Huge Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Brings Concerns Of Environmental Racism: More “Dumping in Dixie”

What is Environmental Racism? Here’s a description from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, the intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities for the siting of polluting industries, or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies.

Since the term “environmental racism” was coined, researchers have investigated why minorities are more likely than whites to reside in areas where there is more pollution.

Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are examples of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.

In the United States, the wealth of a community is not nearly as good a predictor of hazardous waste locations as the ethnic background of the residents, suggesting that the selection of sites for hazardous waste disposal involves racism. These minority communities may be easier targets for environmental racism because they are less likely to organize and protest than their middle or upper class white counterparts. This lack of protest could be due to fear of losing their jobs, thereby jeopardizing their economic survival.

In brief, environmental racism is the idea that black communities, because of their economic or political vulnerabilities, are targeted for the placement of noxious facilities, locally unwanted land uses, and environmental hazards.

The main victims of environmental racism have been poor black areas in the South. The ground breaking book Dumping in Dixie by Dr. Robert D. Bullard was one of the first to provide details on this disturbing phenomenon.

Bullard’s book was written in 1990. Fast forward to 2009, and it doesn’t look like things have changed at all. In December of last year, there was a huge spill of toxic coal ash around Kingston, Tennessee. The clean-up effort – you guessed it – seems to include a lot of dumping in Dixie.

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Quality of Life, by Race and Gender: the Human Development Index

How do you measure the quality of life in broad terms for nations, or large groups within nations?

Most quantitative measures of quality of life are based on standard of living statistics, which in turn are based mostly on income or other purely economic factors.

A group called the Human Development Project (the Project) finds fault with that approach, saying that other measures are needed to truly understand how well people are living:

The indicators most frequently deployed in evaluating public welfare-GDP, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ, consumer spending and the like-only address one aspect of the American experience.

The human development model emphasizes the broader, everyday experience of ordinary people, including the economic, social, legal, psychological, cultural, environmental processes that shape the range of options available to us.

This approach has gained support around the world as a valuable tool in analyzing the well-being of large population groups.

The Project has developed a rating system called the Human Development Index which measures achievement in three basic categories:
• long and healthy life (as indicated by life expectancy at birth)
• access to knowledge (indicated by al degree attainment and school enrollment)
• decent standard of living (indicated by median earnings)

By applying these measures, the Project has developed the following Human Development Index scores for the United States, by race and gender:

American Human Development Index (HD) Rankings by Race and Gender, 2005
human-development-race-ranking-table5
* Enrollment can exceed 100% if persons 25 years old or more are enrolled in school.
Source: The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009

Of note:

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MUST READ! The American Prospect, October 2008 Issue on Race and the Economy

I want to give my readers a Buy recommendation for the October 2008 issue of American Prospect magazine. It contains a Special Report insert titled The Color of Opportunity – Narrowing Racial Divides and Expanding Prosperity for All that is required reading.

The American Prospect is a progressive magazine that covers political, economic, social, and cultutral issues. Thanks to the support of several foundations, the Prospect has prepared a detailed review of the economic state of Americans in general and African Americans in particular. Thankfully, they’ve made the Special Report available on-line.


This graphic shows several of the articles in American Prospect’s Special Report on race and economics.

The tone of the Special Report is set by the lead piece “The Economic Crisis in Black and White,” which states:

Today, the U.S. economy is facing one of its greatest challenges in decades. The recent seven-year economic expansion netted a record for producing the fewest jobs since Herbert Hoover was president. The median income for American households has not kept up with inflation. So as the economy slows, households are in a weaker position than they were when the expansion began in 2001.

Yet, while the economy has failed American workers — generating more inequality than growth, more debt than income — discussing solutions to America’s economic woes rekindles America’s racial cleavage. White voters are asked to weigh issues such as trade and its effects on wages and jobs, or the complications of providing health care and its effects on take-home pay and retirement benefits, or the rising costs of college tuitions on their children’s futures.

But black voters are too often given a lecture on presumed black pathologies — a lack of interest in education and the skills needed to compete, a weak sense of family, and high criminal proclivities.

One could easily assume that white America was doing fine, and if black America would only get its act together, black Americans would be doing just as well. You might almost believe that the hundreds of thousands of jobs America has lost in manufacturing in the last seven years were only lost by lazy, poorly educated African Americans too busy having babies to get the skills to keep their jobs. You might almost believe that gas and food prices were rising only for black Americans, preventing only their wages from keeping up with the rising costs of living.

This bifurcation in the discussion of America’s economic woes blocks identification of the true similarities and differences among workers of different races. The usual frame leads African Americans to experience white views as insensitive to their plight — while for whites it dangerously masks the broader rise in economic inequality.

Whites too easily see the black economic condition as the result of failing lifestyles, not a failing economy. Blacks too easily put the blame on either their own shortcomings or on discrimination.

Properly understood, what has befallen the black community should be viewed as water coming into the steerage section of an ocean liner — special problems for those getting wet but a clear sign the entire ship is in trouble. The current debate on black pathologies is delaying a call for getting out the lifeboats and ensuring a fair distribution of those lifeboats — and building a more sea-worthy ship for the next voyage. So far, the result has been, as with the Titanic, lifeboats for the rich in first class.

The articles in the Special Report are well written, informative, and enlightening. This is must reading, especially given the increasingly held view among experts that the American economy is going to get worse before it gets better.

The Measure of America: Economic Factoids

From the site Measure of America:

• The richest 20 percent of all U.S. households earned more than half of the nation’s total income in 2006.

• The top 1 percent of U.S. households possesses a full third of America’s wealth.

• Households in the top 10 percent of the income distribution hold more than 71 percent of the country’s wealth, while those in the lowest 60 percent possess just 4 percent.

• Nearly one in five American children lives in poverty, with more than one in thirteen living in extreme poverty.

• The poverty line for a family of four (two adults and two children) is an income of $21,027 before taxes; in 2006, more than 36 million Americans were classified poor by this definition.

• In every racial/ethnic group, men earn more than their female counterparts.

• In 1980, the average executive earned forty-two times as much as the average factory worker; today, executives earn some four hundred times what factory workers in their industries earn.

• In 2004, median net worth was $140,800 for whites, and $24,900 for nonwhites.

• The real value of the minimum wage has decreased by 40 percent in the past forty years.

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The Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class Blacks

Earlier, I referenced an essay by economist and writer Marcellus Andrews in the Black Commentator titled “No Exit in Black/ Trapped by the Economy and Politics.”

In his essay, Andrews voices the concern that “the unique solidarity between the black middle class and the black poor will soon end as the pressure of economic survival turns former allies into enemies.” He goes into detail about this:

The hard truth of our time is that the economic needs of poor black people are much closer to those of other poor Americans than they are to those of middle class blacks. Poor blacks, like all poor people in America, need an immense array of social goods and services that they cannot pay for – from health care and education to safe streets and housing. Middle class blacks, like all middle class Americans, want high quality public services balanced against low taxes in a society of self-reliant individuals.

Middle class black people support greater degrees of regulation and redistribution in economic life because they are poorer than whites and are still subject to discrimination. But the black middle class does not need or want government to the same degree as poor blacks because they are no longer trapped in the basement of the American job market. Many middle class black people are no more interested in paying taxes to support poor people than their white counterparts, not least because they see themselves as proof that hard work and perseverance in the face of white nationalism can pay off in still all-too-racist America.

Some people will say that the black middle class’s slow abandonment of the black poor is a sell out to white America, the act of selfish Uncle Toms who have forgotten what it is like to suffer as racial and class outcasts in this society. Nothing could be further from the truth or more irrelevant. Black middle class abandonment of the black poor is perfectly consistent with a strong sense of racial pride that nonetheless blames poor black people for making their bad situation worse. It is perfectly possible for middle class blacks to be angry at conservative white people and poor black people at the same time.”

Now there is evidence which bears out Andrews’ concerns. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, which is reported in “Optimism about Black Progress Declines – Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class,” reveals income/class differences in the views of black Americans on a range of issues. The Center is a non-partisan think tank.

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The Coming Betrayal of the Black Poor

Marcellus Andrews is an economist and writer on economic policy and economic justice issues. He wrote a searing essay in the Black Commentator titled “No Exit in Black/ Trapped by the Economy and Politics” after the 2004 elections that really really scared me. And you might be very very afraid too once you’ve read it.

His main point:

(O)ne gets the sense that black America is at a breaking point in matters of politics. The old alliance between blacks and the Democrats is about to end while the war between blacks and conservatives is going to get much worse. Most of all, the unique solidarity between the black middle class and the black poor will soon end as the pressure of economic survival turns former allies into enemies.

Poor black people are about to become the victims of a great political betrayal that is as predictable as it is awful. This betrayal is due to the unyielding logic of modern economic life, which has slowly but inexorably destroyed the basis for black unity.

Andrews comes to this conclusion based on conflicts between rich and poor, and Republicans and Democrats… conflicts that place the the black middle class right in the middle, to the point where the need to protect themselves means they must leave poor blacks defenseless.

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