SSC Roving Reporter, Charlotte Pototsky (14 years old) on Racism and Sustainability: Is There a Relationship?

As we all know, racism has been a long-standing crisis in our country. Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, a new energy has emerged among young people of all backgrounds to change/challenge the status quo.

 

Inspired by a recent rally in Sharon, organized by the Sharon High School Black Students Union, this roving reporter decided to explore further. We asked others for their thoughts on whether or not there might be a connection between racism and sustainability, and if so, what might that be? Read on to find out what we heard.

 

In speaking with several peers, a variety of ideas were shared. Some expressed their concerns for people living with less privilege, while others struggled to see any significance. Those who saw a relationship were asked to share examples. Here are a few:

 

My first interviewee shared that she knew there must be some relationship, but struggled to explain. She said: “My short answer: Yes!  One example is that businesses often choose to target low-income, minority neighborhoods as a location to dispose of hazardous waste or other polluting materials. The effects of this are negative in countless ways.” Then, she said, “My longer answer: Yikes! I am left wondering why it is so difficult for me to respond to your very important questions. It is hard to admit that I have only tuned in to sustainability over the past few years. I am learning, but I have a long way to go. So too, embarrassingly, I have only tuned into racism over the last few years, as well. As a white person, with white privilege, I am uncomfortably aware that I can pay attention to racism, whenever I choose. People of color do not have this choice. Thank you for your questions. They are making me think.”

 

Another resident I interviewed said, “Yes. From a socio-economic viewpoint, towns with a large population of people of color, are often targeted as easy targets for pollution-generating industrial facilities. Wealthier towns are often able to block companies from locating in or near their communities — but not the poor. Industrial pollution contaminates water and air, leading to higher rates of breathing problems such as asthma. Water with lead contamination, causes developmental delays in children.”

 

Another respondent said: “There is a clear environmental justice concern/relationship between poverty, low-incomes, and all of the health, safety, and the lack of land resources for most Americans. For low-income people, the connection between poverty, poor sanitation, plastics, fast foods, bad transit, placement of bus terminals, living on the wrong side of the tracks – all of these are interconnected.”

 

These responses demonstrate that many people do see a relationship between racism and sustainability.

 

However, not everyone agrees. One young man said, “I don’t think there is a relationship between sustainability and racism. In my opinion sustainability refers to the coexistence of our civilization and our environment. I feel that racism does not play a factor into the way humans treat the environment. Racism will affect the way we treat others but it won’t affect the way we treat our surroundings”.

 

As a roving reporter, I understand each of the viewpoints expressed by others. Personally, I too agree that there is a relationship between Racism and Sustainability. From my perspective, it seems that white people have more opportunity because they have more privilege, and typically have higher incomes. With more money it is easier to live sustainably.  As a white, middle class person, I can choose where I want to live. People of color can’t always do this. Sadly, racism is still rampant- even in 2020!!! People of color can’t assume they will be welcomed into any community, and therefore they may be forced to live in a less favorable environment. This cycle is simply unacceptable. It must end.

 

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on racism and sustainability or how you live sustainably. Here are three ways to make your thoughts and viewpoints known and keep the conversation going:

  1. Join SSC the first Wednesday of every month
  2. Email me personally at EnvironmentalConsulationsNow@gmail.com
  3. Visit or comment on my personal blog here.