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What’s the Real Cost of Environmental Racism?

by Vanessa Butterworth

August 27, 2020

The U.S. is facing a moment of racial reckoning, but what's the best way to begin to address the centuries of institutional racism?

A protest march marks Juneteenth, a day to honor Black freedom and Black resistance after four centuries of slavery in the United States. It's a sacred moment across communities to proclaim in one voice: Black Lives Matter. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. During an arrest, Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer, kept his knee on the side of Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down. During the last three minutes, Floyd was motionless. After Floyd's death, demonstrations and protests against racism and police brutality were held across the US and the world, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the movement and gathering restrictions put in place by governments to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

© Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

As Trump continues to scoff at the current COVID-19 death toll by saying “it is what it is” and recklessly reopening schools, Black people are dying from the virus at more than double the rate of anyone else. Experts say it’s in part due to the sheer amount of toxic air pollution in communities of color.

The U.S. needs real reparations and solutions to white supremacy and environmental racism, and we need it now. Black lives depend on it.

A new bill to study and develop reparation proposals for Black Americans, HR-40, has been introduced in the House — but it’s stuck in a Judiciary Committee with no plans for a vote even though a majority of Americans even want it to happen! The Congressional leadership says it needs 150 co-sponsors in order to bring it to the floor. 144 members have currently signed on.

If we can get 6 or more House members to co-sponsor HR-40, we can start formally addressing the centuries-long anti-Black racism on this country’s biggest stage.

Tell House members: Co-sponsor HR-40 and formally develop reparation proposals that address anti-Black racism in the U.S. and invest in Black futures.

Tell your House Member to Act Now!

For actual centuries, Black communities have endured physical and emotional trauma, commodification, and exploitation.

One example is Cancer Alley — a majority Black and low-income community surrounded by industrial pollution in Louisiana. They recorded one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the entire state, and at one point the whole country. This isn’t a coincidence or something that they’re doing wrong.

Communities of color have been treated as sacrifice zones for the world’s most toxic and polluting industries, with oil refineries, chemical plants, and industrial manufacturing intentionally located next to homes and schools. Racist corporations and governments believed that Blacks had less power than whites so bombarded them with battles too expensive and expansive to fight.

It only takes a glance to see that this anti-Black bias hasn’t changed all that much. Since taking office, the Trump administration has been rolling back environmental regulations on fossil fuel infrastructure and highways — projects that disproportionately impact Black and Brown people. A recent executive order was to COMPLETELY bypass environmental regulation “due to the ongoing economic crisis”.

It’s finally time for the U.S. government to start repairing the multi-generational trauma done by slavery and its present-day effects.

Many members of Congress have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now they need to listen to Black leaders who are putting forward deep, comprehensive platforms for radical change. Tell House members to co-sponsor the bill to study slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present and develop reparations proposals.

Tell your House Member to Act Now!

The U.S. is facing a moment of racial reckoning. We cannot go back.

We can’t undo the centuries of institutional racism, and we cannot go back to how things were. We must move forward, listen, and change for the better.

As the climate movement continues to fight back against the Trump administration’s irresponsible environmental rollbacks, climate deniers, and the fossil fuel industry, we also must:

  • Repair the harm from historic and present anti-Black violence to heal communities spiritually, physically, and economically
  • Invest in Black people and truly resilient energy systems that center the rights of everyone particularly those of poor, targeted, and impacted communities
  • Send fossil fuel billionaires the bill for all the climate destruction they’ve caused and ensure any penalties levied from polluters are reinvested in impacted communities.
  • Transform our extractive and exploitative economy into one that cares for people and the planet.

In order to achieve real racial justice in the U.S., we must fight on every front: in the streets, in the media, inside our own communities, and with every legislative tool we have. There’s no one solution that’ll get us to a society where everyone is truly equal and has everything they need to thrive — but the pathway is clear: we need to protect, repair, invest, and transform the status quo — and today it starts with making sure Black people in the U.S. receive the reparations they deserve.

Will you join me? Tell House members to co-sponsor the Black reparations bill, HR-40, now.

Here’s to beginning to right our wrongs.

Tell your House Member to Act Now!

Vanessa Butterworth

By Vanessa Butterworth

Vanessa currently works as the Senior Digital Strategist at Greenpeace and sits on the Rising Tide North America organizing team. Outside of paid work, she organizes with frontline groups against police brutality, gentrification, and environmental racism. Over the past ten years, she's worked on campaign, mobilization, direct action, and movement strategy across the US and Canada. She's originally from Mississauga of the New Credit Territory as known as Caledon, Ontario, but now lives in Oakland, California on Ohlone Territory.

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