By Pashon Murray & Nya Marshall
Some of our ancestors arrived on the shores of America. No one knows how long they had been held captive before arriving here, but their arrival and brutalization would lead to an intricate framework that — in many ways — is still in place today.
This is the framework that places an oil refinery in the heart of a mostly low-income, Black and brown communities. All communities should be sustainable in order for us to impact climate change. You can’t have a solution with voids. Climate change impacts everyone which requires a unified effort.
It is also the same framework that allowed dumping of questionable chemicals along waterways and in communities of color, while keeping more stringent rules in place for another locality that never suffered the same level of environmental harm—if any at all. The regulation and laws have to hold all of us equally accountable whether it’s corporation or individual citizens.
Americans recently marked Juneteenth which is now recognized as a national holiday. Juneteenth observes the day in 1867 when the last enslaved Americans in Texas found out they were free. It was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Despite the freedoms granted in the Proclamation, and the laws written to include us since, America is still built on a system of frameworks that work best when Black, brown, and poor people are subjugated to the lowest possible standard of living. Redlining and gerrymandering are the result of the lack of freedom and human rights, if we were truly free than we wouldn’t need to vote on voting laws, America would protect all of us and grant us the right to vote.
There have been more liberties granted to Black people since 1865, but true freedom has been illusive for the past five generations. The homes that our great-grandparents purchased in neighborhoods that were once considered to be middle-class and affluent now have little value as they sit in the middle of blight and environmental disaster. Gentrification is another tactic and strategy to control the communities in which we reside, why?
Environmental, industrial, and economic decisions like this essentially stopped much of the Black community from building wealth. In rare cases, economic hubs saw Black American dreams realized for residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s, “Black Wall Street” or even Detroit’s “Black Bottom” and “Paradise Valley” districts. But, even in each of these cases, Black neighborhoods were destroyed; usually to make way for (more) white wealth. The very lines that are drawn to decide who can vote for what are redrawn again and again as the cycle of white flight to gentrification and back again continues. This gerrymandering is blatant disenfranchisement, purposefully squeezing the power from our communities. In the instances that Black people see traction on legislation that benefits our people, too often long filibusters delay or kill the votes needed to turn our grassroots action into law.
But, we can take that power back. According to the US Department of Energy, 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.”
That means that we all have an opportunity to dictate what corrections should be made to reverse some of the generational damage done to our bodies and the places we call home.
Human and environmental rights have been violated, let’s focus on the equitable lens and environmental justice? We have to dismantle economic exploitation, social degradation and political oppression.
How will you make sure your neighborhood is included in the city’s plans?