Black Interests

Unsafe Drinking Water for Blacks, A Result of Environmental Racism



Freelance Contribution by Sally Writes

Systemic racism prevents African Americans from having access to clean drinking water, an issue that brings to light the country’s long history of environmental racism and the utter disregard for black people’s health and well-being that result from it. Of the estimated 63 million who have been exposed to unsafe drinking water in the United States, a huge portion of the said number belong to minority communities that are predominantly black. The issue, according to a CNN report in 2017, can be best illustrated by what happened in Flint, a Michigan town with a black, Hispanic, white, and mixed-raced population. Flint, based on figures from the US Census is 57% black.

Nothing New

Exposure to toxic water is not an entirely a new phenomenon for the black community as this kind of injustice runs deep. According to African American Intellectual History Society contributor Tyler Perry, water has two roles in African American history. He writes that “water is an arena for resistance that liberates, nourishes, and sanctifies a people, but it can also be weaponized by hegemonic forces seeking to degrade, poison, or eliminate rebellious populations.

The Best Defense

Racism in America is systemic, according to British newspaper The Guardian and it can be seen just by looking at how many black men and their families are exposed to unclean drinking water. Apart from fighting back and demanding for one’s rights to clean water, there is a need for the black community to gather evidence that will stand in a biased court. This includes getting the water tested. The Flint example showed urine-coloured water full of lead and other toxins. However, others can look or seem clean and still contain contaminants.

Segregating the ‘Undesirables’

Land use management during the industrial revolution gave birth to zoning ordinances, according to American Progress. However, the focus on public health was lost over time and was later used to exclude individuals who are considered “undesirable”. In many ways, land use management in America translated to using less desirable communities for waste disposal and other activities that the non-marginalized would never tolerate. The magazine adds that this gave local governments the license to neglect poor communities and communities of color.

A Painful Reminder

The Flint example, being the latest of America’s failure to provide a basic human right to blacks, will always remind marginalized communities that environmental racism still exists. Aside from this, the Flint water tragedy corroded what is left of the trust that communities of color have in the U.S. government. While the water in Flint is now safe to drink, the tragedy has reopened old wounds and even caused further trauma to a community that is already treated unfairly.

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