Dr. Robert Bullard, who is the leading authority on Environmental Racism (ER), calls “Environmental Racism a combination of prejudice and the power to implement decisions and policies that defend, protect and enhance the social position of Whites at the expense of people of color.” As Americans we live in a racist society and we suffer from the remnants of our sordid history; the exploitation of people of color which lead to slavery, and racial discrimination – in employment, housing and practically all aspects of life. Racism is institutionalized; it is part of the culture and history of the United States. According to Bullard “The term racism refers to any policy practice, or directive that deferentially affect or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color.” Discrimination is a manifestation of institutional racism and causes life to be very different for white folks when compared to black folks. Historically, racism has been and continues to be a major part of our American society and as a result, people of color continue to find themselves disadvantaged in a modern society.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis was the first person to coin the term environmental racism, in 1981. Environmental Racism can be defined as: Racial discrimination in environmental policy making and the enforcement of regulations and laws; the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic and hazardous waste facilities; the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities; and the history of excluding people of color from the leadership of the environmental movement. It also refers to any government, institutional, or industry action, or failure to act, that has a negative environmental impact which disproportionately harms – whether intentionally or unintentionally – individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color. It is also a combination of public policies and industry practices to provide benefits for whites while shifting cost to people of color.
In the United States, the victims of environmental racism are people of color, who are more likely than Whites to live in environmentally hazardous conditions. Three out of five African Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites. Native American lands and sacred places are home to extensive mining operations and radioactive waste sites. Three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills are located in predominantly African American and Latino communities. As a consequence, the residents of these communities suffer shorter life spans, higher infant and adult mortality, poor health, poverty, diminished economic opportunities, substandard housing, and an overall degraded quality of life. In other words environmental racism is another form of racial oppression.