racism and the work of environmental justice activists is a good thing. My favorite part of the article was the quote from Rhonda Anderson (the EJ organizer from Sierra Club Detroit, who fucking rules):
There is another issue as well, says Rhonda Anderson, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in Detroit. It has to do with the nature of bigotry itself.
“You don’t have racism in compartments,” she says. “Environmental racism is a continuation of a problem that exists in society at large.”
If one group of people is considered inferior and of less consequence, then, she says, “it’s just too damn easy to put a polluting industry in their community.”
Thank you, Rhonda! I’m an environmental justice graduate student at UM, and I’ve long since become jaded, frustrated, disgusted, and just all-around turned off with the way EJ is both taught and treated by the administration at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Sure, there are some great people in the department with politics that are right-on (though they are few), but believe me, you won’t have a discussion in any of your classes about how environmental racism is just one part of our racist society. The way that it is taught completely compartmentalizes the issue, and if those who are really interested in creating change in this area approach environmental justice issues as separate from the broader context of racism in our society we’ll never make any progress.
As the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo of the UCC writes: “It is ironic that 20 years after the original ‘Toxic Wastes and Race’ report, many of our communities face not only the same problems they did back then, but now they face new ones because of government cutbacks in enforcement, weakening health protection and dismantling the environmental justice regulatory apparatus.”
Sure, it’s the 20th anniversary of an important statistical analysis. But how do we accurately measure how much progress we’ve made in confronting racism, environmentally and otherwise? Certainly not by counting our executive orders.