In America, air and water are separate, but unequal. Environmental racism is the new Jim Crow. Yeah, yeah, I get it. The environment isn’t a person. How can it be racist? But, the most basic pieces of the environment, the air we breathe and the water we drink, are controlled and designed by people. And people can be racist. More than half of all people who live close to hazardous waste are people of color. Floodplains nationwide have high populations of blacks and Hispanics. Black children are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning as white children. This inequality is no accident. Pollution and the risk of disaster are assigned to black and brown communities through generations of discrimination and political neglect. Enslaved Africans were commodities partly because their work carried environmental risks unacceptable to whites, like exposure to heat, malaria, and mosquitoes. As Jim Crow laws created racial segregation, they also reinforced an environmental
system that still disadvantages minorities. It’s no wonder that black and hispanic children, have the highest rates of asthma. Or that hurricanes like Katrina, Sandy, and Matthew did their worst damage in communities of color. Rich white neighborhoods can update their water pipes, but not places like Flint. The Jim Crow laws are dead and gone, but the fact that people of color are still more likely to die from environmental causes is no accident.