October, 2017 marks the 30 year anniversary of the publication of Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. In 1987, the United Church of Christ performed an exhaustive study comparing US Census data with information on environmental health hazards. The study showed what many of our communities had been saying for many decades: people of color in the US are more likely to be exposed to toxics of all sorts. This includes landfills, factories, refineries, highways, and shipping depots, among many others.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. The United States was explicitly founded on white supremacist principles, with only white male landowners having permission to own land and vote. The accumulation of wealth and systems of land use they created lead to certain areas being sacrifice zones: areas where property values were lower, and “less desirable” communities would be forced to live. This history, uncomfortable as it may be, is why certain parts of every city and state have lower market values with higher density populations of people of color and low incomes. Fiscally-minded, colorblind planners designate such areas to become the sites of new polluting infrastructure while delivering far fewer benefits from investments in affordable housing, transportation, green space, or other sustainable economic development.
Ten years ago, using the best available data, an update to the report entitled Toxic Wastes and Race at 20 was produced. The report demonstrated that the dynamic of racial bias in siting toxics hadn’t improved. If anything, the report concluded that the situation was worse than it was in 1987.
Thirty years after the original production of this seminal report, we know not much has changed. Our communities still face overexposure to environmental health hazards, including on-road mobile air toxics emissions, point sources of emissions from factories, lacking pedestrian and bicycle safety infractructure which puts our communities at greater risk in walking and biking, a lack of affordable, accessible, reliable, efficient mass transit infrastructure, and much, much more. Atop all this, the threats our communities face from white supremacists, police misconduct and disproportionate sentencing, worker exploitation, and the current and future impacts of climate change.
All month long, OPAL will be collecting stories from highly-impacted communities across the state. We’re asking our supporters to share their experiences with any of these problems, and others you experience or know about – economic, environmental, or white supremacist. Share your Oregon Horror Story here. As we move ahead, OPAL and our partners across Oregon will take this guidance into consideration when we envision the campaigns of the coming years.
We celebrate the United Church of Christ and their Commission for Racial Justice for contributing hard data, further catalyzing the struggle for Environmental Justice. And we push ahead, knowing our work is not yet done. As long as there is environmental racism, economic exploitation, and climate injustice in our state, OPAL will be here to defend the frontline communities, those who feel the impacts first and worst. Please contribute your input to our Oregon Horror Story campaign, and help us continue to lead the movement for a safe and healthy environment in the places we live, work, learn, pray and play.