Environmental racism in urban communities of color: an ecosocialist response

Organizer Yudith Nieto holds an air sampler in her toxic Texas neighborhood. Civilian monitoring is the best way to hold polluting refineries responsible. Photo: Eric Kayne / Earthjustice

“A world to win, a planet to save!” That theme of the recent Freedom Socialist Party’s national convention punctuated the urgency of stopping environmental destruction before it makes the earth uninhabitable.

Having grown up in San Francisco and lived in New York City for the last 33 years, I was inspired by the theme to study and write on the central role of racism in urban ruin. I’ve concluded that it will take an ecosocialist fight that integrates race, gender and economic exploitation to get rid of environmental racism.

Race: the determining factor. In 1987, the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ (UCC) published a landmark study titled “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” It showed that race was the single most important factor in determining where toxic waste facilities were placed in the U.S. It also found that building these facilities in communities of color was intentional.

Its 2007 study, “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty, 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the U.S.,” reported that even more people of color were living near polluting sites than 20 years ago…