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Environment Racism

The environmental racism is defined as a tendency to heap environmental dangers on the disadvantaged groups especially marginalized racial minorities. In fact, the advantaged groups often consciously put the disadvantaged in harm’s way to avoid risk to themselves. It is common to see toxic dumps, garbage incinerators, and other environmentally dangerous installations built in the poor communities than in the affluent communities in US and western European countries and other developing countries as well. The main reasons being the disadvantaged people are often politically weak to challenge the authorities besides they do not want to leave their jobs.

According to Bullard, the 75-mile strip along the lower Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge has been nicknamed “Cancer Alley” because the largely black population of the region suffers from unusually high rates of lung, stomach, pancreatic, and other cancer. This small area is the source of fully one-quarter of the petrochemicals produced in the USA containing more than 100 oil refineries and chemical plants. It is a common example of environmental racism where a disadvantaged racial minority is exposed to the harmful impact of oil refineries intently without giving choices to the local people.

According to Robert Brym (2009), one of the biggest disasters of recent years was Hurricane Katrina that hit the American Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. Its effect was especially devastating in New Orleans, where environmental racism transformed the face of the city. Before Katrina hit, New Orleans was two-thirds African American and one-quarter non-Hispanic white. Black–white income inequality was substantially greater there than in the United States as a whole. New Orleans was poor, black, segregated, unequal, violent and exposed as per the socio-economic indicators. Time magazine had published an article about the flood dangers facing the city at least five years prior to the onslaught of Hurricane. It included a computer- generated map showing how deep the waters would rise if category 5 hurricanes came lashing out of the Gulf of Mexico and headed straight toward the city. Scientists knew not only what would happen if a Katrina-like hurricane struck also why it would happen but no corrective measures were taken.

The main reasons that exposed New Orleans to the mercy of Hurricanes were manifold the main being the levee system along the Mississippi River eliminated the city’s first line of defense against storm surge. Without levees along the Mississippi, silt from the river’s floodwaters would stabilize land along the riverside and stop or at least slow down the sinking of coastal wetlands into the Gulf of Mexico. With the levees, silt is diverted into the Gulf, so the wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. Levees along Lake Pontchartrain, to the north of the city, were last reinforced with higher walls in 1965, when they were built to withstand a category 3 storm. No such reinforcement or repair works were done after that. In recent years, global warming due to the excessive burning of fossil fuels has put more moisture into the atmosphere that led hurricanes to become more severe,

Thus, Hurricane Katrina was the combination of a social disaster caused by deep racial inequality, poor planning, neglect, and careless disregard for the human impact on nature. A hundred thousand people predominantly from the poor districts failed to evacuate New Orleans. They were predominantly poor, black, elderly, and disabled who faced the worst flooding. Most of them didn’t own cars or have access to other means of transportation. Many of them had little or no money; all they owned was in their homes. Poor planning by inefficient government bureaucracies slowed the relief and recovery effort where survivors remained for days without food, water, or sanitation. About 2,300 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina. Most of the predominantly white, well-off districts of New Orleans are on high ground. They escaped the worst of the flooding. Today, many of the poor districts are substantially depopulated or deserted. New Orleans is now smaller, richer, and whiter, partly due to environmental racism..


Sociology: Pop Culture to Social Structure, Robert J Brym and John Lie ,2013