Over the last several years my teaching and research have focused on the disproportionate exposure of environmental hazardous on people of color and low-income communities. People of color and low-income groups suffer more from toxic-induced or aggravated disease and sickness than their more affluent white counterparts. Because the market system gives rise to the organization of American society and its distribution patterns, microbes and viruses are the last agents--not the first--to examine for causality. The first place to look is a the social structure in which wealth is accumulated. If the social root of health and disease is the way in which society is organized, then community clean-up, pollution control, and preventive measures are only temporary stop-gaps. If we want to deal effectively with health risks and exposures, we must also deal with the structural components of poverty and racism.
Before going further a definition of terms such as environmental racism, equity and justice is important in order to more fully appreciate the following poems. The following concepts are often used in the literature without definition. Therefore the definitions to the following concepts will hopefully provide a framework for our discussion. However these definitions will undoubtedly change was continue both research and discourse.
Environmental Racism: An extension of racism, Environmental Racism refers to those institutional rules, regulations, and policies or government or corporate decisions that are used target certain communities for least undesirable land uses based upon certain prescribed biological characteristics.
Environmental Equity: Environmental Equity refers to the equal protection of environmental laws. For example, it has been shown that under the Superfund clean-up program that abandoned hazardous waste sites in minority areas take 20 percent longer to placed on the national priority action list than those in white areas. It has also been shown that over the last several years my teaching and research focus has been on the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. To date people of color communities find themselves in communities where they suffer from disproportionate amounts of toxic induced and aggravated respiratory diseases of cancer, and of a shorten life expectancy. Because the market system gives rise to the organization of American society and its distribution patterns, microbes and viruses may be the last agents--not the first--to examine for causality. The government's fines are six times greater for companies in violation of RCRA in white than in black communities This is unequal protection. Therefore laws should equally be enforced to ensure the proper siting, clean-up of hazardous wastes, and the effective regulation of industrial pollution, regardless of the racial and economic composition of the community.
Environmental Justice: Environmental Justice (EJ) is broader in scope than environmental equity. It refers to those cultural norms and values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainable communities, where people can interact with confidence that their environment is safe, nurturing, and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential, without experiencing the "isms" Environmental justice is supported by decent paying and safe jobs; quality schools and recreation; decent housing and adequate health care; democratic decision-making and personal empowerment; and communities free of violence, drugs, and poverty. These are communities where both cultural and biological diversity are respected and highly revered and where distributed justice prevails.
As a professor, scholar, and researcher I have attempted various mediums of communicating the disproportionate impact of environmental hazardous on people of color and low-income communities. I have written scholarly articles and have lecture on college and university campuses across the country, have lectured at professional conferences and to neighborhood groups, and have been a consultant to various environmental organizations and governments on this important issue. Poems are now another medium for communicating. The idea for poems first begin when I decided to write a poem for my cousin, Anthony Ethridge, who graduated from college in June of 1994. This poem has been included. From that point I could not stop putting words to poetry; I would spend hours in front of the computer writing lines that rhymed. A small number of those poems that address environmental justice has been incorporated for this book of poems. Additionally, pictures of people involved in the struggle have been included as another way of making the story in the poems more real. The poems are as follows:
Did you hear about Monroe,
Who was academically slow.
Or Robert who is no longer ahead but poisoned by lead,
Now lays dead in coffin satin bed,
Both from chip paint and ballistic lead.
Did you hear about William on mental vacation,
Supported by self-medication,
Or drugs rather than hugs.
Did you hear about the child mother,
That had yet another.
My country 'tis of thee black males are dying,
As we sit hoping and crying.
The clanging of steel gates robbing us of dreams and turning us to foe,
Not to be rehabilitated but to rob and steel some mo.
Pursuit of black male pride in a country of homicide,
And in a country of racial divide,
Results in killing fields by guns and automobiles.
Knowing where you stood in relation to the hood,
You drew from both motherhood and manhood.
With rage you were able to travel the craze of the maze.
Manchild troubled by city life,
Came to Ann Arbor to do what was right.
Sleeping with eyes wide open, jiving,
You had images of buying above your means,
To enslave your being.
Deficit spending and material lavishness would deaden your brain,
Like opium to claim.
From courses in sewing, gym, and others less taxing of mentality,
To courses in algebra, economics, calculus, trigonometry,
And black history.
Hard work, homework, books in hand,
You have gained the status of black intellectual man.
You have traded fist fighting, black eyes, swollen cheeks,
Broken coke bottles, and physical force,
For understanding, empathy, and discourse.
Son of Margaret Ethridge, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin,
And Richard Wright,
You have been able to transcend the plight.
Brother to Marcus, Rod, and Dee,
You are a part of a larger family.
Grandson of Vernon and Earlee Webb, Frederick Douglas,
Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth,
You are living testimony and living proof,
Of Alpha man and better man.
Ancient son of African kings and queens,
Your spirit is kindled with hope and dreams.
Black African soul set on fire,
By knowledge's desire,
Black African soul it is told that Anthony has arrived,
With pride, With down-beat, breast-beat, and rhythm-beat of ancient old.
Knowledge is the tool for peace, justice, and freedom,
Son of Malcolm,
Let freedom ring,
Son of King.
And welcome to community.
May 2, 1994
Breathe shallow, breathe deeply,
Oh Lord, I feel like giving up completely.
Wheezing and sucking air-filled smells,
Rotten to the core with chemicals.
Wheezing and fighting for life,
Is causing mental strife.
As chemicals bellows and pass,
Throughout the neighborhood amass,
Each street like chambers of gas.
Engulfing us and choking us,
Making breathing a difficult task.
Life is without peace and harmony,
Is this what happened in Germany.
Lord, What am I to do,
My boy is sick and my wife too.
I feel tired and forlorn,
In sickness I will join.
I work hard to care,
And make too much for Medicare,
Insurance poor and none to spare,
Please protect me Lord from this fowl smelling air.
I do what's right and pay my bills.
But breathing this air is making me down right ill.
Kids with itchy skin and watering eyes,
Beneath the weight of polluted skies.
Of lead, zinc, cadmium, PCBs, and arsenic too,
Makes clear skies hard to view.
Of xylene, ethylene, benzene, and chlorine,
While men in dark suits commute in limousine.
Landfills and incinerators abound,
As if we had the only land in town.
The polluted air on hot fill night,
Makes for shallow breathing and chest-filled tight.
Pollution confines the elderly to heat-filled room,
Causing suffocation and life-threatening doom.
Often we can't see it, smell it, or taste it.
Hazardous waste has brought us grief,
Much to our disbelief.
How can I stand it when babies born without brain,
To this I dread and complain.
Indigenous children playing on mounds of uranium tailings,
Whose energies are zapped by cancer and health is failing.
Mothers in protest and stormy hate,
Blue babies suffocate,
From water bearing nitrate.
When baby Jim died,
Oh how we cried.
Did the death of this boy subsidized the wealth of the nation,
Even though this baby was one of God's creation.
Of the living dead poisoned by lead.
From paint chips and soldered water pipe,
Making parents in older homes real uptight.
Lead from father's clothes,
Just home from work oppressed with woes.
Who is the blame,
For this shame.
Of poisoning our children,
Causing all this confusion.
Making them welfare bound,
To be treated like hounds.
Eyes glazed over and lost for ever,
Functioning to mental capacity never.
Inner city kids exposed to lead,
Millions have much to dread.
Lead poisoning creating anger and despair,
Maybe resulting in court proceeding because cheating,
Stealing, and beating.
Ending in prison term,
For failure to compete and learn.
Black African souls 80% of prison country,
We cannot write you off because of bigotry.
Prison systems are new forms of apartheid,
Environmental racism amplified.
Jailed are more black males on a per capita basis,
Than in South Africa with all their racists.
If we cared and had a heart,
We would fund head start.
Rather than $80,000.00 per year for one in Jackson Prison,
More expensive than the University of Michigan.
The effects of lead is insidious,
But I don't want you to pity us,
Or to get rid of us by poisoning us.
But to use your might to do what's right,
Equal protection of the law is a civil right,
Redistribution of resources will change our plight.
Of a mentality of causality,
They warn of no sickness or mortality.
Pollution is ninety percent controlled,
We are told.
Fugitive emissions from smoke stacks are few,
Safe for living and breathing too.
But what happens with the dangerous few,
Get into our food chain ready for chew.
Dangerous chemicals amplifying themselves by millions to stay,
To the top of the food chain putting us in harms way.
Ninety percent reduction is not enough,
And believe you me --we will get tough.
Pollution prevention provokes much fear,
Of jobs and profits loss so clear,
But so is the loss of people I love so dear.
Although it will take lots of dollars to change,
From control to prevention we can arrange.
But what about the causality people who charge for fee,
They will have no argument or job you see.