Sunday, July 24, 2011
Dumping In Dixie
"Dumping in Dixie" is the second in a series of book reviews by the students in my summer Urban Environmental Policy class. This book is an older book, but an important contribution to our understanding of environmental justice issues. Reviewed by Ty'lsha Moore.
The author Robert Bullard of Dumping in Dixie studied five communities: Houston’s Northwood Manor (Texas), West Dallas (Texas), Institute (West Virginia), Emelle – Sumter County (Alabama), and Alsen (Louisiana) each community is located in America’s southern states. The study examines how community attitudes and socioeconomic characteristics influence activism and mobilization strategies of black residents who are confronted with the threat of environmental stressors (Bullard, 2000). He documented the cause for stress which dealt with hazardous dumping in the five communities. The problems included risks from a secondary lead smelter, chemical manufacturing plant, hazardous waste disposal facilities (landfill and incinerator), and a municipal landfill (Bullard, 2000).
Mr. Bullard examined the population of blacks and other minorities with hazardous waste in their communities compared to communities with predominantly white populations. He found that in each state that he conducted the survey the population of blacks hovered close to 30% but the communities that hosted the hazardous dump sites consisted of at least 90% of the black or minority population in the state. The book further describes the efforts of the black communities to fight against the hazardous dumping sites. In most cases he was able to trace the environmental movement in these communities to the civil rights movement. He further illustrates that the churches in the community were catalyst in getting people organized to fight against environmental injustice.
The penalties inflicted on these communities included failing health, mistrust in government leaders, unanswered promises of good paying jobs and a decline in overall well being. It must be stated that although the book focuses on race and class disparity many of the heroes were community leaders who stood up for their rights despite lacking adequate means to advance their cause. Environmental action groups that were fully established often aided the community action groups in pursuing opportunities to remove the dumps from their communities.
The book confronts America’s historical and present racial and class injustice. At the same time the book advocates that although the communities were not always capable of acting alone – the significant point is that they organized themselves to evoke change in their communities.
Civil Rights movement shaped the environmental justice movement in the black community
All of the communities adopted an action strategy that involved protests, government and private legal action, petitions and press lobbying (Bullard, 2000)
Identifies how companies framed their presence as an economic opportunity but in fact most of the residents within the community did not work for the company that posed the environmental threat
Many of the action strategies alerted the government and other nationally recognized environmental groups about the injustice occurring in the communities
Hazardous dumping does not pose the question of whether it will affect residents within a community rather the question is when it will affect residents within a community
Relaxed legislation and government’s neglect to enforce policy halts ability to obtain justice in matters affecting environmental concerns
Although the statistics showed that the dumping caused major health concerns and affected the natural landscape surrounding the companies, residents and even government leaders did not see the injustice as environmental injustice
Environmental racism is real; it is not merely an invention of wild eyed sociologists or radical environmental activists. It is just as real as the racism found in the housing industry, educational institutions, the employment arena and judicial system (Bullard, 2000)
A national environmental justice framework is needed to begin addressing environmental inequities that result from procedural, geographic, and social imbalances (Bullard, 2000)
I think the book is useful and its strength lies in the design implemented by the author. He did not just write a book that whined about environmental injustice. He presented a delicately composed piece of literature that provides evidence about what is occurring in the poorest communities in America. The author presented a thoughtful analysis of what is occurring in black and minority communities related to environmental injustice. He carefully guided the reader through the successful contributions that black organizations and minority groups have made to create a better social climate for minorities. He defines the problem and the terms that he uses throughout the book so the readers is capable of digesting the horrible truth that he is presenting. He moves the reader to his study by defining his hypothesis and explaining the tools he used to gather data. Finally, the author presents his findings regarding data collection and presents his conclusion. He allows the statistics and survey data to reinforce his position that there is a disproportionate effect of environmental injustice in the minority community.
My only involvement in environmental policy has been during this summer semester. The issues presented this summer are very new to me. This book further highlighted the material presented in class and basically I didn’t find a shortcoming while reading the book. The information was evidence based; the data was in the book. He showed how he came to his conclusions about environmental injustice in minority communities. He also took it a step further by engaging the reader in steps that should and could be taken to further the cause for environmental justice.
STORIES FROM THE BOOK
More than 15 years ago, a wealthy white property owner next to Rollins (hazardous waste dumping site in Alsen, LA) received a half million dollar settlement from the company for the death of his cattle after water spilled onto his pasture. Yet Rollins has failed to recognize it is harming people, not cows, in Alsen (black population 98.9%) (Bullard, 2000)
It is time for people to stop asking the question, “Do minorities care about their environment?” The evidence is clear and irrefutable that white middle class communities do not have a monopoly on environmental concern (Bullard, 2000)
It is ironic that many of the residents who were fighting the construction of the waste facility had moved to Northwood Manor in an effort to escape landfills in their former Houston neighborhoods (Bullard, 2000)
Growing empirical evidence shows that toxic waste dumps, municipal landfills, garbage incinerators, and similar noxious facilities are not randomly scattered across the American landscape. The siting process has resulted in minority neighborhoods (regardless of class) carrying a greater burden of localized costs than either affluent or poor white neighborhoods (Bullard, 2000)
Work Cited: Bullard, Robert D. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. Boulder, CO. Westview Press, 2000 (234).