Tribute to Anthony Ethridge : The
Chamber : Despair : The
The Most Vulnerable : The Menace
of Lead : The Argument
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
to Anthony Ethridge
May 21, 1994
By Bunyan Bryant
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
By Bunyan Bryant
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.
By Bunyan Bryant
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.
By Bunyan Bryant
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.
Menace of Lead
By Bunyan Bryant
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.
By Bunyan Bryant
Of a mentality
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.