Black Lives Matter, COVID19 and Environmental Justice

Wow has 2020 been an insane year globally and in the USA..

But has it? In my opinion things have always been insanely messed up in this country and finally now the majority of Americans paying attention and trying to do something about it.

We have seen protests all over the country and world, which is a promising sign. However, we have also seen anti-protestors, white supremacists and fascists trying to stop these protests and trying to cause harm to the protestors and African Americans.

In fact, my cousin-in-law Daniel Gregory, whom is African American, was recently shot while trying to stop an anti-protestor that had driven his car through a crowd of protestors in Seattle, WA on June 7th, 2020. You can read the article here. I am relieved Dan is in stable condition now, but he is ridden with medical expenses, so please donate to the gofundme page here if you are reading this and want to help Dan the Hero (or you can bypass the fees and send Dan funds directly through cashapp: $Dthunderg).

 “A man drives toward the crowd at 11th and Pine, injuring at least one person, before exiting the car and brandishing a firearm”. Image: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times Daniel Gregory (my cousin in-law) is pictured here reaching into the car to try to stop the driver (he was soon after shot by the driver, and now is in stable condition at a hospital). Please donate to him to help him cover his medical expenses via gofundme.

Perhaps protests like these, and those all around the world, as well as long overdue-attention have finally arrived due to the imperfect storm of COVID, Environmental injustice and civil injustice including the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans in the image below.

I’m not African-American, so Im not going to act like I know everything, or try to tell their narratives. I also have not gone into sufficient detail describing the atrocities against people of color in this nation or the concept of structural racism. Instead I’ll link to resources below this post that have been distributed from graduate students in the Earth and Sciences Department and have been circulating around at USC. Many of the resources (listed and linked below this blog) have been produced by African Americans, the very voices that deserve to be heard louder than any white narrative.

However, one subject that I am more knowledgeable in that relates intensely to the Black Lives Matter Movement is the intersections between Environmental Health and Social Justice – aka Environmental Justice.

To clarify Environmental Justice, let’s use the definition from the EPA:

Environmental justice is 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. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”.

To explore how communities of color are exposed to more pollution and hazardous waste- check out this environmental justice mapping tool, and enter in your address to see what types of pollution or environmental hazards are near you. https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen

If you live in a wealthier area, go ahead and enter in an area where you know more low-income people or people of color live.. I guarantee you that you will be shocked (or maybe not if you are already well-informed) to find out that not only are people of color more likely to be discriminated against in their day to day lives. .but they are also living in hazardous areas that are affecting their health!!! I think this outrageous, and we need to do more about this issue in our country, and around the world (Not to mention how we ship a lot of our hazardous e-waste to countries in Africa.. leading to environmental injustice from global change).

If you live in Los Angeles, CA you can even see what uncovered oil wells are near you (releasing toxic fumes daily btw… ). You can read more about how you can take action here: https://www.stand.la/campaign-updates.html

“A map of active oil and gas wells in Los Angeles. (Source: DOGGR)” https://www.stand.la/history-of-oil-in-los-angeles.html

Thus, in addition to restructuring police systems, holding police accountable and letting the community have a direct role in how funds are spent in a given city/town in terms of policing and safety- I also think the community needs to have a more direct role in their surrounding environment, and control over water they drink and air the breathe. For instance – remember the Flint Water Crisis? Aka the city trying to cut costs, switching water sources and then lying to the people about the quality of their water all while the residents of Flint were drinking water with extremely high lead levels and other toxins- leading to permanent health issues for many of these residents. Oh and guess what % of Flint’s population is African American?: 57%!… exactly.. that is why issues of environmental justice are CRITICAL to discuss in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement.

To illustrate another example of environmental justice, I recently worked with another professor at USC this past spring semester to incorporate a question on the intersections between Environmental Justice and COVID19 as a final essay question in my Environmental studies. Remember all of those articles about people of color, primarily African-Americans, having higher infection and mortality rates from COVID19 compared to white people in New York City? Due to systemic racism in this country, again low-income individuals and people of color predominately live in areas with poorer air and water quality, and often don’t have access to sanitary infrastructure, much less access to health insurance- and aka health care. (By the way its not like these people choose to live in these places, on the contrary -a lot of companies choose these regions because they can get away with polluting more in these areas compared to areas that are primarily white and upper class…If that’s not an unjust criminal act then I don’t know what is). All of these factors compound, and leave these people not only more susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID19, but also less likely to recover.

Go ahead, and explore this for yourself, by using the COVID mapper: https://covid19.jvion.com/#! and then again go back to the environmental justice map I showcased previously: https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/ and you will see for yourself how environmental health and social justice intersect (again this is called Environmental Justice).

I will stop here, because this has already become very long, but Environmental Justice extends way beyond what I have covered here. To learn more: check out a free youtube lecture by another professor, Chelsie Romulo (University of Northern Colorado) on environmental justice, https://youtu.be/swHXOOiJQys.

In addition to learning more about environmental justice and using the mapping tools above, you can take action by calling the EPA in your region about environmental justice issues of local concern, and check out the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice page.

Below, I have also included list of what you can do to become more educated about anti-racism and being a better ally to the black community. Because remember Environmental Health and Social Justice are linked, and you need to be informed about both to make a difference! You can do it.. now go out there and be the bad ass activist that you are!

Daily Learning:

Justice in June – a syllabus for folks new to anti-racism (or wanting to learn more) to spend some time each day in June learning how to be a better ally to the black community (this contains several of the resources listed below)

https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1H-Vxs6jEUByXylMS2BjGH1kQ7mEuZnHpPSs1Bpaqmw0/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR0b-liPthRuIf639btLFhYxjsduvMTzqETLpYTs7jvkNK__72sEAzNLnxI#id.2bwn4teflt1

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice, Corinne Shutack

https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234

Race and Racism in the Geosciences, Dr. Kuheli Dutt

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0519-z

Why Are College Campuses So Tense?, Claude Steele

https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191126-Steele

(you can get around this paywall with your library proxy if you are part of a University)

If Not Now, When? The Promise of STEM Intersectionality in the Twenty-First Century, by Drs. Kelly Mack, Orlando Taylor, Nancy Cantor, and Patrice McDermott

https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/if-not-now-when-promise-stem-intersectionality-twenty-first

Collectors, Nightlights, and Allies, Oh My! White Mentors in the Academy, Dr. Marisela Martinez-Cola

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341055508_Collectors_Nightlights_and_Allies_Oh_My_White_Mentors_in_the_Academy

Why Teaching Black Lives Matter Matters, Jamilah Pitts

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2017/why-teaching-black-lives-matter-matters-part-i

What Do I Want From White People (An Illustration of Being Black in America), Tianna (from the blog What’s Up With Tianna?) 

Sorry, I Can’t Just Focus on the Science, Naia Butler-Craig

https://www.naiabutlercraig.com/post/sorry-i-can-t-just-focus-on-the-science

The American Nightmare, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/american-nightmare/612457/

Letter to my Son, Ta-Nehisi Coates

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/

“Why is this Happening?” An Introduction to Police Brutality (some articles, some videos)

https://www.100yearhoodie.com/why

To watch:

Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives Matter, by Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, and Charline Carruthers

13th (Ava DuVernay) — available on Netflix and Youtube

To listen:

A Decade of Watching Black People Die, NPR Code Switch

https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die

The Limits of Empathy, NPR Code Switch 

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/06/812864654/the-limits-of-empathy

1619 Project, created by Nikole-Hannah Jones (New York Times)

Books to read:

How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (for an excerpt, see “Letter to my Son” above)

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