Reposted from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Michigan, Open Your Eyes to Racism
The gruesome violence that erupted in Virginia last week was a terrible reminder of the stark reality of racism in the United States. It’s a hatred imbalance of power wrought from the treacherous past. The explosive clashes, tragically resulted in the death of a young woman Heather Heyer. In her obituary, published by the New York Times, they describes Heather as a young passionate woman who died standing up for what she believed in: love and equality.
Equality. This is a notion that the Alt Right explicitly denounces. It’s a notion rejected by Vanguard, the group James Alex Fields Jr.—the man charged for striking 19 and killing Heather Heyer with a Charger– reportedly marched with in the Charlottesville rallies. Although the group denounced his actions, and deny his membership, Vanguard’s ruthless intentions were laid bare for the nation to see– a vision of the United States fortified by hatred. Their manifesto details “that equality does not exist in nature, and a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notions of equality.” It rails multiculturalism, “international Jews”, and sees men as the sole provider for women.
In Environmental Justice work, we fight every day for equality. It is not just a concept, rather it is a moral imperative, that has far ranging impacts even down to the molecules of the air that we breathe. Equality decides who has the right to live, and for how long. Whether we are talking about losing your home in the foreclosure crisis[i], the per pupil amount distributed to students[ii], health disparities[iii], the amount ofchemical pollution we breathe[iv] [to name a few], all are injustices, and, none of them are distributed equally in our society. Rather, each of these issues are racialized. That is, if you are a person of color, you are statistically more likely in every category to be on the losing end. And that is so true for Michigan.
In the case of Flint, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights found that the underlying issues of racism contributed to the water contamination crisis in Flint. MDCR, publicly stated, “a complex mix of historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias led to decisions, actions, and consequences in Flint would not have been allowed to happen in primarily white communities such as Birmingham, Ann Arbor, or East Grand Rapids.”
In the wake of the Flint Water Crisis the Governor of Michigan formed the Environmental Justice Working Group to explore possible solutions to help forestall or foresee other catastrophes. Residents from SW Detroit zip code 48217 – known as Michigan’s most polluted zip code—organized and hosted a listening session for working group members to hear local concerns. Local residents asked for so many things, from an EJ Office, to more pollution mitigation funding. But none more poignant that the local nurse, pleading nearly in tears on behalf of the asthmatic teenagers who visit her River Rouge clinic, “they want to breathe, they want to breathe”. Detroit has three times the asthma rate than the rest of the state.
So, is our society equal? No. We have proven that over and over in every sector from here to the moon. The conversation that is present now is whether or not you believe it. Are you of the ilk of Vanguard, James Fields and the Alt Right which seeks to deny it? Or do you deeply and profoundly agree in equality, what Heather Heyer was marching for? And if so, what are you going to do about it?
The full report on the Detroit Opportunity Index, and other major cities, can be seen on the Kirwin Institute website of Ohio State University
Michelle Martinez is the Coordinator for theMichigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and the Executive Director of Third Horizon Consulting, a Detroit-based social justice consulting firm.
State of MichiganEnvironmental Justice Working Group Northern Michigan Listening Session Thursday, August 24th, 2017, 6:00 PM Reception, 6:30 – 8:30 PM Listening Session, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, MI 49610, State of Michigan Working Group Website