The Black History and Future of Environmental Justice
By Jasimen Phillips
As a child, I was taught to celebrate Earth Day, but never taught the disproportionate burden of environmental impacts on communities populated by people that look like me. I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he fought against racism and segregation, but never about how he and others, like Robert Doyle Bullard, also fought against environmental racism and segregation. Environmental justice, for Black Americans, has often been overlooked or even ignored in exchange for more overt forms of racism and injustices. However, throughout American history, environmental issues have not only been a matter of quality of life for Black Americans but often a matter of life and death.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “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”. While the term, environmental justice, first gained popularity in the 1980s, the need for environmental justice for Black people in America can be traced back to the belly of slave ships at the onset of the Transatlantic Slave trade in the 1500s.
During the Middle Passage, slave ship conditions for African captives were unsanitary and overcrowded spaces in which lack of access to food, clean water, and fresh air led to the uncontrollable spread of illness and diseases at epidemic proportions. Historical records indicate that approximately 1 out of every 4 enslaved persons died as a result of inhumane conditions suffered during the Middle Passage. These inhumane conditions did not change, however, until the enactment of the Slave Trade Act of 1788, which outlined provisions required to mitigate negative environmental impacts on slave ships in order to decrease mortality rates of enslaved persons, thereby maximizing profits for the sale of them. Similarly, this type of reactive environmental management for the sake of protecting corporate interests has remained the status quo in local, state, and federal government policy and policing of black communities throughout the 20th and 21st century.
Post-slavery environmental injustices continued against blacks, taking on distinct forms in both the South and North. The South’s agricultural economy, based on slave labor, had evolved into a repressive sharecropping scheme, in which the burden of negative environmental impacts, such as soil degradation, weighed heaviest upon black sharecroppers who relied upon agriculture production seasons to meet their minimum food and housing needs. In the North, the migration of blacks, due in part to rapid industrialization, was swiftly met with racial zoning and residential segregation which relegated black Americans to the most polluted, densely populated, and toxic parts of cities. Environmental racism against black descendants of slavery was not a Confederacy vs the Union issue. Environmental racism was and continues to be, a glaring stain worn by the United States as a whole.
Unfortunately, many environmentalists have strategically excluded black voices from both governmental and NGO organizations and institutions for as long as these organizations have existed. However, as a result of the civil rights movement, the egregious violations of black people’s civil and environmental rights could no longer be ignored. Researchers cite Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited the use of federal funds to discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin, as a point of origin for the environmental justice movement. In 1968, for example, the law provided a foundation for work by Dr. Martin Luther King, the NAACP, and black sanitation workers in the city of Memphis, Tennessee to fight for fair wages and safer working conditions. While legislative changes and organizing led by civil rights activists brought some environmental justice successes, throughout the following years, the EPA has failed to take meaningful action on Title VI complaints, often placing the burden of discrimination proof on disenfranchised community members.
The intentional and unintentional exclusion of black voices in environmental dialogue comes at a deadly cost. Many environmental activists from the 1980s to today have worked to change this. Robert Doyle Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice”, led numerous research projects and legal actions against environmental racism beginning in the early 1980s. Bullard’s first major action was exposing environmental discrimination by waste facilities in Houston, Texas where over 80% of waste facilities (including toxic waste sites) were located in black neighborhoods. Bullard’s works, along with that of other environmentalists, show that black people are much more likely to suffer from the negative health impacts of living near polluting industries. For example, one 2019 case study by Washington University found that “Black residents in St. Louis are almost twice as likely to have limited access to healthy food as white residents,” resulting in long-term health issues. Also, black residents are more likely to live in housing with toxic environmental air quality. Therefore, there is still much work to be done and repairs to be made.
So, how can we utilize this historical knowledge to support environmental justice for black people going forward? First, we must acknowledge history’s impact on today's systemic racism. Some may argue that environmentalists merely need to start including more black people in environmental decision-making bodies. While I agree that more black representation is needed, the issues at the root of environmental racism gravely exceed that of lack of representation. Black History- American History, and the road to environmental justice have been permanently marred by discriminatory practices and institutional racism. And at the root of environmental racism is economic racism and injustice. Therefore, environmental justice is inextricably bound to the fight for reparations to close the racial wealth gap.
Slavery was an institution financially supported and legally sustained by the United States government. Racially discriminatory economic practices were also financially supported and legally sustained by the United States government. As Black Americans are the most impacted by environmental injustices, from imprisoned persons to communities suffering from food apartheid, medical apartheid, climate change, and pollution, state and federal governments must be held responsible for these health and environmental disparities.
In sum, environmental equity can only be achieved through a comprehensive state and federally funded reparations agenda which addresses the compounding impacts of racism and injustices against Black American Descendants of Chattel Slavery. The burden of environmental impacts, much like the burden of economic impacts should also be addressed with meaningful and equitable representation of black people and communities within environmental policy-making spaces. While we have made notable strides in the fight for environmental justice for black people, we have yet to address the underlying issues of economic racism maintained by a system that prioritizes corporate profit over the environmental needs and human rights of poor and working class people. The future of environmental justice is now, and it must be led with a call to end environmental racism and support reparations for the cruel, brutal, and inhumane injustices of slavery in the United States.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 7, 2021
Contact: Trahern Crews, 651-508-6709, Saint Paul Recovery Act and Reparations Steering Committee Co-Chair
Stephanie Harr, Legislative Aide to Councilmember Jane Prince, 651-266-8671
City Council to Consider Creation of Reparations Commission
SAINT PAUL – The Saint Paul City Council will consider a resolution on Wednesday, January 13 calling on the city to advance the cause of racial healing by exploring reparations for American Descendants of Chattel Slavery who live in Saint Paul. The resolution calls for the creation of a Saint Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission, which will guide the city on strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, and eliminate disparities experienced by African Americans in Saint Paul.
This initiative has been championed by the Saint Paul Recovery Act and Reparations Steering Committee, co-chaired by Trahern Crews. According to Crews, “At the age of 8, George Floyd's great grandfather Hillary Thomas Stewart, who was a slave, got his freedom. As an adult, he had amassed 500 acres of land. However, white farmers stole it from him and his family, denying his offspring the benefits of generational wealth. This has happened to many Black families whose ancestors descend from American chattel slavery and now it is time for bold reparatory justice policies that will address these historical injustices.” Crews is Co-chair of the Green Party of the United States and heads up its national reparations working group.
Newly minted State Representative John Thompson has also been part of the steering committee and stated “Reparatory justice is a bipartisan issue when it comes to addressing the racial wealth gap in Minnesota. Discriminatory policies at the local, state and federal levels have contributed to the economic crisis Black Americans in Minnesota are facing. The Saint Paul Recovery Act is a step toward economic inclusion in the city of Saint Paul.”
The killing of George Floyd has made our community the epicenter of the movement for racial justice, and this initiative is inspired by similar ones in Evanston, IL; Asheville, NC, and other cities. States, colleges and universities, and religious organizations like the Minnesota Council of Churches have also undertaken significant efforts to advance racial healing and explore reparations.
In addition to governmental entities, higher education, and faith communities, the November 2020 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine stated that reparations are now widely considered to be the most effective means of breaking down the societal structure related to power, money, and access to resources, and indeed may be the only solution that can be applied intergenerationally that “would be an investment in the future and in reducing disparities that have been intractable for generations.”
Jeremie English, another member of the Saint Paul Recovery Act steering committee, has stated his support as well. “As a citizen of Saint Paul City for over 40 years and a standing member of the Steering Committee that represents Foundational Black Americans in Saint Paul, passing a resolution this year to explore how the city should address economic deprivation, systemic racism and police reform for Foundational Black America will be one of if not the important investments this city has made in decades. To move forward with the Saint Paul Recovery Act means this city is ready to empower its Black
American citizens with tangible economic resources to enable them to compete on an equal playing field.”
Steering Committee member Georgia Fort sums up this work, “Without reparations, we will continue to fail at creating equitable solutions for Black residents in Saint Paul.”
The Reparationist Collective
Black Lives Matter Minnesota
Concerned Black American Citizens
For Immediate Release:
Wednesday and Thursday, Jan 20th and 21st, 2021
Tara Perry, Black Pact
Trahern Crews, BLM Minnesota GPUS Co-Chair/Green Party National Black Caucus
Reparations Working Group Chair and Green Party of Minnesota Chair,
[email protected], 763-260-4233
The Reparationist Collective of Black Pact, BLM Minnesota, Concerned Black
American Citizens, and (ADOS DMV). December 7, 2020
At the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite having invested more than 100% of
our fair share of “sweat equity” for over 250 years into the United States, Black
Americans owned just 1% of the nation's wealth. Now following a multitude of
Democratic majorities since, and here the victory announcement of Joe Biden on
November 7th, that number remains unchanged.
The average white household has a net worth of $171,00 while the average Black
household has a mere net worth of only $17,000. This disparity, rooted in the United
States’ original sin of chattel slavery, has yielded a massive racial wealth gap.
Fueled by past apologies and commitments (H.R. 194, July 29, 2008), and hope for
change, Black voters turned out at a rate of 90% for the Democrats and are rightly
credited with handing the election to Biden on this, his third attempt. During his
November 7th victory speech, Joe Biden “looked into the eyes” of Black Americans and
made this SPECIFIC PROMISE: "African Americans have always had my back and I’ll
have yours”. On January 20th & 21st, 2021, The Reparationist Collective will march on
Washington, DC to ensure he keeps that promise:
“WE DELIVERED, NOW IT’S TIME TO COLLECT!”
We demand payment of the United States debt of reparations to the descendants of
American (as of 1776) chattel slavery in the form of multi-generational direct cash
payments, and including, but not limited to tax-exempt status, the elimination of the
mean Black-White wealth gap and the elimination of healthcare outcome disparities.
We further demand an Economic Empowerment executive order, akin to those currently
in place for the Latinx and AAPI, in the FIRST 100 DAYS tasked to empower Descendants
Of American Chattel Slavery to improve the quality of their lives, raise the standard of
living of their families and communities, and more fully participate in our economy by
eliminating the racial wealth gap.
Join us to be a part of these historical direct actions on January 20th and 21st, to make
sure Joe Biden delivers on his promise via executive order in the FIRST 100 DAYS!
Paving the way to enacting, reparations and comprehensive restorative legislation for
Descendants of American Chattel Slavery, aka African Americans.
“WE DELIVERED, NOW IT’S TIME TO COLLECT!”
- The Reparationist Collective
How Covid-19 Is Impacting the Education Industry
Courses ranging from pre-k to Ph.Ds are moving online to slow the spread of Covid-19. Education is one of the pillars communities rely on to educate youth and build investment in the community. In education, time matters. Stopping school isn't an option. To continue learning, students and teachers transitioned to online formats to replicate the in-person experience. The traditional model for teaching and learning has stayed pretty static over the last couple of decades. The rapid change caused by Covid-19 resulted in teachers thinking outside the box to reach their students.
Transferring traditional practice to the online version of teaching will keep learning consistent, but this approach fails to take advantage of online learning that isn't possible in a physical classroom. Covid-19 is normalizing online learning and debunking myths that online education is easier. The educational landscape is changing.
Will Tuitions Change?
Universities haven't changed tuitions for the upcoming semesters in cases where all classes will be online. On-campus students feel that tuitions should decrease if students can't attend classes. Online classes don't always equate to a lower tuition. According to the US News and World Report, online bachelor's degrees, on average, cost slightly more than on-campus degrees at public colleges and universities. However, at private universities, earning a degree is a great deal cheaper online than attending classes on-campus.
There are often many hidden costs of earning a bachelor's degree. Books, meal plans, and commuting costs add up quickly. While books are a part of online learning, students often don't have to pay for the subscriptions to web conferencing and other services that make online learning function. Meal plans and commuting costs don't factor into the cost of an online education either.
Online Degrees Will Be More Highly Regarded
Covid-19 has successfully proved to employers that remote work is just as productive as in-person work. This realization will help hiring managers understand that an online degree is no less difficult than a different degree. Professionals often pursue master's degrees online while keeping their current positions, but usually attended in-person classes to earn their bachelor's degree. This normalization will allow students to pursue online degrees to feel equal with their peers who can afford to attend school full time. Despite the perception of online degrees, online graduates have job placement rates competitive to in-person students.
Are Online Degrees Worth It?
There is a difference in price for online vs. in-person learning. Online public school students will pay a bit more for their degrees than their in-person counterparts but will pay significantly less than their private school counterparts. Online degrees are worth it for those who want to increase their career opportunities. Getting a college degree, no matter how it's obtained, greatly increases an individual's income opportunity. Even positions like paramedics and police officers are beginning to require at least an associate’s degree to be competitive among the competition.
Online degrees were created to give more people access to educational institutions. Covid-19 did little to interpret those already pursuing online degrees. In fact, it might have given them a leg up on their peers who needed some time to familiarize themselves with a new role. While online vs. in-person is an important choice, it is also important to go to an institution that best fits your needs.
Tech Companies Will Have More Influence Over Teaching
Online learning during Covid-19 would not have been possible without technology. Email, web conferencing, and collaboration software make online learning possible. Tech companies will continue to influence the way we learn. Teachers are using data to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students. Analyzing this data allows teachers to focus efforts on the concept students need more help with.
As more people begin to adopt online learning over in-person learning, technology companies will continue to create unique technology for the education industry. Education is always an area parents and communities are willing to invest in. Learning technologies, especially online learning, will improve online learning methods, creating an all-encompassing experience that will also supplement in-person learning.
Online learning existed before Covid-19, but students and teachers realized it is a more viable option than they originally anticipated. Students who need more time to process lessons are taking advantage of the change to learn at their own pace. Teachers can enjoy the same work from home perks as their office working counterparts. People will flock to the learning model that best fits them.
Souls To the Polls has been a voting tradition in the Black Community for over 60 years. According to theconversation.com:Modern efforts picked up momentum during the years after World War II, especially during the era of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Most African Americans were denied the right to vote prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act being signed into law. As a result, Black Americans were grossly underrepresented in the political system while simultaneously marginalized within the economy and social order through racial segregation laws.
In 1957, churches and civil rights organizations got together to sponsor the “Prayer Pilgrimage of Freedom” demonstration in Washington D.C. Organized to celebrate the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled school segregation unconstitutional, the event became a rallying cry for voting rights.
Speaking at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. framed the issue of voting, racial progress, and democracy in these terms:
“Give us the ballot and we shall no longer have to worry the Federal government about our basic rights.
"Give us the ballot and we will by the power of our vote write the laws on…the statute books of the southern states and bring to an end the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.
"Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill.
"Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and have mercy.” This traditions has continued in the Black commuity every election cycle including this one. GET OUT AND VOTE!
The Free & Equal Elections Foundation is partnering with the emerging Independent National Union. Together, along with co-host Open the Debates, they will present the third Open Presidential Debate of the 2020 election on October 24, 2020 at 6pm MDT in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The debate will take place during the first ever Inaugural Independent National Convention | INC 2020. Focused on creating an alternative debate platform that can truly serve the needs of the American electorate, the debate will bring together candidates from across the political spectrum to give U.S. voters a richer view of their actual ballot choices. Ten presidential candidates have been invited. Criteria for debate inclusion requires the candidate be on the ballot in at least 8 states. The debate will use the cumulative debate format to provide a balanced and informative dialogue among the candidates. Invited Candidates: Brian Carroll, American Solidarity Party Brock Pierce, Independent Don Blankenship, Constitution Party Donald Trump, Republican Party Gloria La Riva, Party for Socialism & Liberation Howie Hawkins, Green Party Jo Jorgensen, Libertarian Party Joe Biden, Democrat Party Kanye West, Independent Rocky De La Fuente, Independent
Since 2008, the Free & Equal Elections Foundation has set the standard for inclusive political debates that cover a range of neglected issues. In 2012, we hosted the very first globally-televised open presidential debate in US history, moderated by Larry King and Christina Tobin. Free & Equal is also developing a blockchain election app in partnership with Nexus Earth. About Free & Equal Elections Foundation The Free & Equal Elections Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission to open the electoral process through education and collaborative action. About Open the Debates Open the Debates is a 501(c)3 project of the Mediators Foundation working to open up the political debates of our nation to all ballot-qualified candidates, at every level of government. About Independent National Union The Independent National Union is an emerging framework for organizing the independent political sector under one banner to build political power outside the two-party duopoly.
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