Tag Archives: racism
The Gulf oil spill that has been capturing the news cycle in the United States for the last few months finally appears to be under control, and now we’re faced with a common problem: We have a whole lot of waste from the spill and associated cleanup, and it needs to go somewhere. This includes crude oil, equipment used by cleanup crews, soiled booms, and all kinds of other spill-associated detritus.
According to a story published at Colorlines last week, nine landfills in the Gulf region have been selected as sites for disposing of waste. Waste management authorities claim the material isn’t toxic, which means that regular municipal landfills, rather than landfills specifically designed to handle hazardous waste, are being used. Of the nine landfills chosen, five are located in low income communities of colour.
This is not a coincidence. While it is true that there are a number of primarily nonwhite communities in the Gulf, and that many of these communities are also low income, thus making it statistically more probable that at least some of the waste would end up in such communities, this case is clearly an example of environmental racism. There is a very long history in the United States of pushing unwanted toxic waste into low income communities in general, and communities with large nonwhite populations in particular.
There have been rumblings over the last few months about where BP is putting the oil spill waste, and most of those rumblings have focused on outraged white communities. This distracts neatly from the far more serious issue, the fact that most of this waste would end up in nonwhite communities, and that these communities would experience serious long term consequences. Focusing on white communities also allows the media to completely ignore the overt racism involved in deciding where potentially toxic waste ends up.
From the start, the oil spill has disproportionately impacted people of colour. Many of the cleanup workers were people of colour, and BP also used primarily nonwhite prison labour in oil spill cleanup and tried to hide it. Now, with the spill cleanup winding down, waste from the spill is being dumped on nonwhite communities even as these communities struggle to recover economically from the impacts of the spill. They can look forward to leaching of oil and chemicals from their landfills in the coming decades, and reports on the ground also indicate that the waste is already poorly controlled, with oil slicks and tarballs showing up around communities being used as dumping sites.
Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why were cleanup workers wearing protective suits? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why are people who have been exposed to it getting sick? Given that this waste is supposedly ‘nontoxic,’ why is care being taken to ensure it doesn’t end up in privileged communities?
Crude oil can contain things like benzene, chromium, mercury, sulfur, toluene, and xylene. These substances are known to have deleterious effects on human health; at the very least, skin irritation and difficulty breathing. The oil spill waste also contains traces of dispersants, known to be toxic. And the government wants to stand by the claim that the waste isn’t toxic? Dumping these waste in facilities poorly equipped to handle it will result in long term environmental repercussions, in addition to human health problems.
I’ve written here before about how hazardous waste disposal methods tend to disproportionately impact communities of colour, and how they are most definitely a disability rights issue. Environmental pollution is a disability rights issue, and it’s a social justice issue. Toxic waste makes people sick. Making people sick is not ok, especially when familiar patterns of oppression can be seen in who is exposed to the greatest risks. If this waste is nontoxic, surely it can go in any landfill, and it would make sense to use landfills as close to the coast as possible, right? So the waste travels the shortest distance? What exactly was the selection process behind the nine landfills identified as sites for Gulf spill waste?
BP, like other major oil companies, has a long history of engaging in environmental pollution, including unauthorized dumping of materials known to be toxic. The vast majority of this pollution occurs in communities least equipped to fight it, and when oil companies are caught doing it, often the biggest punishment is a relatively small fine. In this case, BP isn’t being clandestine: the company is being openly invited to dump waste. The claim is that it’s ‘nonhazardous,’ but is it? Even if it’s not toxic, is it really the kind of thing we want leaching out of landfills and into waterways and farmlands?
These communities will be dealing with the repercussions of BP’s dumping well into the future, just like communities all over the world where people are sickening and dying because of toxic materials present in the environment. Just like communities where rates of chromosomal anomalies are skyrocketing as a result of exposure to toxic substances. Communities with limited support systems to help sick and disabled community members are the ones disproportionately facing an increase in chronic conditions and disabilities. A long term policy of dumping toxic pollutants on low income nonwhite communities and refusing to provide support for the consequences sends a pretty clear message to members of those communities, as well as to the rest of society.
We need to be talking about the connection between environmental pollution and racism and we need to be combating plans to dump hazardous waste on low income communities of colour, from protesting clearly racist environmental policy to working in solidarity with communities who are actively fighting toxic waste disposal in their landfills and on their sacred lands.
Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.
Photo by Flickr user widdowquinn, Creative Commons License.
Cathy Heffernan at The Guardian: Comment is Free: Stop stonewalling deaf jurors
When I received a jury summons a few years ago, I opened it up excitedly, conjuring up scenarios casting myself as a female version of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, heroically leading my jury through society’s murky prejudices to deliver a landmark decision and liberating an innocent in the process. (I had a rather romantic notion of jury service back then.)
But something stopped me in my tracks. I saw that deaf people were included among “incapable persons” under the list of ineligible people. I was stunned. I’d just graduated from university and yet here I was, considered by the Irish court system as “unfit to serve on a jury”. What’s more, I was expected to meekly sign this summons and return it – in other words, agree to their exemption.
Dr. Rob at Musings of a Distractible Mind: A Letter to Patients With Chronic Disease
Then there is the fact that you also possess something that is usually our domain: knowledge. You know more about your disease than many of us do – most of us do. Your MS, rheumatoid arthritis, end-stage kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, bipolar disorder, chronic pain disorder, brittle diabetes, or disabling psychiatric disorder – your defining pain – is something most of us don’t regularly encounter. It’s something most of us try to avoid. So you possess deep understanding of something that many doctors don’t possess. Even doctors who specialize in your disorder don’t share the kind of knowledge you can only get through living with a disease. It’s like a parent’s knowledge of their child versus that of a pediatrician. They may have breadth of knowledge, but you have depth of knowledge that no doctor can possess.
Oregon Health and Science University: Racism Shapes African-American Women’s Views on Depression Care (via Racialicious)
“These women were extremely wary of most depression treatments and providers they associated with ‘White’ systems of care. Although they acknowledged that violence, depression and substance abuse adversely affected their health, discussions about health care revolved around their perceptions of racism,” said Christina Nicolaidis, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator and an associate professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics), and public health and preventive medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Based on our findings, we recommend health and mental health providers endeavor to better understand and acknowledge how racism informs the experiences and perceptions of their patients.”
The expectation of being a “strong Black woman” also was a significant barrier to recognizing depression and seeking care. Co-investigator S. Renee Mitchell has used this finding to launch a campaign asking: “Strong Black woman – what are you burying, your feelings or the myth?” The research team also has organized several community depression and violence awareness events titled “Redefining the Blues.” An additional event is planned for the fall.
Kai Wright at Colorlines: HIV in Poor U.S. Neighborhoods as Intense as Developing World
The first is straightforward: Poverty and HIV are tied in the U.S. To establish this fact, researchers looked at HIV prevalence, or the share of a given population that is infected. They found HIV prevalence in high-poverty neighborhoods to be more than double that of the nation overall. Moreover, within high-poverty neighborhoods, prevalence among people living below the poverty line was double that of those living above it. If silence equals death, so does poverty.
The study’s focus on heterosexual adults is significant and generates the second important finding: that epidemics in poor U.S. neighborhoods are of similar intensity as those in poor nations globally.
Ames Alexander at Charlotte Observer: Advocate for mentally ill to meet Obama
“The president wants to mingle and meet and talk to people with disabilities where the law has made a difference in their lives,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a leading group for those with psychiatric ailments.
Cian O’Luanaigh at The Guardian: Comic superhero Echo fights stereotypes of deaf people
Echo uses both American Sign Language (ASL) and a Native American system developed for communication between tribes speaking different languages. The sign systems appear throughout the comic, both when Echo is signing and as background art.
Research has found that students of color, especially African-Americans, are disproportionately likely to be classified and labeled as learning disabled and placed in special education programs. This is especially the case for more subjective categories of disorder and disability, like emotional disturbance, rather than for medically diagnosable disabilities. The tendency to categorize students of color in this way owes less to genuinely greater levels of disorder in such students than to the racial dynamics of the schools they attend[. . .]in Arizona public schools, males of color at mostly white schools are two-thirds more likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed or learning disabled than minority males at mostly minority schools, even though the latter are far more likely to have grown up in poverty, and thus could be expected to occassionally demonstrate emotional or cognitive impairment. This suggests that at whiter schools, teachers are more apt to see dysfunction in black and brown students, not because they necessarily demonstrate more of it, but because of the teachers’ own inabilities to relate to the students of color, or because of various unconscious biases.
[. . .]
Although the labeling itself [of students as emotionally disturbed or mentally disabled] is not the cause of [some] students’ failure to complete their schooling, it creates a set of expectations and stigmas for those so labeled that can supress the drive to achieve academically. Nationally, for instance, research has found that students labeled as mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed are likely to be placed in restricted learning environments, despite evidence indicating that such students need exactly the opposite in order to thrive.
–From Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity (City Lights Books, 2010)
More for Blogging Against Disablism Day.
I just poked around the entry for “Ableism” on Wikipedia. On the Talk page, I found a box placing the Ableism article within WikiProject Sociology:
“This article has been rated as Low-importance on the project’s importance scale.”
Ableism of low importance within Sociology? Erm, ooookay. Let’s have a closer look at their definition of “Low-importance”:
This article is of little importance to this project, but it covers a highly specific area of knowledge or an obscure piece of trivia.
20%, people. Disabled people form around 20% of the population in Australia and the USA (and similar numbers in similar societies). One in five. Discrimination is huge, it is institutionalised, it is very often legal. Disabled people are some of the most vulnerable, the most underemployed, the most abused, the most excluded, the most neglected, the most murdered people in our cultures.
“Low importance”? “Obscure piece of trivia”?
OK, so let’s have a look at some other big discriminations. Racism and sexism, are they categorised as obscure pieces of trivia too? (On Wikipedia, I wouldn’t be surprised…)
Sexism is of High Importance. OK. I agree.
So, racism. I guess the importance of racism within sociology, according to Wikipedians, would be, oh, about similar to that of ableism?
OK, so racism is of High Importance also. OK. I agree with that too.
So why is Ableism of Low Importance? Why does the biggest encyclopedia on earth consider it to be of lesser importance than discrimination against other minorities? Why are sociologists learning and being taught that racism and sexism are The Discriminations, that all others are secondary or tertiary or not really worth bothering about? Why, when a person is both female and PWD, or of colour and PWD, or all three, and/or lesbian, trans, non-citizen, working class, and so on, is ableism automatically ranked as the least important discrimination they’ll encounter? Why are PWD losing this Oppression Olympics, a game we shouldn’t be playing in the first place? (“Intersectionality” hasn’t yet received a rating on the Importance scale at Wikipedia.)
Other topics considered more sociologically important than Ableism (not equal, but more), as far as Wikipedians are concerned, include:
Warning: Offsite links are not necessarily safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.
From front, Kong Veasna, Kim Sathia and Mao Tipmony performing at the Spotlight festival in Phnom Penh. (Vandy Rattana/Epic Arts Cambodia) (Creative Commons License, Cambodia Trust)
Reminder: Tomorrow is Blogging Against Disablism Day! You can check in at Diary of a Goldfish to see all the submissions (and submit your own work if you are participating). Many, many thanks to The Goldfish for all of the organising work which goes into this.
Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk. It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility. It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.
Wheelchair Dancer: Arizona’s Immigration Laws
Two questions: what kinds of offenses make people removable? (Note: even the very word choice — removable — makes it sound like you are taking out the trash.) Turns out that besides the biggies, like you know, murder, the case for removability can be built from smaller things such as traffic offenses. Without a warrant? Perhaps that’s one thing if you see a person on the street robbing a bank, but I can see it being used as an excuse to enter homes, to conduct raids, to begin to hunt people down. I can see it being used as a way of legalizing the immigration equivalent of witch hunts.
Tanya M. Luhrmann at the American Journal of Psychiatry: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (book review, warning, some problematic word use)
Perhaps the explanation is that it is so morally distressing to confront the costs of human social life. This, after all, was the story of the 1965 Moynihan report—a report that documented the real challenges of African American life in the inner city and was roundly criticized as racist and dismissed. Racial prejudice, after all, is something that readers of a book like this can act on or at least believe they can alter. Deep social inequality that leaves its marks on the body and mind is far more difficult to uproot. There is little doubt, however, that those marks are real.
Kavita Ramdas at TED Talks: Radical women, embracing tradition (video and transcript)
Why is it that women are, on the one hand, viciously oppressed by cultural practices, and yet, at the same time, are the preservers of culture in most societies? Is the hijab or the headscarf a symbol of submission or resistance? When so many women and girls are beaten, raped, maimed, on a daily basis, in the name of all kinds of causes, honor, religion, nationality, what allows women to replant trees, to rebuild societies, to lead radical, non-violent movements for social change?
Denise Grady at the New York Times: Second Opinion: In Reporting Symptoms, Don’t Patients Know Best?
“There is a sensibility among some old-school clinicians that they have a better sense of their patients’ experience than patients do themselves,” Dr. Basch said. “But doctors and nurses bring their own biases to the evaluation. They might say, ‘Mrs. Smith always exaggerates her fatigue — she says 9, but I rate it a 6.’ ”
Kaitlyn at Oh Money Trumpets: Medication for Bipolar Disorder and TV Shows
But with my mood swings, the “alien” idea made more sense. A better metaphor is a switch. A switch is flicked, I get so pissed off. Switched again, I don’t want to do anything. Switched again, back to baseline. No control. Which got a bit annoying, because I’d be mad at somebody. They’d get mad at me for being mad at them for no reason. Then I’d get mad at them for being mad at me when I had no control over the original anger!