The United States (U.S.
) iscreating tensions and further social conflict by the influence of toxic racismand environmental justice. Environmental justice is defined as the fairtreatment and involvement of all people regardless of ethnicity, color orincome of individuals with respect to the “development, implementation, andenforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (Environmental justice, 2017, p.1). Toxic racism can beexplained as either intentional or unintentional discrimination and targetingof communities by use of policy-making and siting of industries that disposeand produce harmful pollution (Environmental racism,2012, p.1).
Astatistical fact has arose outlining how individuals who both live and work inthe most polluted areas in the U.S. are commonly people of color, live in lowsocio-economic lifestyles and are very poor. As a result, a movement began tooccur, termed as “The Environmental Justice Movement”, where environmentaladvocates came together to demonstrate that this relationship is notaccidental. The initial movement for environmental justice occurred in 1982, inWarren County, North Carolina, a predominantly poor, African Americancommunity.
Warren County was designated to be a home for a polychlorinatedbiphenyl (PCB), extremely toxic and hazardous, waste landfill (Environmentaljustice history, 2017, p.1). When 6,000 truckloads of soil contaminated with PCBsarrived, it sparked political and social outcry. State officials ignored therisks and concerns over water contamination and health effects in a raciallyand economically targeted town, and resulted in six weeks of protests, marches andarrests.
The Warren County protests facilitated new civil rights movements, astruggle for environmental justice and a demand to end to toxic racism. Pollution-producingfacilities are often located in poor communities, primarily championed by “African-Americans,Latino’s, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans” (Skelton,& Miller, 2016, p.1). Environmental justice and toxic racism is a source that promotessocial conflict in the U.S. by promoting further racism, creating an unequaldistribution of negative health effects for minorities and creating bothprotests and legal conflicts. Through analysis of the Warren County case studyand other historical precedencies, it can be shown that social conflict isgrowing because of the targeted racism and unfair treatment of minorities inthe U.
S. Socially marginalized racialminority communities are facing disproportionate exposure to pollutants whilefacing a denial of ecological benefits, like clean air, water and naturalresources. Toxic racism is promoting further racism and discrimination of minoritiesleading to social injustice and arising conflict. A study demonstrated thatwhen adjusted for income, education and employment status, racial minoritiesface higher levels of exposure to toxic substances (Lipsitz, 1995, p.420). The most significant variable that determined where hazardous wastefacilities were located, like Warren County, was determined in 1987 by the Commissionfor Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ and was found to be race (Chavis,1987, p.41). Economist William Fischel providesa hypothesis as to why communities have remained segregated in the 20thcentury; exclusionary zoning.
Zoning is a process by which decisions are bestunderstood by home owners to preserve their home, the most significant assetconsidered, in order to create an infrastructure desirable for communities. Municipalitiesused zoning to screen anything perceived as quality-reducing, often formed byprejudice and racial discrimination. Not surprisingly, to defend home valuesand infrastructure, there is an extensive history showing racial and ethniczoning of communities. After the Civil War, in the late 1800’s, whites migratedaway from areas where schools and public services were shared with AfricanAmerican’s, claiming property values would decrease. Intentionally, AfricanAmericans and minorities began living in segregated, small communities, thatwere zoned and excluded. Fischel claimed that historically, this segregation toprotect property values, has set precedence and remains in the 21thcentury (Whittemore, 2017, p.17). This segregation andracial zoning still contributes to the toxic racism imposed by U.
S. stateofficials, furthering racism and social conflict. Other contributors toenvironmental racism includes the absence of minorities and economicallydisadvantaged individuals from policy-making processes at local levels. Thispromotes communities to be targeted because of race and economic status forplacement of toxic sites. Other political contributors include a lack ofrepresentation on city councils, government positions and hearings to representminority concerns. Being voiceless and powerless in political processes is depressingboth housing values and health effects, which both increases the likelihoodthat hazardous sites are being located in communities with lower social hierarchy,creating a viscous cycle, both racist and unequal. Uneven political power, issues and growing movementsof “not in my backyard” (NIMBY), and lack of access to decision making arefurther complicating environmental racism and the targeting of minorities (Environmental Racism, 2014, p.1).
Lastly, racial capitalismis considered the exploitation of culturally and socially constructeddifferences, where “racism is a constituent of capitalism” (Pulido, 2016, p.7). The devaluation of African American’sand other minorities, have been a central property to global capitalism andcreates a way for power to be accumulated in ways different from the norm. Humandifference has created a landscape where both cultures and capital can beexploited to enhance power and profit, like relocated polluting-producingindustries to areas where high elites can profit at the expense of minorities (Pulido, 2016, p.8).
The disposability and unequaldistribution of human value is dependent on racism, which benefits capitalisticeconomies, a fundamental property the U.S. economy runs on. The toxic racismminorities face is keeping systemic stereotypes and racism alive, furtheringdiscrimination and social injustice in the U.S. Toxic racism is creating anunequal distribution of negative health effects adding to tensions and socialconflict. Mobilizations and social uprisings over access to natural resourcesor opposition to uneven exposure to environmental harms is “creating newdiscursive frames of thinking” (Sikor & Newell, 2014, p.152).
After the Warren County protests, environmental groups were formed to fightindustries that were threatening the environment and producing high rates ofillness in minority communities (Environmentaljustice history, 2017, para.3). Access to healthcare, economic status and environmental quality all effect people’s health,especially individuals who are disproportionally exposed to toxic environmentalcontamination. Unfortunately, a relationship is shown by unequal distributionof health effects due to the environmental toxins faced in minoritycommunities. Studies have shown a link between prenatal and childhood exposureto solvents, pesticides and air pollution to leukemia, brain and centralnervous system cancers (Massey, 2004, p.3). Asthma rates in the U.S.
are significantly higher among racial minorities and income levels, suggestinga link to unequal exposure to environmental factors (Massey,2004, p.4). InWarren County, a PCB waste site was argued that it made no scientific sense;the water table sat five to ten feet below the surface, which the residentsdepended on for drinking water. The likelihood of water contamination was highand would have a drastic effect on the health of the community. Low socioeconomic individuals reflect higherattributes that increase their exposure to health risks. The first is a lowerability to reduce exposure to environmental impacts, for example, limitedhousing locations, no air conditioning or preventative health and socialoptions, and the second being a lack of education, associated with an increasedsusceptibility and risk in society (Makri& Stilianakis, 2008, p.329).
Another study found that endocrine-disrupting chemicals(EDCs) are commonly used in industrial settings, for instance the chemical PCB,and have adverse health effects. The United States Environmental ProtectionAgency (EPA) has identified hundreds of EDCs that cause breast cancer, heartdisease, lower sperm count and polycystic ovary syndrome. These chemicals canalso leach into the soil and local rivers to pollute the water system (Jagne, White & Jefferson, 2016, p.
1). Hazardous waste sites andother industrial facilities are disproportionally located in poor and minorityneighborhoods, developing an evident pattern at a national level that poor andminority communities are bearing an unequal burden from the toxic pollutionproduced. This burden, ranging from higher disease, birth defects, cancer and alower life expectancy, is becoming a human rights violation and social conflictbecause of the targeting towards racial minorities and low socio-economicindividuals (Environmental racism, 2011,p.1).Environmental justice is oftennot coincided with “everyday” struggles, but mobilizations and legal courtcases due to environmental degradations and minority exploitation are becomingmore frequent. Social conflict is arising because communities are standing upto unjust treatment, just like how Warren County protested by lying on thestreets of the community to stop truckloads of PCB contaminated soil fromentering their town. In the U.
S., authorities and political figures often havehad the power and money to influence the negative environmental harm away fromthem and towards a racial or ethnic minority, calling for environmental justiceaction to be taken, often through the judicial system. Yet, this provesdifficult still because community members are often economically disadvantagedmaking it difficult and unfair to fight back against multimillion dollarindustries (Environmental racism, 2011,p.1). Environmentaljustice has emerged from the civil rights politics of the U.S., morespecifically it is not just an outgrowth from environmentalism, but because ofthe history and dominance of the Civil Rights movement (Walker & Bulkeley, 2006, p.655).
As a result of poor communities and the lack ofminority representation on city councils, there are few individuals and Acts toprotect individual’s best interests and health. Communities lack legalrepresentation and expertise because of the cost, and are restricted or lack accessto information on how neighboring industrial sites are effecting people’shealth. For instance, Latino communities often could not access important legaldocuments or information because it is only provided in English, creatingsocial unjust, inequalities and targeting (Skelton,& Miller, 2016, para.8).
The Brundtland report called Our Common Future (1987) outlined that sustainable developmentneeds to be conceived in order to sustain future generations. In environmentaland climate justice, it is clear that holding current generations ofdecision-makers and political representations accountable must occur because oftheir failing actions and acts of imposing environmental harm on minority populations(Sikor, & Newell, 2014,p.153). Future generations, especially thoseliving in ethnically segregated or socioeconomically disadvantaged, are put atrisk. An environmental justice outcome that has occurred, was the FirstNational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Representativesnation-wide, that included both ethnic and poor figures, came together toaddress toxic racism and environmental justice. A document called the Principles of Environmental Justice wasformed that outlined a consensus of competing interests that laid out a processto maintain communication and rules regarding justice and equality (Environmentaljustice history, 2017, p.
11). Through coming together, justice and cooperation, rulesand laws can be created to support the environmental justice movement and theend of the exploitation of minorities. Environmental justice andtoxic racism has been a new and uprising conflict that is promoting socialinequality and contention within communities. It was found that toxic racism iscreating further racism, which is causing unequal negative health distributionsamong populations and generating legal conflicts in the U.S.
It has beenstatistically found and supported by the General Accounting Office (GAO) thatsiting of hazardous landfills and toxic industrial businesses are unequallydistributed amidst minority and low-income communities (Massey,2004, p.5). Theracial targeting is creating further segregation of ethnic communities andcreating tensions within localities and even nationally. As well, negative healtheffects including cancer, asthma and birth defects are predominantly sufferedby individuals living near environmental polluters, with little to no choicebecause of a lack of political representation and racial exclusion. Socialconflict as a result of these factors is harming individual’s livelihoods and securityof health and freedoms, which are many foundations that the U.
S. stands for. Thepeople in Warren County lost their battle and the PCB toxic waste site wasbuilt. Yet, their protests and legal challenges drew national attention andcreated a monumental milestone in the national movement for environmental justice,and will hopefully lead to a positive change in creating a just future forminorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged people living in theU.S.