Air Date 9/8/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the legacy of redlining, the building and subsequent destruction of Black communities, and the health and environmental impacts of segregation. The concept of structural racism is often a metaphor, not something physical you can actually touch, but that is not the case when it comes to environmental racism.
Clips today are from Black History Year, Newsbeat, Shortwave, and the Tamarindo Podcast.
Environmental Racism: A Hidden Threat with Dr. Dorceta Taylor - Black History Year - Air Date 4-19-21
[00:00:32] JAY ANDREW - HOST, BLACK HISTORY YEAR: I'm interested in taking a step back, actually, because I think this concept of environmental justice may be unfamiliar to many. We hear about criminal justice, we hear about other economic justice, but could you just give us a definition of what environmental justice is and what does it tackle in the day-to-day lives of Black people worldwide?
[00:00:57] DR. DORCETA TAYLOR: When I was in graduate school, I used to be the laughing stock of other Black students. As a matter of fact, sometimes I dread for instance, just going over to the Black house and the reason the minute I'd get in people would start laughing and go, "oh, she's the one studying all that forestry and environmental stuff." and I cannot tell you how many people would come up to me and go, "why don't you do something to benefit Black people? Why are you focused on studying this environmental stuff?" And part of that attitude is part of why we're in this mess in the first place, because while we were busy, and rightfully so, trying to get on the bus, on the front door of the bus, get into the front of the building, while we were looking at those kinds of civil rights issues, we let the ball drop.
And if you look back at early civil rights activists talking about lead poisoning and the fact that Black children are showing up with excessive levels of lead poisoning. You also see activists talking about health, housing. If we look at something like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, on the one hand that is about our rights to be able to get on the bus and sit on the bus, but in today's contemporary times, we call that transportation justice, because yes, we can get on the front of the bus and sit in the front seat of the bus, but the worst buses are the ones that run in the Black community. They're the ones that are most polluted and the clean electric buses, and the quiet buses, and the buses that put out the least pollution run to the suburbs.
So in addition to fighting to get on the bus, we should also have been paying attention to what kind of buses come into our neighborhoods, if they come into our neighborhoods. Another part of transportation justice is how frequently buses run in Black communities, versus if you're on a bus line in white communities, which buses run express part of the way in which ones stop every stop. Because believe it or not, if you're on a bus that stops every couple of blocks, by the time you get off that bus, maybe an hour or so later, you would be amazed at how much pollution you might have breathe in every time those doors open and close, especially if you're sitting in the back, you're just absorbing a fair bit of pollution. If you're on a bus that runs express, you don't have to deal with that. It's a different experience.
So we have moved away, then, from thinking through things like clean air. So in addition to fighting to desegregate housing, we also should have been paying attention to what's beside the houses that we're trying to go live in. And while don't we were not paying attention, all the freeways run right through the middle of Black communities. If you look at Detroit, Black Bottom, Paradise Valley, these were very well established African-American communities with single family homes that people owned. Across the US, Detroit, Chicago, New York, the Bronx, Miami, New Orleans, massive freeways went right through the heart of these intact Black communities and tore them apart, and turned Black homeowners into renters, into people who had to go and live in public housing projects because their homes were torn down for urban renewal and for freeway building. We weren't at the zoning meetings, we weren't organized enough to fight to save our communities. When such plans were made for white communities, they organized, they protested, they went to city hall, they sat on the zoning boards, and they prevented that from happening.
So environmental justice concerned with air quality, shutting down polluting facilities, identifying them, helping to get them cleaned up. We are concerned with, of course, health. Making sure that people are not suffering from excessive cancers. Things like asthma. There are many Black families that as long as you can trace out the family heritage, you can find a history of asthma in families. It's not just because you're Black, you have asthma. There are usually other factors that go with that, that are environmental factors. And so helping people to connect those dots.
Cancer--there are Black families where, there's so much cancer in them. It's just unbelievable. And speaking as someone who's a cancer survivor, cancer is a difficult disease to fight, extremely expensive disease, but there are parts of the US, if you look at the Mississippi river, the stretch from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, where so many Black families have lived before slavery even ended, own their homes. One fourth of all the chemical manufacturing that goes on in this country is done in this part, 90 mile stretch of the river, and it's called Cancer Alley because so many people have cancer from the polluting smoke and smog and toxics that are poured into the air.
And so we're seeing a lot of deaths and excessive cancers there. And people used to just think that was just a part of life or it " just runs in the family." No, it doesn't. It's the environment. It's the air. It's the polluted water that people are drinking, the polluted air that they're breathing, the toxics on the food that they're eating, that's contributing to this. So more and more, we are realizing that this field of environmental justice really means having an equal opportunity to live in an environment that's just. It also means trying to get recompense for some of the harms and damage that have been done over time.
Another thing that happens here is the jobs versus environment false trade-off where in many communities, corporations, mayors of city, state governors, would dupe Black people into thinking, these are the only jobs you have. So here's this really great factory that we're putting into your community. What they weren't saying was what kind of jobs, and then how is that job going to affect you economically and why aren't there alternative jobs? So some people, even when they did know that they were getting sick, we're faced with a choice of, do I starve or do I continue to go to that factory or go to work in that facility and have my kids fed. And so that's a no-win kind of situation in any way you put it.
And so one of the things that environmental justice organizations are doing as they've gone through the 80s early 90s phase of just really focusing on let's clean up a facility or let's shut something down, they realized that strategy's not enough. They have to be looking at job creation. So if you look at something like Green for All, and this is an organization that Van Jones and other colleagues of his founded out in California, they immediately linked it to job creation. So how about training people, for instance, to put solar panels on the roof of houses. And if you ever wanted to know where a lot of Black people's money go is in their energy and utility bills, because Blacks tend to live in older homes that are very poorly insulated. So they're paying much higher electric bills and gas bills and propane bills because the heat is just leaking out their houses. Many African-Americans live in part of the country that has a lot of sunlight, but they can't afford solar panels. So these are some of the things now that environmental justice organizations are dealing with, like how do we create jobs? So, energy related kinds of jobs, like putting up windmills, installing solar panels, these are jobs that are going to be around for a long time because most of the country still needs to get it together.
Redlining & Climate Change: A Deadly Combination - News Beat - Air Date 4-27-21
[00:09:30] VIVEK SHANDAS: We recently conducted a study that attempted to examine, across the country, how historic planning policies that were promoted by the federal government affects our current day exposure to climate induced hazards; specifically, urban heat.
We looked at 108 different cities. We wanted to get a really statistically robust sample, as we do in research. And our findings were very unequivocally showing that the policies that the federal government enacted in the 1930s, namely redlining, those policies that went in place almost a hundred years ago, were consistently linking those areas that are considered hazardous, where there are no services provided, whether it was little tree canopy, parks, healthcare services, education, to the hottest places today that people are experiencing in those neighborhoods.
We studied 108 cities, and 93% or a 101 of those cities, had that same pattern across the board.
On average, when we look at 108 cities, we were able to identify that the difference between the red line areas and the non red line areas was on average about five degrees Fahrenheit difference, or 2.6 celsius. And that's across all 108, though that varies a great deal from city to city.
If you look at Jacksonville, Florida, the difference is about five and a half degrees celsius, or about nine degrees Fahrenheit difference. Portland, Oregon, that difference is about seven degrees celsius, or about 12 and a half degrees Fahrenheit. And so it does vary depending on which city you are.
And that has a lot to do with the local development processes, and the way that certain areas were designated based on the local planning commission that was there, based on local politics that were going on. And so there's a lot of those details that we don't get into in the paper, but we were able to see a five degree on average Fahrenheit difference across the country, would be between these red line areas and these non redlined areas.
[00:11:34] SILENT KNIGHT: Is it possible that pollution could actually be a civil rights issue? Now, right now in the United States, if you're Black, or Asian, or Latino, the air that you breathe could be more polluted than if you happen to be White.
Now, what about if you're White, and from a poor community? Well, the likelihood of being exposed to industrial pollution is higher as well. And that's because it's generally cheaper and easier to build coal and petroleum facilities, sewage fields, even industrial pig farms, in low income communities.
Property prices are lower and people have fewer resources to fight back. Activists, call it environmental racism.
[00:12:13] CATE MINGOYA: We run a project called the Climate Safe Neighborhoods Partnership, and in five of our trusts across the country, we've overlaid the redlining maps with heat maps that show the relative temperature. In cities, as of 2016, the tree canopy, and then impervious pavement, which, think roads, rooftops, driveways, parking, lots, that sort of thing. And we use that as a proxy for flooding.
And if you'd asked me if there had been a relationship between race-based housing segregation and the redlining maps, and vulnerability to extreme heat, and what, I probably would've said, "Yes." It's one of those things that's disappointing, but not surprising. But I never would have thought it would have been an as extreme connection.
So, something to keep in mind, and to know, is that these maps were created by cities. So you had neighborhoods the same way you do today, where you could cross from one side of the street and be in a redline neighborhood, and go to the other side of the street and be in a yellow or blue or green line neighborhood.
You see really similar differences in tree canopy, in temperature, and impermeable pavement, even across the street, and even between really similar neighborhood lines. Some neighborhoods can be up to 16 degrees hotter than other neighborhoods within the same city.
What that practically means, that is a portion of the city that's turning on their air conditioning and running a high bill. That's a portion of the city where, if you have a medical condition that is triggered by heat, so I'm thinking asthma, I'm thinking kidney issues, heart issues. Those are folks who were probably a little bit closer to ending up in the hospital than folks on the other side of town.
So we see this really long legacy that has financial implications, social implications, there's cultural implications, related to the day-to-day lives of the people living in these neighborhoods. So that the effects are long-lasting.
[00:13:45] VIVEK SHANDAS: A new United nations report warns the impacts of climate change are increasing and inevitable.
More than 100 scientists from across the globe put together the findings.
The most extensive look to date at the effects of climate change on the environment.
From the Earth's tallest peaks to the ocean scientists war.
No part of the world will be spared from the climate crisis.
The consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the unprecedented report, concluding that the planet can't keep up with global warming. The oceans, which act as a sponge for CO2 emissions, are at capacity, threatening to swallow up islands and coastal cities.
[00:14:26] CATE MINGOYA: The first thing that's important to know is, the climate crisis is coming for everyone. Rich, poor, Black, White, doesn't matter. The climate crisis is coming for all of us, just on different timescales.
And these folks who have been historically vulnerable people, we're talking immigrants, we're talking people of color, we're talking extremely low income people, these folks are on the front lines, and historically always have been.
A lot of the neighborhoods that people of color were pushed into through municipal ordinances, or just through a de facto segregation, right? Folks not wanting people of color to be in their neighborhood, or not wanting low income people to be in their neighborhood.
They were intentionally pushed towards places that were prone to flooding and extreme heat anyway, and had been over a really long time, even in the pre-industrial periods. The difference now is that those folks have been kept in those spaces.
So it's... the other thing that's really frustrating about this, is that it's not just up to these communities that are suffering most in the climate crisis to find the mitigation measures, it's also up to them to convince people that there's a problem, and that what happened in the 1930s is still relevant today.
This is really a conversation about structural racism. I've had conversations with folks in Richmond, California, in Richmond, Virginia, and Pawtucket Rhode Island, where people have said "I don't really believe there's a connection."
And looking at that data, at being able to layer the map yourself, put down the red line on the map, put down the heat, put down the flooding, building that argument with that data in front of their eyes has started to change some minds. And it stinks that the onus on the... of that is on people who are suffering the most, but power is not given, that there's a... an element of having to do that work, as unfair as it is.
And one of the things that's nice about this process too, is we're pulling in a broad array of allies to help, not just help the community identify and prioritize their mitigation measures, but help to do that legwork of convincing folks that, "Yeah, this is a problem and it needs to be rectified."
This is a legal issue, this is a cultural issue, that does precede what's happening today. There's 50, 60, 70, 80, a hundred, 250 years of racial precedent that's lead to where we are.
Monuments to Racism - Environmental Injustice on This Week in Social Justice - News Beat - Air Date 4-8-21
[00:16:32] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Can you explain the Claiborne Expressway and the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, which has been characterized as a monster, a monument to racism, and the cause of a public health crisis? Can you just talk about the origins of the interstate and its impact on Claiborne Avenue and the surrounding area?
[00:16:50] AMY STELLY: Sure. The Claiborne Expressway was actually planned in 1945 and it was part of the interstate project that was the dream of President Dwight Eisenhower. He wanted to connect the cities in the United States with an interstate highway system. So the leaders of New Orleans decided that they would participate and decided that Claiborne Avenue was a good place to plop down a piece of infrastructure. And there are a couple of reasons why they chose Claiborne.
To begin with the Tremé neighborhood, which is one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the United States, had been declared slum, and the declaration of a neighborhood as a slum, gave the government carte blanche to come in and practice things like eminent domain, which it did in Claiborne back in the 1930s and the 20s. The city decided that Claiborne should be an entertainment district because in New Orleans we need entertainment.
So they began acquiring property. They displaced people, razed houses in Tremé, and actually built a municipal auditorium, which oddly enough, became a beloved facility in the city because it hosted graduations, and the circus, and Mardi Gras balls and the whole nine yards. And at this point, that particular civic landmark is under consideration to move the current city hall there, which I have to go on record as saying I'm vehemently opposed to, because of some of the same reasons I don't want the interstate. It's inappropriate for the neighborhood. It's going to have all kinds of impacts and unforeseen circumstances that we don't want to entertain, but I want to move a little bit beyond that.
So in the 60s, the day after Mardi Gras on Ash Wednesday, the federal government decided that they were going to come in and bulldoze a beautiful stand of oak trees. And the pictures of Claiborne, pre interstate, are pretty legendary. And they just drove a heart through the community. And in essence, they did, it's not, in essence, they did destroy the economic heart of the Black community. And Claiborne was a thriving economic corridor because that is where Black people could shop during segregation.
So during segregation and Jim Crow, we did not feel comfortable going on Canal Street, which was the primary retail corridor in the city at the time, because we just weren't allowed. We weren't accepted. So Claiborne was where you could get everything you needed from dance gear to produce, you could take music lessons, dance lessons, bury your loved ones, it just offered a lot of goods and services to the community. So when Claiborne was eviscerated by the interstate, it really just destroyed a very thriving middle-class Black community, and a retail district that served all of Black, New Orleans.
[00:20:00] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Incredible. [Inaudible] beginning of divestment for the people in that area or was it synonymous with other urban renewal plans that were unjust?
[00:20:11] AMY STELLY: Actually, it was the beginning of the divestment in the neighborhood. Slowly but surely the businesses started to close and fall off. In places where heirs may have come in and taken over the business, they chose not to, it really just totally changed the neighborhood and the environment. It changed the climate too, but that was the beginning of the end, so to speak, for what was a thriving place in new Orleans.
[00:20:41] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Now Amy, the story of Clairborne has been renewed in response to the Biden administration's multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan, and according to the White House, it calls for and includes $20 billion for a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cutoff by historic investments and ensure new projects " increase opportunity, advance racial equity, and environmental justice and promote affordable access." But how can this proposal, along with the work local organizations are doing, try to correct, if even possible, the injustice done to the community more than 50 years ago.
[00:21:18] AMY STELLY: That's a good question because really you can't catch up. And as long as America continues on this road of thinking that Black and Brown people and poor people don't need help, don't need a leg up because we're lazy, we don't go to school, or whatever they attach to that racism, for as long as we're not willing to do that, we're going to have these conditions. What the bill does is, in addition to providing for the reconnection of neighborhoods, it also provides for equity in other sections of the building.
So there's a part for a community led revitalization and there is a provision for giving people access to capital. And these are all of the things that poor people, Black and Brown people don't have. We typically don't have community led revitalization. Number one that takes skill and it takes access to capital because you can't do land acquisition, you can't develop with nothing. And giving people access to capital, making sure that craftsmen are lifted up, which we need in New Orleans, because we have unique houses that take skilled craftsmen. So these provisions can set the table for us to then create programs that help to lift people in create equity.
But that is not work that we can start when the interstate is down, we need to be doing that work now. Not only in New Orleans, but in all cities, because equity has to come first. It cannot come last. So we can't have this as an afterthought. So I am very pleased to see that the Biden administration is thinking in terms of creating equitable places, particularly when these interstates come down, and they do need to come down, they're not healthy.
Environmental Racism is Real Part 1 - Tamarindo Podcast - Air Date 6-16-21
[00:23:14] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: So research by the LA Times finds that in the US, the best predictor of whether you live near a hazardous waste site is the color of your skin.
[00:23:22] BRENDA GONZALEZ - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: That is wild, but not surprising. This is America. So not far from where I live, here in the very Latin X community of Vernon here in Los Angeles County, families have been waiting for over three years to have lead contamination cleaned out of their community. The contamination came from the Exide plant, which melted down used lead acid car batteries, you don't want that in your backyard, but that's what these families had in their backyard, which state regulators had allowed to operate on a temporary permit for more than three decades. So state regulators were like, "yeah, that's dirty, but you keep doing it." And then they kept letting them do it for over 30 years. It's crazy. And, what can I tell you more about this, despite a history of air pollution and hazardous waste violations, they still continued to operate, Exide was able to operate.
A California Health Department analysis found that nearly 300 children under six years old, living near Excide have elevated blood lead levels in 2012, this was new. We've known this for awhile. The last year that the plant was in full operation. In 2020 a court allowed Exide to walk away from its clean up responsibilities, leaving us the taxpayers with the bill to clean this up. And I wanted to echo this example or highlight this example because A) many of us have heard of it because it's in our own backyard, but two, because you see the failures of the government time and time again and erring on the side of corporations. And this is an example of environmental racism at play.
[00:24:53] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: And unfortunately, as A Nation points out, this is nothing new. This has been happening for decades and a few insights here, specifically about the US, 56% of the population near toxic waste sites are people of color. People of color have 38% higher nitrogen dioxide exposure compared to white people. They are two times more likely to live with that potable water and modern sanitation. And 95% of people of color that have claims against polluters denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
So we wanted to spend a little bit of time learning more about environmental justice and racism. what's happening, and the work of environmental justice organizers. You've been doing this work for over 10 years now, and I would love for you to share with our listeners about why you work in the space of environmental justice.
[00:25:36] CLAIRE WOODS: Sure, I'd love to tell you all a little bit more about my work and the reasons why I do it. I do this work because the environmental, and health, and economic burdens of pollution and contamination, they fall almost entirely on communities of color. Contaminated sites and industry are disproportionately located in Black and Brown communities. And so that means that people of color, Black and Brown people, are paying for industry with their lives and with their health. And even though my work right now focuses on contaminated sites, environmental racism extends well beyond those types of facilities. In every single environmental context our communities are forced to risk their health for industry profit.
So, for example, transportation quarters, highway networks, warehousing facilities, port complexes, all of these spew pollution into the air, and they're often located in Black and Brown communities. And EPA's findings show that non white people, especially Black people, face higher risks from pollution and specifically from air pollution, and even face a greater risk of premature death than those who live in predominantly white communities.
So let's be clear, these are not just coincidences. They're happening because of systemic racism. And this systemic racism has resulted in federal policies and local policies that really don't protect people of color in this country. And they also happen because of land use decisions that our local governments make that have historically prioritized business, industry, commercial development, over actual health and welfare of people. And they happen also because industries build facilities in communities where they don't think people have enough political capital or power to fight against the harms that they bring.
[00:27:34] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: I feel like that only in the last few years have I realized how much communities of color are really carrying this burden and how really environmental justice and a lot of environmental issues are rooted in systemic racism. And actually, a lot of us are familiar with what's happened in Flint, Michigan, and the drinking water crisis there. A Michigan civil rights panel actually found that the crisis that, they called it being rooted in systemic racism, and a lot of us know about that case, and I'm curious if you can show another example that you want to highlight that we need to be paying attention.
[00:28:09] CLAIRE WOODS: Yeah, sure. There's a clear connection between racism and environmental burdens, and environmental pollution, toxic contamination in this country. You can just look at where facilities are located, where we have these sites, and it's, like I said before, almost always in Black and Brown communities. And that's for the reasons that I mentioned, because companies, even local government, think it's easier, and it is often easier, to site facilities in communities that are focused on putting food on the table versus mounting a massive PR campaign against toxic contamination.
So you asked about another, there are so many examples that are similar to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, unfortunately. It's devastating to say that. The levels of lead in Flint's drinking water were extraordinarily high. And the whole situation could have been avoided if trained people were in charge and we're paying attention to the types of treatment that the water was undergoing. And unfortunately that just wasn't happening in Flint, Michigan, and they changed the water source and didn't adequately treat the water, which caused the lead pipes to corrode, and the lead would enter into the water, and the water would then be brought to residents taps. And that's how that ended up in the drinking water.
There are, like I said, many other examples. One example that really comes to mind for me is the Newark safe drinking water crisis, which is the case, it's a piece of litigation that I worked on for many years during my time as a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council. I led our litigation and advocacy efforts to really curb the levels of lead in the drinking water in Newark, New Jersey. The levels at the time that I first got involved, around 2016, we're astronomically high, and there's no safe level of lead, especially for kids. Lead causes all sorts of conditions. It's interferes with brain development. There are even studies that say that exposure to lead in your youth leads to higher rates of incarceration in adulthood. So it's no wonder that some of our communities are really suffering when their children are exposed... generations of children are exposed to lead in drinking water.
And so when I first got involved in Newark, we started investigating, we started looking at the publicly available data on the state's drinking water watch website, and started noticing that the concentrations were extremely high. When I first started looking, we were looking at about 25 parts per billion, and like I said, no level of lead is safe. And those levels rose over time as we proceeded into the litigation, to the 50s and 60s parts per billion range. And this happened over the course of two or three years.
And so by the end of the case the city of Newark and the state agency settled with Natural Resources Defense Council as well as our clients, and our clients where the Newark Education Workers Caucus, and they were really instrumental in bringing this case to the public attention. And as part of the settlement the city committed to begin treating the water with corrosion control treatment, which is that chemical that they need to add to the water in order to prevent corrosion of lead pipes. And they also committed to remove a number of lead service lines. And those are the lines that connect the main line that runs down the street to the meter in the bottom of your home. And so that was a big win for residents of Newark and for our clients, Newark Education Workers Caucus.
But Flint and Newark are just two examples. These issues happen in older cities, in Black and Brown cities, in cities that are struggling economically all over the country. And I always encourage people to get their water tested. Just order a test, if you can, there are some websites that will allow you to order "pay what you can" tests. For example, Healthy Babies, Bright Future is a website. You can go to and order a test on a "pay what you can" basis, and I always encourage people to do that, to try to take a look at what's in their water,
Biden Promises To Grapple With Environmental Racism - Short Wave - Air Date 2-4-21
[00:32:15] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: OK, Rebecca Hersher, let's start with some basic terms. The one I hear most when it comes to racism in the environment is environmental justice. What does that exactly mean?
[00:32:25] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: So that term has gotten really mainstream in the last few decades. And there's actually an official government definition.
[00:32:31] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Oh.
[00:32:31] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Let me read it to you
[00:32:32] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: OK.
[00:32:32] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Here goes: "The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies."
[00:32:46] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Who can argue with that? That sounds really nice, and actually pretty straightforward. It's basically saying that when the government is making decisions about where to build factories or highways or landfills, they have to treat everyone fairly. Same with decisions about how to enforce rules about pollution and other things.
[00:33:02] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Exactly. And treating everyone fairly means taking into account unfair treatment in the past, like the environmental impacts of racism or classism.
[00:33:10] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah. Let's talk about that history. What specifically are some of the environmental impacts of racism in this country?
[00:33:16] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Where to begin?
This goes back a really long time. Europeans arrived in North America and basically immediately started exploiting the people and natural resources. It's easy to think about pollution.
I do this sometimes as something that came up with the industrial era,
[00:33:31] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Sure.
[00:33:31] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: but that's not right. European colonizers made rules about where enslaved people and native people could live. And those places were more likely to be polluted or environmentally degraded, often didn't have adequate sewage systems or access to clean water, for example.
So that's the foundation. And when industrialization happened, factories, steel, mills, power plants, giant farms, that followed the same patterns that had already been established.
[00:33:56] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: By that historical precedent.
[00:33:58] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Exactly.
[00:33:58] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: So those big sources of pollution, whether it's a factory or a landfill, were essentially more likely to be built next to places where poor people and people of color were living. Is that it?
[00:34:09] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah, exactly. And starting with the larger movement for civil rights, you start to see protests about this in the U.S. and there are some famous ones, United Farm Workers demonstrations in the 1960s over pesticide exposure, in the '70s, native Hawaiians protested the military, they were trying to restore land that had been used for target practice.
[SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING]
[00:34:28] UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Revolution comes from the word revolving, turning, in and out, so that you have something better to live with.
[00:34:34] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: In the early '80s there was a giant protest in North Carolina trying to block a toxic waste landfill. That one grabbed national headlines. [SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING]
[00:34:43] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The protesters were told not to block the trucks. They're now lying in the streets now blocking one truck.
[00:34:47] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: And one thing that's really important about this whole movement over all these decades for environmental justice is that it's really focused on forcing the government to fix these problems. Because all along the way, the government has created these pollution disparities. They've made discrimination real with laws about housing and zoning.
[00:35:06] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Absolutely. One example of the government doing this, and we talked about this on the podcast before, is redlining. So devaluing homes in neighborhoods where marginalized communities live.
[00:35:17] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah. And allowing things like landfills and highways to be built next to those neighborhoods or on top of them, in some cases.
Another example is what's happened in rural parts of the country, big farms, giant corporate operations. They can release a lot of pollution and that's especially true of farms that raise livestock, like chickens and pigs. And in a lot of places, those farms have been allowed to set up shop in places where black people live, like Duplin County, N.C., for example.
[SOUNDBITE OF DIAL TONE]
[00:35:48] DEVON HALL: Hello?
[00:35:50] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: This is Devon Hall. He runs a local environmental health group in Duplin county called REACH. It's an acronym for Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help. And I really wanted to talk to him because he has been trying to cut down on pollution from hog farms in his area for more than 15 years.
So a little background about where Devon lives. Duplin county is about an hour's drive from the North Carolina coast. And there are so many hogs being raised there that hogs outnumber humans by about 29 to 1.
[00:36:21] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: That is a lot of hogs. And I imagine they generate a lot of waste.
[00:36:27] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yes, that is very polite of you.
The hogs generate an enormous amount of feces and microscopic pieces of that feces can get into the air and the water. It makes people's eyes water and their throats burn. Studies have shown that it exacerbates respiratory diseases and kidney disease and infant mortality. It's nasty.
[00:36:44] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: That is not good at all.
[00:36:46] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: And what's wild is the government has acknowledged all of that for decades. Hog pollution in North Carolina has been an environmental injustice, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, since at least The mid-2000s, if not earlier.
[00:36:57] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Wow.
[00:36:57] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: And I know that because in 2007, the EPA gave Devon's group an environmental justice grant to hold meetings between residents and people from hog-producing companies, to try to find a way to reduce pollution.
And Devon figured since it was federal regulators who gave the grant, that the federal government would find a way to crack down on this pollution.
[00:37:17] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah, it was so many years ago. So how did it all go?
[00:37:21] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: That's what I wanted to know. It's why I called him.
[00:37:22] DEVON HALL: There was nothing done.
[00:37:24] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Nothing changed?
[00:37:25] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Devon says today, there is still overwhelming pollution in his community from hog farms in 2021.
[00:37:32] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Wow.
[00:37:32] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Even though in 2017, the EPA said that what's happening there violates the Civil Rights Act.
[00:37:37] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: This is such a huge problem. And Becky, what went wrong here, really, from Devon's point of view? Like why hasn't the federal government's attention and money led them to crack down on the pollution here?
[00:37:48] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Devon feels that one of the big problems is that the people with the power to fix the problem are not listening to the people who are suffering. He feels like employees of the federal government aren't spending enough time in places like his county, are not talking to the people about what's happening enough,
[00:38:05] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah.
[00:38:05] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: and are not staying until the pollution problem is fixed.
[00:38:08] DEVON HALL: And in some cases you may have communities that's crying out that is not even really formally organized, so they don't have a voice. And so how do you give a voice to the voiceless? How do you give those people a platform to voice their concerns? And then who is going to have a listening ear, and how long will you listen to those people that's crying out?
[00:38:36] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah, there must be people like Devon all over the country who are super-tired of the government saying they're going to fix pollution problems and then not following through. Not really.
[00:38:47] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Totally. And that's why when the Biden administration signed that new executive order, a lot of people were happy, right?
[00:38:54] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah.
[00:38:54] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: He's saying that environmental justice will be at the center of everything the government does. But people were also skeptical. Sure... another promise. I'll believe it when I see it. And that's how Devon seems to feel about federal promises in general.
So what would you say to someone in the new administration who says, we promise to fix environmental injustices? If they passed a new law or a rule or something?
[00:39:25] DEVON HALL: I'm just thinking actions speak louder than words. Don't tell me what you're going to do or what your plans are. Start doing something. Just do it. Just do it.
[00:39:38] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah. So in light of all the ways the government has let people down in the past, could the Biden administration do anything new or different that administrations in the past haven't tried so far?
[00:39:51] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah, there are some options. The new administration could support a bill that's already been drafted in Congress and that would give people like Devon Hall more power to sue over pollution. That bill was originally sponsored by vice president Harris when she was in the Senate. It could have new life now that Democrats control Congress.
But the other big thing is money. President Biden is getting ready to spend a huge amount of money on pandemic recovery and climate change, like trillions of dollars
[00:40:18] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Wow.
[00:40:18] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: for new infrastructure and housing and job training.
[00:40:21] EMILY KWONG - HOST, SILENT WAVE: Yeah.
[00:40:21] REBECCA HERSHER - HOST, SILENT WAVE: If that money focuses on undoing generations of discrimination, it can make a big difference.
So a lot of people are watching to see if it gets spent equitably, not equally, but equitably.
Environmental Racism is Real Part 2 - Tamarindo Podcast - Air Date 6-16-21
[00:40:32] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: What do you feel encouraged by? What have you been seeing that really encourages you and gives you optimism in some of your work?
[00:40:38] CLAIRE WOODS: We just got some incredible news last week, which is that the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was a project that aimed to carry oil from tar sands in Canada into the United States, was canceled.
[00:40:53] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: I don't have my matraca, but that's a big, I'm making matraca noise because that is incredible.
[00:40:57] CLAIRE WOODS: It is really wonderful news and it's encouraging. It's a huge win for people who care about protecting species, but it's also a huge win for all of us because it's a huge win against climate change. Projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline are proven to contribute to climate change and increasing temperatures on this planet, so canceling projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, it's really encouraging.
And just to bring it back to the last point about challenges that we face, Keystone XL is a great example of a project that environmentalist have been fighting for, I think more than a decade, and it's been tough. There's been wins, there's been losses. It's been hard fought litigation from some of my former colleagues who I really respect and others as well, and it took 10 years to win this fight. And it took a lot of late nights, a lot of frustration, and the fight is up against industry, the oil industry, the oil and gas industry, which has enormous resources.
So despite that resource discrepancy with time and perseverance we were able to prevail and that's just so encouraging, so exciting, and it's a lesson in the value of perseverance and continuing to move forward.
[00:42:17] ANA SHEILA VICTORINO - CO-HOST, TAMARINDO PODCAST: Yeah. What a beautiful story. I think, because you've shared so many people worked for this result. Activists, organizations, yeah -- beautiful. So I think at this point, if y'all are listening to this episode, unfortunately I feel like, when it comes to environmental justice racism, a lot of times we don't have a lot of information around what's happening in our communities. And I think part of that is because a lot of us are dealing with so many other issues already. And sometimes I think maybe like getting involved with the environment feels like one more thing and it can feel overwhelming. And so I think that, though, that for a lot of people listening, this might be a good wake up call or maybe really inspiring people that want to get more involved in issues, environmental justice, and racism.
So for some of our listeners, do you have any recommendations, for how they might, how they can start to get involved?
[00:43:05] CLAIRE WOODS: Yeah, that's great question, and I really encourage everyone to jump in. These issues affect our communities and so it's so important for us to have a voice in what happens. And that's also part of why I do this work and I encourage all of you to learn more about environmental justice and environmental racism.
One thing that you can do just to get started is to follow organizations, follow local EJ organizations, EJ is environmental justice. Follow local environmental justice organizations in the city where you live. If you're in Los Angeles, where I am, you can follow East Yard's Communities for Environmental Justice on Instagram or Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, or even California EJ Alliance. Those three organizations are doing incredible work in the Los Angeles area and across California. And you can just follow them on Instagram and learn more about the advocacy that they're working on, how to support their campaigns. You can attend community meetings, many of them have trainings that you can attend. You can learn about facilities in your communities or communities that you care about. You can sign petitions that they put together. And you can and should donate to their cause and to support their mission because a lot of them are functioning on really tight budgets and need all the support that they can get to really fight these really important issues that affect real people and real lives.
Environmental Racism: A Hidden Threat with Dr. Dorceta Taylor Part 2 - Black History Year - Air Date 4-19-21
[00:44:28] DR. DORCETA TAYLOR: And so in 1793, the seat of government was not Washington DC, it was Philadelphia. In comes yellow fever, and yellow fever killed thousands of people. And the leaders of the city did not understand what the disease was, how it was transmitted, why it was killing whites more so than Blacks. And Black women became the nurses that helped to heal the sick. Black undertakers buried the dead. Blacks went and did everything to keep the city relatively safe.
And so they started to succumb to yellow fever, but people didn't understand at the time the connection between malaria and if you had been exposed to malaria, as many Black people were either from the time they were in Africa or when they were in Haiti, several Haitians came to Philadelphia after the revolution in Haiti. So people not understanding that, that pre-exposure to malaria gave you some level of immunity to yellow fever. And so that's why Blacks weren't getting sick at the beginning, but they really helped to keep Philadelphia from just completely collapsing on itself.
And so interesting parallels between what we've gone through in COVID, in terms of Blacks being forced into the healthcare role of these epidemics that nobody understands. Look at the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak, but also look at the contributions that Black people have made to this country when it comes to environmental health, environmental issues.
So those are some of the ways in which I use history to help us to understand that we're not just victims, but we've also played very pivotal roles as Black people within the environmental space, and for us to embrace that as we start to fight harder to reduce environmental inequalities
[00:46:33] JAY ANDREW - HOST, BLACK HISTORY YEAR: Well it's obvious there's never not been a time where Black folks weren't essential workers. I'm interested in understanding more around COVID-19 and environmental justice. What can we be thinking about here?
[00:46:47] DR. DORCETA TAYLOR: Yes. We definitely need to be thinking not only about healthcare and access to healthcare, but also things like energy and water justice, but also just the structure of the American workforce, and the inability, for instance, one of the things that's COVID has really laid bare for us is it's not just that there are racial disparities in who's getting COVID. And actually, if you look at newspaper articles sometime around March of last year, there was a running rumor or amongst Black communities in Africa, in parts of the Caribbean and in the US that Black people were immune. The reason it's so similar to yellow fever, that was exactly part of what we saw on yellow fever. Whites were the ones getting it and dying first, and very few Black people were getting it. And this idea of immunity came in and then Blacks and yellow fever were pulled into healthcare workers, the people cleaning up the mess, and then they started to succumb to it.
So COVID is really exposing also the fact that people who are able to work from home are able to avoid that constant daily exposure. It's not just working from home, it's, if you're looking at college students, high school students, do you have space to be able to work, do your homework, do your classes from home? Not everybody has that. Data is showing us that only about 50% of African-American households have internet connection. What is that going to mean for us as we move forward, especially if we've gone through a year or a year and a half of kids having to be schooled from home without internet access.
Access to food. So food access is going to become another big piece of the COVID story as we are seeing increasing hunger, and again, we're seeing it more heavily and manifested in Black communities, where people don't have a garden, they don't have a community space to grow food in, and as we look back at this past year and go into the summer, issues around food access and healthy food will also become a big part of the COVID story.
But also my students and I started to study Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and a few other cities in Michigan to find out about food access. I'm actually in the process, in a few weeks going to start a report, where I've surveyed Black farmers to find out how has COVID impacted both the farming operations, but also getting food to people. What we're finding in Michigan is that in some parts of Michigan, there was more than enough food because the US government, USDA, paid farmers to provide boxes of vegetables and fruits or dairy, and they would just give these to people.In parts of Central Michigan, Western Michigan, those are predominantly white areas.
People are telling me in the survey that they had too much. They were just inundated with food. Whereas the food organizations, the food distribution organizations in Detroit, say they never had enough food to distribute. They had more need than food. So as we start to think through, what's going to happen this summer and are we gonna need similar programs, we really need to be vigilant about, for instance, the farm to family food boxes. How these are being distributed and are enough of these getting into low income Black and Brown communities, or are we going to have white semi-rural and rural communities having way more food than they can handle?
Monuments to Racism Part 2 - Environmental Injustice on This Week in Social Justice - News Beat - Air Date 4-8-21
[00:50:41] CATHERINE FLOWERS: America's dirty secret is that there are people that live in the United States that do not have access to adequate wastewater infrastructure. And the worst of that secret of people that when they flush their toilets, that the fluid from the toilet ends up outside their house on top of the ground. It's usually in the ground, or it could be in, in an open pit or in a ditch.
The other part of that secret is that we found out other than that, is that there are people that have paid for onsite sanitation. And when they flush their toilets, if it rains because of climate change and the soil holding water, a lot of times these systems fail and the sewage comes back into the home.
And then the third problem that we've discovered is that there are municipal systems primarily in communities that are poor or communities of color that have failed, the infrastructure has failed and people have sewage in their homes. I saw it in Centerville in Illinois. I saw more toilet paper and feces outside of those homes than I saw in Lowndes county, in the rural communities.
And right now in real time, you see what's happening in Jackson, Mississippi, where, because of a climate event, when it got really cold in Texas everybody was focusing on Texas, but it also froze in other parts of the south. And the water and wastewater infrastructure did not hold up. And people ended up having to boil water, had no water at all.
So that's America's dirty secret, that these kinds of conditions that you would expect to find in poorer countries exist here.
When Dr. Austin came here, actually first of all, I wanted to them to understand the relationship between what was happening with the waste water problem and poverty. I think we were effectively able to make that case and he visited Lowndes county.
When he went to Lowndes county, the first home that he went to, it was a compound of families that lived in about three mobile homes. And we walked around the back of the double wide that was in front. You could see the raw sewage on the ground. The second home that we went to that was there was a single wide mobile home. You can actually see the sewage leaking from underneath the home. And and there were different places throughout that property you can see holes in the ground with raw sewage in it. And we went to a second home where the sewage was so bad, in fact it was running into a ditch and the waterlines were just above where the raw sewage was. Like if there was any flooding or whatever the question is whether or not anybody would think, are these people potentially drinking their own effluent Is it seeping into these water lines?
And nearby, you could see like children's balls, you could see there was a basketball goal that was near there. So that if the ball went into the sewage the children either had to retrieve and try to clean it or just leave it there. And we were there with a reporter and all around us were mobile homes in this case.
And we were there with a reporter and one of the reporters asked Dr. Austin, he said cause I can tell that he was shocked by what he was seeing. And he said, what do you have to say about this? He said that this is uncommon in the developed world.
[00:54:04] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Can you talk about the exorbitant cost of the citation to mitigate the problems and how people were being criminalized for not paying for those services?
[00:54:13] CATHERINE FLOWERS: Yes. When I got involved, there were a number of people that had been arrested or cited for arrest because they could not afford an onsite septic system. And actually the health department put in place policies where they were prosecuting people. So in other words, the criminalization of poverty. And these were -- and they weren't just prosecuting people who couldn't afford septic systems; they were prosecuting people who had septic systems that they had approved, that had also failed. So that was my entry point into this. That's how I got involved was to try to stop this from happening.
And at that particular time I write about, I was working with the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which is run by Bob Woodson. And we negotiated with them that they will no longer prosecute people, provided that we were trying to find a solution. But I know that they did continue to prosecute folks.
And more recently, one of the families that we work with to try to help understand about the cost of septic systems, when we first started doing it, we were told they were between like six and $10,000, but we know that's not true. Depends on where you are in the county. And Pamela Rush, who I wrote about in the book, and kept her from being able to move into a home that a donor was going to provide for her. She had a half acre of property. And in order to put a home there, you have to know where the septic system was going to go. We hired engineers, we paid for that. And part of the engineering, when they dug down 25 inches, they struck water. And they said that the type of septic system that she needed was going to have to be an engineered system and it was going to cost $28,000.
[00:55:53] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Wow.
[00:55:53] CATHERINE FLOWERS: We asked them how can she maintain a system that costs $28,000? She's making less than a thousand dollars a month.
It was suggested that we look for additional property. Now this was for a half acre. In order to treat the sewage coming from a mobile home on a half acre of property -- that's a lot of land -- two thirds of it was going to be used for that $20,000 septic system. And they said, in order for us to get a cheaper one, we need to go and get another half acre.
So in the process of her talking to the adjacent land owner to try to get the next acre, she caught COVID and she passed away last year.
[00:56:29] MANNY FACES - HOST, NEWS BEAT: Condolences. Yeah. And one of the next questions was going to be a little bit about Pamela. One of the most shocking things to me -- which I guess it's relative at this point, because all of this is just so horrifically shocking -- was when you went to these communities and were looking around, you saw such horrific conditions and the sewage and the people and, just turning on the shower or flushing a toilet was perilous.
And you had thought, wow, I wonder what tropical diseases are breeding in this. Could you tell listeners and viewers what you discovered?
[00:57:04] CATHERINE FLOWERS: Yes. I actually went to -- the health department called me because they were getting ready to arrest a woman. She was in her twenties and pregnant. And they wanted to arrest her because she could not afford a septic system.
Her family had already gotten together $800 to pay for a perc test, which is part of the process of getting a septic system. That's when they do a test to determine the percolation rate, the rate the water goes through the soil. And for that family, that was a lot of money for them to come up with to keep her out of jail.
So they called me and told me that nothing is done about it. They were going to put her in jail. So I showed up with a reporter from the Associated Press. But when we went out back to see where her sewage was, she had a pit of raw sewage just outside her back door. So when she flushed the toilet, that's where all of it went into that pit. And it was teaming with mosquitoes. And I was bitten by those mosquitoes. And they actually drew blood in a number of places. And I later broke out in a rash. And I went to my doctor and I said, I want you to run a blood test because I want to make sure that I haven't caught anything because those mosquitoes were on that raw sewage. And then they ended up biting me and I could see blood. So I was concerned and my blood test came back negative. They didn't see anything wrong, although I had a rash on my body, which lasts for months. And in the course of that, somewhere after that, I read an op-ed that was written in the New York times by Dr. Peter Hotez, who was the founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. And I googled him, found his email address and wrote him and said, Dr. Hotez, I want to explain what happened. And I said, I'm wondering, is it possible that there is something here that American doctors are not testing for?
So it just so happened he was going to be in Atlanta that next week. And I went there and he said, I'm going to send my parasitologist there because I want to look for hookworm. And that was my first time really hearing hookworm to remember. And he explained it to me and he talked about neglected diseases of poverty.
He said, I want you to remember that anywhere you find poverty in the world, you're going to find these illnesses. And if we wipe out poverty, we can wipe out these illnesses. So his parasitologist came, we collected fecal blood, soil, and water samples. And what we found was hookworms, duodenales, and a few other tropical parasites.
[00:59:33] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Black History Year, explaining why environmental justice is so important and why it's been overlooked; Newsbeat described the environmental impact of redlining; a different episode of Newsbeat told the story of the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans; the Tamarindo Podcast discussed the disparate impact of toxic waste sites and lead contaminated water; Shortwave explained how the government has always been at the center of creating environmental impact zones that disproportionately harm people of color; and the Tamarindo Podcast also discussed some recent wins for the environmental movement and the importance of getting involved.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clips from Black History Year, discussing the long history of Black people as essential workers in times of disease.
[01:00:25] DR. DORCETA TAYLOR: People didn't understand at the time, the connection between malaria and if you had been exposed to malaria, as many Black people were, either from the time they were in Africa or when they were in Haiti, several Haitians came to Philadelphia, after the revolution in Haiti.
So people not understanding that that pre-exposure to malaria gave you some level of immunity to yellow fever. And so, that's why Blacks weren't getting sick at the beginning, but they really helped to keep Philadelphia from just completely collapsing on itself.
[01:00:59] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: And Newsbeat exposed America's dirty secret of maintaining poverty in this country, that caused people to live exposed to raw sewage, and contracted diseases thought to be only prevalent in under-developed nations.
[01:01:14] CATHERINE FLOWERS: The waterlines were just above where the raw sewage was. Like, if there was any kind of... there was any flooding, or whatever, the question is whether or not anybody would think, "Are these people potentially drinking their own effluent. Is it seeping into these water lines.
And nearby, you could see, like, children's balls, you could see, there was a basketball goal that was near there, so that many of the... if the ball went into the sewage, the children either had to retrieve and try to clean it, or just leave it there.
And we were there with a reporter and all... all around us, were mobile homes in this case. And we were there with a reporter, and one of the reporters asked Dr. Austin, he said, cause I can tell that he was, kind of, shocked by what he was seeing, and he said, "What do you have to say about this?" He said that this is uncommon in the developed world.
[01:02:06] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: To hear that and all of our bonus content, delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted, no questions asked.
Now, one last thing before we move on to VoicedMails: listen to this passage from this book, "The Sum Of Us," by Heather McGhee. It's going to sound very familiar at first, and then take a turn, that might be a surprise to a lot of people.
"The environmental justice movement has long established that industry and government decision makers are more likely to direct pollutants, ranging from toxic waste dumps to heavy truck traffic, into neighborhoods where people of color, especially Black people, live. This injustice has typically been understood as a life-and-death benefit of white privilege: white people can sidestep the poisoned runoff of our industrial economy. But less well known is the fact that segregation brings more pollution for white people, too. It turns out that integrated communities are less polluted than segregated ones. It's a classic racial divide-and-conquer, collective action problem: the separateness of the population leaves communities less able to band together to demand less pollution in the first place for everyone. An environmental health scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, Rachel Morello-Frosh, conducted a major study examining pollutants that are known carcinogens and found that more segregated cities had more of them in the air. As she explains to me, 'In those segregated cities, white folks are much worse off than their white counterparts who live in less segregated cities, in terms of pollution burden.'
"I marveled at the force of the finding: segregated cities have higher cancer-causing pollutants-- for white people, too-- than more integrated ones. Professor Morello-Frosh was quick to add: "And it's not explained by poverty... That effect remains even after you've taken into account the relative concentrations of poverty.'" End of passage.
So, as it's good to always remember, especially for us white people, environmental justice, and racism more broadly, can't be seen as an issue where we just feel bad about the plight of other people.
First of all, that's not very helpful, and it's not very motivating for us to get involved. And secondly, it misses a big aspect of the impact of racism. To make real progress and to address the real impacts of racism head-on, it needs to be seen as something that is poisoning everyone in society, and we should be outraged about that.
Then you don't have to worry about feeling bad for other people. You can be outraged at the impact you and your family are feeling. So, yes, the targets of racism are taking the brunt of the impact; that's obvious. But we're all worse off for it.
And now, finally, we will hear from you.
[01:05:13] VOICEMAILER: DAVE FROM OLYMPIA, WA: Hello Best of the Left. The recent series of episodes has been doing what you all do best and anyways making me think.
So there were the two episodes paired, if you will, on white supremacy and then white violence. And it it really served as a compare and contrast, and -- you didn't explicitly say it, I may be reading this in -- of the two major narratives of where racism comes from and how it functions. So there's, I guess what you'd call, Critical Race Theory, which is very focused on structural. It doesn't matter necessarily what people feel or think, but look, we've got redlining, we've got segregation in school. These things are structural. And they're really at the core of the problem, or they're certainly a part of the problem.
And then there's the kind of classical liberal approach that racism is caused by bad people thinking bad things and doing horrible things because of that thought. The history of the Klu Klux Klan, and violence, and the overthrow of elected governments following withdrawal of troops after Reconstruction, examples that like case in point of why that view - it still has merit. It's not outdated and wrong. It's maybe I guess maybe this is a "yes, and" situation. But those two episodes paired with the two episodes about the history of Afghanistan. The retrospective and then the more contemporary episode that y'all did.
So two spots that are bubbling in my head. And I don't know I had an answer, but I would throw that cause it's making me think in circles. First of all, Reconstruction was in many ways a military occupation following a successful war. It lasted for 12 years. Federal troops were stationed in the south. And all of these things happened, right? That elected black representatives, education availability for blacks in the south, that the presence of the troops allowed this feed to try and get some roots to start a foothold, to maybe change society.
So what's the parallel to our 20 years in Afghanistan? Did that occupation allow women's rights and education for girls, the chance to take root in that society?
Are there lessons to be learned from Reconstruction that we could either have used during that occupation to not only have troops in the country, but better nurture that -- what's my metaphor -- that seed and maybe have allowed it a better chance than just occupation. Because the Taliban are not automatically going to pick up where the occupation force has left off in terms of their toleration for women and girls politics and girls' education, that sort of thing. What might be the tangible in-the-future benefits of that experience?
And then the other parallel is to what extent was the Reconstruction seen as this expensive and ongoing military occupation that, hey, we've been there 12 years, isn't it time to come home? The choice is occupation forever or end this thing sometime. And yeah, people are going to get hurt when the occupation ends.
So those two things are playing around in my mind. And the other part is to what extent is the situation in Afghanistan is that structural and cultural, because within the tribal village life, like there are certain ways things have always been done in the all caps air quotes and that doesn't involve women having power.
How much of that structure is at the base and how much of the real vileness of the Taliban, how much of this is bad people thinking bad thoughts and doing bad things, and how much of this is structural and just part of the culture and not something you're going to change by winning a heart and a mind here and there.
You have to change the underlying structure to change the outcomes. I don't know. But maybe you guys have thoughts.
As always I'm loving the episodes. Stay awesome!
[01:09:45] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record a message at202 999 3991, or write me a message to [email protected]
We heard from Dave; he said a whole lot of things, and I have responses to just a few of them.
The first is, that he was distinguishing between structural racism and white violence being representative of a different kind of racism, the, sort of, individual racist mindset form of racism. And I just want to point out that racist mindset also stem from structural forces.
The creation and maintenance of a culture that fosters racist thoughts, which lead to racist violence should also be seen as structural, similar, actually, to how Dave described culture in Afghanistan to be structural, and not in the sort of rigidly individualist definition of racism that seems to claim that racism just comes from being actively taught racist ideas, or maybe just being a bad person, but definitely not having an understanding of how we're all passively taught racist ideas.
For instance, on the structural point that relates to today's episode, red lining is something that's very structural. But it helped maintain anti-Black racism by keeping Black families poor by preventing them from buying houses, which helps maintain the myth and the racist ideas that exist within people's heads, to this very day, that Black people are poor because they deserve to be, totally forgetting about the impact of structural policies and their legacies,. like red lining.
Now, as for Afghanistan, and Reconstruction, whether we can draw parallels there, I mean, there's a lot of messy stuff that we could get into. And a lot of it's going to be beyond my area of expertise, but what stuck out to me was, dave mentioning reconstruction potentially helping plant some seeds in the south-- metaphorical seeds that could have, you know, grown and flourished beyond the 12 year span of reconstruction.
But I don't want to forget that another thing Reconstruction left in its wake was the backlash and Jim Crow terrorism. So it's hard to say how many seeds were planted that took root during Reconstruction, like Black education and empowerment, because there was a counter movement to, very intentionally and intensely, squash any of that progress, rip up those seeds, and salt the earth.
So, whether or not that parallel with Afghanistan, and what the Taliban is going to do now, we can hope that that parallel breaks down pretty quickly. I mean, we live in a very different world, very much more internationally connected world, than they lived in, in the late 1800s, when the South was deciding what to do with themselves. . You know, they were pretty well on their own; once Reconstruction was over, they got to do whatever they wanted without too much negative impact.
The Taliban, doing whatever they want to do, would almost certainly come with consequences. And you know, they're going to have to weigh that. So we can hope for the best..
As for the perspective of the Northerners in the Reconstruction Era, and having to maintain a military presence in the South, and spend the money and time and efforts to do that, you know, would there have been a lot of thought that, "Hey, you know, Hey, how long are we going to do this? Let's bring our boys home." That's a good question. And it's completely outside my scope of knowledge on the subject.
I mean, I only learned within the past few years how Reconstruction ended, and that it was basically a political deal to settle a presidential campaign, and backroom deals were made, handshakes were shook, and Reconstruction was over.
Whether that had anything to do with the feelings of the general population at the time, I have no idea, but if someone does, if we have some historians listening, I would love to hear their perspective.
As always keep the comments coming in at 202 999 3991, or by emailing me to [email protected] That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes.
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