Cradle to Congress: Theory on Solving Environmental Racism through Activism and Thought

Environmental racism, and those that seek to de-legitimize and further perpetuate it, has dominated much of communities of color’s interaction with (or, in this case, without) the environmentalist movement in the United States. Although it may be non-polemic to attribute the underlying reasons for environmental racism to larger social trends, it also remains vital to pinpoint specific people and organizations that are environmentally racist.

That is, the United States and the smaller local communities that make it up must actively work to examine those affected by environmental policy in both large and small ways. Activists both within affected communities and within privileged communities must come together to demonstrate and lobby government and the public for change. Our elected officials must be responsive to their concerns that ultimately affect us all.

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According to anthropologist Robert D. Bullard, grassroots efforts deal most efficiently and effectively with stagnant local and national governments.  Events like the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, first held October 1991, allow grassroots groups to meet and discuss effective methods while also allowing for high degrees of independence and flexibility.

Aside from political activism, environmental racism can also be combatted through general community building and community synthesis. By fighting institutional racism and systemic disadvantages faced by people of color, one also dismantles the social instability that environmental racism relies on to be so successful. Psychologist Phyllis A. Katz notes that major steps to eliminating racism include social consciousness and conversation about race, breaking down barriers to entry for minorities to education, and helping children to empathize as a way of breaking the cycle of racism. Volunteering, big-brother and big-sister programs, and other ways of direct service help to alleviate division along areas of race and poverty.

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Overall, environmental racism is fought by the active and deliberate efforts of individuals coming together to lobby government and our social consciousness to end divisive policy that preys on society’s weakest.

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2 thoughts on “Cradle to Congress: Theory on Solving Environmental Racism through Activism and Thought

  1. I would be careful with calling minority communities “society’s weakest”. I can understand that these smaller communities tend to have less representation and thereby have less defense when larger agendas come into play, but to call them “society’s weakest” seems to diminish their sense of agency. These communities are filled with citizens who are fully capable and are strong members of their communities. To say that they need “big brother” to step in, says to the world “these people are not able to take care of themselves” and in itself denotes a racism in this sort of “white man’s burden” sort of way.

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    1. I would definitely agree with your assessment that that attitude towards minority communities suggest, but as I went into more depth in my analysis post, I take a more nuanced approach than the simple pity-trope. It is a fact that these communities have far less sway with government and are more affected by environmental racism. To simply dismiss our larger social duty to help those without as much power is to, in my opinion, ignore the blight of inequality as a whole. As I also note, their involvement and leadership within activism is of the upmost importance as well.

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