Category: justice

A Frank Discussion about Race, Pollution, and Justice

Brentin Mock

Some people have the idea that climate change conversations only center around polar bears or parts per million of carbon dioxide. I sat down with two African-Americans concerned about the environmental health impacts on people of color. It is a moving and challenging conversation. I also chat with Tyree Daye, a poet from North Carolina who reads from his book of poems, River Hymns.

Dr. Natasha DeJarnett

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After 10 years of reporting on race, culture, and civil rights, Brentin Mock embraced environmental issues as his new beat. That was in 2008. He has since become a leading voice highlighting environmental racism in America.  He speaks with Citizens Climate Radio host, Peterson Toscano about pollution, segregation, asthma, and mobility. Brentin also speaks candidly about failures of predominately white environmental organizations that attempt to reach out to people of color. He shares why these attempts fail and what climate advocates can do to build a more diverse coalition. Also joining the discussion is Dr. Natasha DeJarnett, environmental health policy analyst from the American Public Health Association. She outlines statistics on historical and contemporary pollution and how air and water pollution pose severe heath risks for everyone, but espeically people of color in the USA.

  • African-Americans faced 54% higher health burden from air pollution (particulate matter) compared to the overall population. Communities of color overall had a 28% higher health burden compared to the overall population (Mikati et al., 2018).
  • Communities of color have higher exposure rates to air pollution than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. A study monitoring 12 air pollutants showed that whites had the lowest exposures, non-Hispanic blacks had higher exposures than whites to 13 of the 14 pollutants. Hispanics generally had the highest exposures (Bell & Ebisu, 2012). Some of the pollutants studied including particulate matter, nitrate, chlorine, nickel are connected to repertory illnesses, asthma, and cardiovascular issues.
  • From a 2010 CDC report, seven million American children have asthma, about one out of ten. One out of every six black child has asthma (CDC, 2010). The reported rate rose 50% between 2001 and 2010.
  • In 2000 and 2010, disparities in nitrogen dioxide concentrations were larger by race-ethnicity than by income. Black and Hispanic people experienced 37% higher exposures to NO2 than white people in 2010 (Clark et al., 2017). NO2 is linked to asthma symptoms, increased susceptibility to repertory problems and heart disease (EPA).
  • Most communities located next to, and directly affected by the operations of, corporate, industrial, or service facilities are low-income, communities of color, and other systemically oppressed groups. This placement exposes these groups of people to health, economic, and social hazards. Over 1 million African-Americans live in counties facing cancer risks above the EPA’s level of concern from toxins emitted by natural gas facilities. (Franklin, 2018)
  • The percentage of black people in fenceline zones is 75% greater than for the U.S. as a whole, while the percentage of Latino people is 60% greater than for the U.S. as a whole (Orum et al., 2014). Larger, more chemical-intensive facilities tend to be located in counties with larger black populations and counties with high levels of income inequality.
  • People of color are more likely to be exposed to environmental threats than are whites of the same social class. Race is a powerful predictor of many environmental hazards including the distribution of air pollution, location of municipal solid waste facilities, location of abandoned toxic waste sites, toxic fish consumption, and lead poisoning in children (Bullard, 1993).
  • People of color make up nearly half the population in fenceline zones (11.4 million), and are almost twice as likely as whites to live near dangerous chemical facilities. Children of color make up almost two-thirds of the 5.7 million children who live within one mile of a high-risk chemical facility in the United States. Facilities in communities of color have almost twice the rate of incidents compared to those in predominately white neighborhoods – one incident per six facilities compared to one incident per 11 facilities (Starbuck & White, 2016).

(Special thanks to Dr. Natasha DeJarnett and Siena Fouse from the APHA for Dig Deeper content)

Interconnected: love, sex, class, race, justice, and much more

Intersectionality is at last a term that is being talked about in more places. There is a growing understanding about how our lives intersect, overlap, influence, and too often interfere with each other. This interference happens with some groups far more than others.

From Wikipedia:

“Intersectionality (or intersectionalism) is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. An example is black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black, and of being a woman, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.”

This may sound too academic for some. In my own work I use comedy, memoir, and storytelling to explore the interplay of power and privilege in my own weird life. I spent nearly 20 years  desperately trying (and failing) to become a masculine heterosexual.

There were many reasons I pursued this ridiculous and ultimately dangerous course. My Conservative anti-gay faith at the time played a big role. The HIV/AIDS Crisis added pressure. Fear and shame soaked my brain and caused me to consistently make poor choices.

I also have to admit that as a fem, gay, working class, Roman Catholic, Italian American in Ronald Reagan’s America and then in white Evangelical churches, I felt a distinct loss of power and privilege compared to what other white men experienced. In part, my quest to become straight was so that I could become a recognized member of the group that was most protected from oppression, domination, and discrimination—white, anglo saxon, heterosexual, masculine, Protestant, upper middle class, married, healthy men.

As a result, I submitted to oppression, domination, and discrimination in Jesus’ name in hopes I would come out a winner. I am not proud of this fact, but I understand why I felt so desperate to change myself so deeply.

Since coming to my senses and coming out gay, I keep finding oppression, domination, and discrimination in the worlds I inhabit.  At times I experience oppression in the world in part because of my gayness, but I also move in and out of privileged spaces.

When I came out gay among white gay men in Memphis, I witnessed racism, sexism, classism, and transphobia among my peers. I saw similar oppressions in progressive liberal LGBTQ communities in New England. In fact, I see this happen in many areas of life and society.

As I have begun to do work around climate change, I see over and over how climate change affects women more than men, people of color more than white people, and lower income earners more than middle class and upper class people.

In short, when it comes to religious communities, queer organizations and community, and also on a rapidly warming planet:

We are all in the same boat together—just not all on the same deck.

The good news is that as we can become aware of a variety of experiences in the world, and we can work in solidarity with diverse people. While it often feels painful to have power and privilege revealed in ourselves, our work, lives, and our relationships are richer all around, more sustainable, and more justice minded when we see things in the light.

For me climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. Still I must recognize that people different from me are in immediate conflicts, crises, and concerns that are most pressing for them.

Salvador Dali’s The discovery of America by Columbus. Post-colonial studies were the first to explore the concept of intersectionality.

Who has the energy to take it all in and care for it all? While I understand my current leading is to break the collective silence about climate change and stir up Americans and their ability to engage in collective political action, I feel it is my responsibility to understand and to grow in understanding about many current issues that need vital, sustained attention: incarceration and the systemic racial injustice in the criminal justice, immigration policy and the policing of migrants, immigrants and their families, threats to the rights and freedoms of women, indigenous rights to land and clean water, and the array of issues that queer, transgender, gender non-binary, bisexual, lesbian, same gender loving, and gays face, (and how these queer lives and bodies intersect with immigration, criminal justice, indigenous rights, women’s rights, health care, etc.)

As a result, I find myself asking what some think are odd questions:

  • What are queer responses to climate change?
  • How is Black Lives Matter affected by climate change?
  • As a Bible scholar, what justice lessons can I learn about climate migrants in the Book of Genesis?

Finally, in these days of political turmoil, one can feel overwhelmed and unfocused. Many people are discerning their roles on this rapidly changing planet. With so many important issues tugging at us, many of us must discover our leading and calling so that we can remain focused.

As we do, we need to develop the willingness and ability to encompass other issues, some that overlap our own passions.

  • How do we care deeply for the area where we feel called to serve while also remaining open, available, and supportive towards others with different callings?
  • How do we maintain openness to see the interconnectedness of multiple social justice concerns? How do we develop the opportunities and ability to listen deeply to other people’s experiences?
  • How do we allow what we learn to shape our leadings without distracting us from them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about these important issues. What are some of your answers to the questions above?

(Featured image by Frida Kahlo as seen at Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL)

The Killing of Alton Sterling–This violence is brought to you by taxpayers

Another Outrageous Killing

Like a lot of Americans I’ve heard about the violent death of Alton Sterling at the hands of two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As with Tamar Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and others, whose names have become familiar through their deaths and the relentless work of many to say their names, Sterling’s death is outrageous. From looking at the shocking and sickening video it seems more apt to call the death a murder or an assassination.

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The Death Toll Rises Daily

As of this morning, the number of people killed by police in America is 558. 15 of those in just the first six days of July.

One of my Facebook friends from the UK, Tim Crowhurst,  put the numbers into perspective. “In a typical year, US cops kill more than 1000 civilians. In the UK the equivalent number is 2. Accounting for differences in population size, this means Americans are 10,000% more likely than Brits to be killed by those who duty is ostensibly to serve and protect.”

And if you are a person of color and male in the USA the likelihood of violence at the hands of law enforcers increases. The Guardian has a grisly counter of all the people killed by police in the USA. It includes names–when they are known–US state where they were killed, and cause of death–which is mostly gunshot, although some died in custody or from an officer with a taser.

The Disproportion of Black Deaths

black-peolple-killed-by-policeAll of these deaths are tragic, and I imagine most if not all are completely unnecessary. This year like most years white victims outnumber the people of color who die at the hands of police.

But when we break those numbers down, we see that based on the number of people of color in the USA, they experience this violence at a higher rate. 3.21 Black people per million are killed compared to 1.35 of white people. 3.4 Native Americans and 1.51 Hispanic/Latino people per million are victims of police violence during arrest and in custody.

While the media fixates on what they call riots, I am much more concerned with police departments funded by my tax dollars locally and federally. This is beyond a crisis–this is an outrage–an epidemic of violence, and I help finance it.

Police Violence Denial?

As someone who is a climate advocate, I run across denial and skepticism from people, who even with mountains of evidence still need further proof that our climate is rapidly changing and our pollution is the cause. Similarly I find that fellow whites (some? many?) harbor doubts about the chronic police violence against Black men and other people of color. They cringe at the words racism and white supremacy and systemic racial oppression.

o-SANDRA-BLAND-facebookAs a white person, I have been raised to trust the police and distrust anyone labelled a perpetrator, particularly non-whites. I have been taught by the media and other white dominated social institutions and in social circles to give the police the benefit of the doubt–to always assume they had just cause and that they are basically good people doing their jobs. That or they are mostly good guys with a few bad apples.

But how can I deny the numbers? Why should I try? And how is it that even if it were just a few bad apples that virtually none of these killings by police end up in a conviction of the officer responsible?

My Taxes Dollars at Work: Financing the Police

My tax dollars fund the police. My tax dollars fund the police violence. My tax dollars fund the racist police violence.

They, the police and police departments in all of our towns and cities and states, are accountable to tax payers and non-taxpayers–children like Tamir Rice and those who do not earn enough to pay taxes. They are accountable to the citizens on the street regardless if they are suspected of criminal activity or not. The police have the mandate to serve and protect–not do disservice to the people of color and the destruction to families.

Be Disturbed enough to Act

You will hear a lot about Alton Sterling. White people may feel disturbed, as we should. We have blood on our hands. We have the responsibility to open our eyes, listen, learn, and work out how we can move beyond being a barely conscious bystander to someone engaged in the struggle to stop this violence.

Mourning and Outrage. Charleston Shootings

Like many Americans I have been reading about the events that unfolded in Charleston, SC. The attack at Emanuel AME Church is tragic and outrageous. Read about the victims for yourself. Follow Broderick Greer, Mackenzian, Wil Gafney and others on Twitter to hear from Black Americans sharing their pain, insight, and rage over this most recent attack on Black lives, one of many in a string of violence against Black people on the streets, in custody, and at a pool party.

As I posted on my Facebook Wall:

This is a day of mourning in the USA for those killed through a hate crime against Black citizens. This was a terrorist act perpetuated in an historic landmark that has been a site of on-going Black justice work and of white supremacist violence in the past. This was the assassination of an elected official who through his office spoke out in support of health care, putting people over politics.

Reading the stories of some of victims is heartbreaking. It also is absolutely rage worthy. The nation was outraged on 911 and with the Boston Marathon bombings because foreign-born terrorists attacked on US soil. Be outraged that a white American attacked Black citizens in this brazen act of white supremacy. .

As a white American Christian man, I choose to expose and oppose white supremacy. Be angry and mourn. And stand with the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ Movement
Here is information about some the victims of the attack that have been confirmed. ABC reports on the victims here:

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A mother of three, reverend, and high school track coach, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was killed while attending a prayer group at Emanuel AME Church.

A mother of three, reverend, and high school track coach, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was killed while attending a prayer group at Emanuel AME Church.

Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, was also one of the victims of the shooting, coroner Rae Wooten confirmed at a press conference on Thursday. The minister was a mother of four daughters. She sang in the church’s choir and spoke at the pulpit with Rev. Pinckney, the Post and Courier reported.

Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, was also one of the victims of the shooting, coroner Rae Wooten confirmed at a press conference on Thursday. The minister was a mother of four daughters. She sang in the church’s choir and spoke at the pulpit with Rev. Pinckney, the Post and Courier reported.

 

Susie Jackson, 87, was also a victim of the attack, the coroner confirmed. She was a member of the Eastern Light Chapter No. 360 Order of the Eastern Star, according to a community activist on Twitter

Susie Jackson, 87, was also a victim of the attack, the coroner confirmed. She was a member of the Eastern Light Chapter No. 360 Order of the Eastern Star, according to a community activist on Twitter

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Another woman, named Myra Thompson, was killed at the church, where a bible study group was meeting Wednesday night. Thompson’s daughter Denise Quarles confirmed that her mother died and declined to comment further.

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Ethel Lee Lance, a sexton at the church, was also killed in the shooting, confirmed her daughter Rev. Sharon Rischer. “Granny was the heart of the family,” her grandson Jon Quil Lance told The Post and Courieroutside Medical University Hospital. She had worked at the church for more than 30 years, he told the newspaper. “She’s a Christian, hardworking; I could call my granny for anything. I don’t have anyone else like that,” he said.

 

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Daniel L. Simmons, a retired pastor from another church in Charleston, died in the shooting, his daughter-in-law, Arcelia Simmons of Newport News, Virginia, confirmed. Simmons attended Emanuel AME Church every Sunday for services and Wednesdays for bible study, she said.

 

 

Be angry and mourn. And stand with the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ Movement.

I don't know what to say about Baltimore, except that as a citizen my tax dollars pay for policing, education, economic development etc, not rioting. There is no rioting item in the federal budget and my tax dollars do not fund anyone burning a CVS Pharmacy. So I want to have a conversation about improving policing, education, and economic development--including eliminating racism from government--not about whether desperate people should riot or not. Let impoverished inner city Baltimore residents discuss rioting, and let citizens like me discuss improving government. Right?

- Glen Retief

Irene Monroe on MLK: A dream beyond race.

Last year I got to hear Rev. Irene Monroe speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation at Susquehanna University. I always appreciate the ways that Monroe brings her whole self to her work as a woman who is Black, queer, a person of faith, a scholar, and more. She embodies the intersections she speaks about in her articles and talks.

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Rev. Irene Monroe

Today she published a Faith in Action opinion piece, King’s Dream Went Beyond Race. She writes:

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the Civil Rights Movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job in keeping King’s dream alive is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

She goes on to point out:

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.

Read the article for yourself. Monroe offers clear direction and without shaming anyone, helps us see that we have work to do within ourselves as well as in the wider world.

 

MLK, JR image Credit Vanderbilt University.