Racism: Alive and kicking through the environment

Environmental racism has a long, disturbing history in the United States. Although pollution is widespread almost everywhere today, across time we have seen that certain communities have been burdened with a disproportionate number of contaminants in their air, soil, and water: predominantly minority groups on low income.

Industrial polluters like landfills, trash incinerators, and toxic waste dumps near residential areas, adversely affect the health of people nearby. Poverty-stricken groups are further compromised by a lack of access to supermarkets offering healthy food. Those who work on environmental justice issues refer to this package of inequities as ‘environmental racism.’

Recently, opponents of the East 91st Street garbage-transfer facility in Manhattan, launched an ad- campaign attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio, for purportedly ignoring Upper East Side minorities and continuing to build the station. The waste site will sit only 300-feet from housing blocks, and will also be uncomfortably close to a school and recreation grounds used by children in the area.

The 30-second video titled “De Blasio’s Dirty Little Secret,” features several unnamed local individuals expressing their concerns about the facility, scheduled to open in 2016. One woman states “just because we’re minorities and live in public housing doesn’t mean we should get treated any differently.”

“Pledge 2 Protect” — the group who created the video, is comprised of Upper East Side residents who want to spread awareness and condemn the project.

Yet, critics of the group point out that the sum of money spent on making the ad has not been disclosed. Expected to run on local networks and online, the video encapsulates the feel of a discriminated community. But Curbed NY reveals that the amount spent on production exceeded $1.2 million; the money coming from a downtown law firm by the name of Marquart & Small. Raising questions as to whether low-income residents could have produced it alone.

Although the ad focuses on the transfer station’s proximity to two NYCHA buildings, the dumpsite will be a few blocks away from Gracie Mansion, the residency of the Mayor of New York, and adjacent to one of New York’s most affluent neighborhoods.

In fact the only public housing, for those of low to moderate income on the Upper East Side, is located just south of the neighborhood’s northern limit at 96th Street, bordering Harlem. The legitimacy of the ad has been questioned: are minority groups just being used as a backdrop to the real resistance of the waste-dump from wealthier neighbours?

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