Tag Archives: environmental racism

Wasn’t me

In the past week, a few allegations of wrongdoing jumped back into the spotlight. From a failure to prevent mass lead poisoning to data journalism steadily descending into propaganda-crafting, almost everyone’s been predictably quick to shift blame elsewhere.

A humbling experience

That’s how still sitting Michigan governor Rick Snyder has described the medical crises in Flint. In his own words, they’ve been a “humbling experience” – for him naturally, the most important person in these cavalcade of missteps. From initially a story of rampant cost-cutting and the widespread destruction of local government in predominantly Black communities across Michigan, Snyder has recast the disaster that has left thousands of children exposed to horrifying levels of lead as a tragedy centered on him.

Like an archetypal king hypnotized by advisors with vile designs, Snyder is the true star of this story for having been misled by staff who supposedly convinced him that he would receive alarmist messages about Flint’s water supply. Snyder’s own intentions couldn’t be more clear, since part and parcel with this retelling of the catastrophe is labeling responsibility for the crisis as having been taken.

Whoopsy

Over the past year, calls for raising the minimum wage in many corners of the US as well as nationally have become an almost omnipresent part of the political discussion. More quietly but just as persistently, the popular demand for living wages reflective of the emerging economy has been met by pessimistic predictions of spiraling inflation and anemic employment. To arbitrate between the two, many have turned to data-driven journalists and academics, hypothetically armed with statistics and motivated by a zeal for unveiling the objective truth.

Except, that hasn’t happened. One of the most widely circulated looks into the economic outcomes of raising the minimum wage, penned by economics professor Mark Perry, has fallen under criticism for having drawn from multiple data sets while comparing Seattle (which raised its minimum wage) compared to the surrounding metropolitan area (which didn’t). This may sound minor, but this reads less like mixing together data to reached a more complete picture and matching figures to create the desired result. The goal was never to describe what was happening as a result of the new law, it was to manufacture a glossy statistical justification for a particular take on raised minimum wage.

Perry’s response since the writing of that and other articles describing this and other problems with his research has been to edit the charts in question, noting that the information comes from disparate data sources that aren’t ideal to cavalierly compare. He’s also added an addendum arguing in essence that there’s nothing to see here.

Not caught… not yet

In a bit of lighter news, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have taken the news that no US nationals appear to be implicated in the leaked Panama Papers to heart. They’re now asking the Justice Department to more carefully investigate the matter to make absolutely sure that that’s the case.

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In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Economic justice… for whom?

It’s one of the familiar just so stories about US politics that’s become crystal clear in recent decades. The Democrats want to maintain or even expand programs designed to provide economic resources and benefits to people with less. Republicans want to shrink or dismantle those types of programs. One party for workers, one party for the “1%”, so the story goes.

Even the candidates who look like exceptions – like Donald Trump with his promises to maintain social security and medicare – tend to ultimately reveal policy ideas that firmly locate them in the political party that they’ve already embraced (Trump, for example, thinks “wages [are] too high” – an implicit criticism of current minimum wage standards).

More interesting, I think, than those less easily categorized oddballs are the terms on which the debate between these two camps is being held. Economic redistribution and inequality are actually somewhat lofty, vague even, concepts. How to measure, to quantify them is an open question. The language tends to be like that in what I’ve linked above – a discussion focused on easily indexed numerical statistics: wages, entitlements, inflation, productivity, unionization.

That’s not a wrongheaded way of talking about who wins and who loses in the US economy, but it’s just one way of doing that. Unfortunately, it’s a way shaped by, and sometimes specifically for, articulating a particular group’s economic grievances. One of the easiest ways of seeing that is in terms of communities with large numbers of undocumented people – for whom income taxes are a murky territory and benefits exist in a similarly unclear limbo.

For largely Latin@ agrarian worker communities, how do you quantify being an exception to environmental regulations? For the far broader set of populations at risk of being targeted with detention or even deportation, how can that not be among other things an economic threat – both held over you by your boss and your landlord but also just ominously lurking outside your home, endangering everything you have.

2016-01-04_1015.pngLeft, 2012 chlorpyrifos use in the western US, from here. Right, a heatmap of Latin@s in the western US made using the 2010 census, from here.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has recently sought to highlight a difference between their candidate and Trump. Sanders is a meaningful, redistributive choice. Trump is manipulating some of those hoping for greater economic opportunity, without any intention to deliver on it. In order to prove that, the Sanders campaign has latched on to Trump’s comments on wages.

Why was that necessary? Trump has already spoken to a more wild set of economic policies designed to hoard resources for some. That’s one of the things inherent in his promise to deport millions of people. That is economic injustice, and it’s important to ask why it hasn’t been considered that by the largely non-Latin@ mainstream media or presented as that by the redistribution-centered campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Is the economic populism advanced by Sanders and tolerated within major media really for everyone? Whose concerns does it speak to? Whose concerns does it barely register?

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The year that environmental racism started to get noticed

TW: racism, erasure of people of color, classism, colonialism, Israeli occupation

I wrote on-again-off-again about a phenomenon over the course of 2012, where historical and present realities of racism and colonialism created economic and environmental conditions for people of color that put them at greater risk in changing climates.

That August, there was a bit of joking about global warming at the 2012 RNC that was primarily met with Democratic criticism that in the future that will seem foolish. At that time it seemed pertinent to remind people that global warming was already making indigenous Alaskan communities more food insecure, as fishing times and spots had begun shifting in relation to new weather. In Fall, with Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in Haïti, it seemed important to highlight how the poverty in that country meant that buildings and infrastructure were both more likely to fail and more likely to not be rebuilt. In fact the 2010 earthquake hadn’t been dealt with, exacerbating both the fallout from the hurricane and the subsequent cholera epidemic as untreated water became a normal backdrop in Haïti. After Sandy made landfall in the US, the media seemed to wholly erase what had happened years before to predominantly Black communities in the Gulf as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The intersections between global warming, systemic racism, and poverty were there, but were seldom being connected.

To a degree, 2013 was an improvement on that, with environmental issues and the realities of racism and classism sometimes being introduced in tandem. The Idle No More movement, originally founded in 2012 by First Nations (ie, indigenous) activists in Canada became an international phenomenon in 2013, which both attracting indigenous peoples to its activism in other countries but was widely reported on. By the end of the year, a common narrative had formed. The pattern of communities vulnerable to economic and environmental exploitation attracting companies, foremost minerals extraction ones, then facing police violence in response to protests had become established. Most painfully, against Mi’kmaq protesters in Canada in late 2013. The role that racism played in these communities being selected for environmentally questionable policies and actions and later the racism that informed the police response was unfortunately largely implicitly referenced in major media.

There were additional limitations sadly imposed on this type of story, however, with them often conforming to a set formula. Overwhelmingly, it was only indigenous groups, not other ethnically marginalized people who were covered, and the near exclusive type of exploitation highlighted was mineral extraction often in association with fossil fuel companies in Canada or the United States. Just as in previous years, the on-going reality of ethnically and economically marginalized populations in South and Southeast Asia whose their ancestral lands can and often are selected to be flooded as a result of damming projects have remained largely overlooked.

environmental racism
(From here.)

We still haven’t quite gotten to the point where the global connections between poverty, racist and colonial practices and histories, and climate change are part of typical media reporting on a number of events worldwide, but we’ve edged closer. Can we wait for more people to make this connection on their own, so that it’s not a shock to them for media to cover it in that way? While we’re sitting here, the reality the Philippines were hit by a hurricane categorically stronger than any storm on the planet in more than thirty years, which sounds silly until you read the stunning wind speeds recorded as it passed through a densely populated portion of the Philippines, a former Spanish colony and US territory. The Philippines’ Climate Commissioner released a petition in the midst of attempting to contact his family, but his request for not even any specific policy change but for the largest contributors to carbon emissions to “acknowledge the new climate reality” that the Philippines now know all too well. That garnered less attention than the disaster itself, however.

More recently, unusually heavy rains flooded the Gaza territory in Palestine, whose infrastructure couldn’t handle the crisis under the weight of Israeli occupation and other international factors. Our failure to connect these forces costs isn’t just threatening people’s futures, but presently costing lives.

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