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Environmental Racism

Racism is a significant issue that has existed since the dawn of time and has planted roots in every area of our society. When most people think about ways that racism has impacted our community, there is typically an assumption that it only affects our criminal justice system or racial stereotypes. However, racism is ingrained into our society and has significant impacts on environmental issues as well. Institutionalized racism has led to fewer environmental protections and bills, a lack of access to clean water and air, and many other problems.

It may be challenging to recognize the issues at the moment, but have you ever noticed how in wealthier neighborhoods with a smaller minority population, there are more trees and greenery than low-income communities with a larger minority population?  In April of 2013, The Washington Post conducted a study of Washington, DC’s tree canopy in different neighborhoods. The study confirmed that the wealthier neighborhoods had a plethora of greenery, and less affluent areas barely had any. It’s also important to note that wealthier neighborhoods consist of white residences, and less wealthy neighborhoods consist of mainly African American and Hispanic homes. Acknowledging the amount of tree canopy in a particular area is a good visual indicator of whether or not it is being impacted by environmental racism. However, other indicators are not visible, such as the water and air quality.

Water-related environmental issues may not always be visible but frequently affect minority communities. An example of this was the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It is not a coincidence that the predominantly black neighborhoods were subjected to drinking dangerous water unsafe for human consumption. Yet those who lived in the wealthy, mostly white neighborhood had access to clean, safe water. To this day, residents are still advised to only drink filtered water because of lead levels. In CNN’s article entitled “Flint water crisis: Report says ‘systemic racism’ played a role,” they stated that “that the residents of Flint – 40% of whom live below the poverty line – were the victims of environmental racism.”

Environmental racism affects minority communities everywhere. It’s in companies’ decision to dispose of waste in close proximity to minority neighborhoods, the higher exposure to emissions from factories and transportation, and how natural disasters devastate minority communities at higher risk. Environmental racism is a problem that we must correct because every person deserves clean air and water access. More importantly, race and class should not determine whether or not one is at a greater risk of being harmed by various environmental threats.


  • Environmental racism is a term coined to explain how minority communities are regularly harmed by various environmental factors by lack of government regulation and oversight.
  • Environmental racism is an issue that occurs globally, through the pollution of air and water at higher rates, than what one would find in non-minority communities.
  • Minority communities are typically in closer proximity to factories, waste disposal facilities, and are in greater danger of consuming contaminated water.


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