Today is Earth Day, a day on which people around the world are reminded and encouraged to care for our mutual home with love and respect. A day on which conservation is stressed, the number of recycling bins on street corners increases, and grade-school children spend a part of their day planting trees in the school garden. However for me, this Earth Day is about advocating for a group of people who are impacted by our deteriorating environment, but rarely recognized. While for many the face of the environmental movement might be the “tree-hugger” in the park, for me the faces of the environmental movement are primarily faces of color that live in low-income areas.
It is no coincidence that those who often live in the most polluted and environmentally hazardous areas are low-income people of color. Environmental racism and environmental injustice are real things that impact real people every day. And while the long-term goal of the environmental movement might be to stop the degradation of our environment and reduce environmental harms generally, it is also important that we “equalize” the harms insofar as we decrease the disproportionately large environmental health risks faced by society’s most vulnerable populations.
These risks are not speculative: “Toxic Wastes and Race” explains that children of color who live in poor areas are more likely to attend schools filled with asbestos, live in homes with peeling lead paint, and play in parks that are contaminated. What’s more, these same children are nearly 9 times more likely than economically advantaged children to be exposed to lead levels so high they can cause severe learning disabilities and neurological disorders. Additionally, research shows that 96 percent of African American children who live in inner cities have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood.
Environmental health issues have detrimental effects on a myriad of other areas in an individual’s. As Jonathan Kozol explains in his book “Savage Inequalities” instances of environmental racism in East St. Louis, Illinois directly impact access to educational opportunities for low-income youth of color. Youth who are exposed to high levels of environmental containments often miss large amounts of school as a result of resulting health affects. The concrete health impacts of environmental racism are a part of a vicious cycle of poverty that is seemingly impossible to escape.
To me these realities are unsettling; these realities bring to the forefront a new face of the environmental movement: The Black Face of Green. This is face that I want people to organize and mobilize around. An issue as complex as this one requires innovative and creative solutions, and over the next year I will use Health Justice CT to blog and document the ways in which I personally attempt to impact environmental racism and injustice.
On Earth Day 2013 my personal plea is that we stop simply thinking about environmentalism as a cute attempt to recycle more and conserve natural resources. Rather, I want that we actively take on the health injustices along racial and ethnic lines that exist as a result of environmental realities. For the next year, let’s broaden our understanding of environmentalism and fight for our friends, family members, and neighbors in communities that are suffering under the yoke of environmental racism.
Make sure you follow my journey of the next year as I contribute to Health Justice CT, and you can follow me on twitter at @MrWesleyDixon. Join me in the effort to make The Black Face of Green a powerful movement!