Dr. Robert Bullard: Some People Don't Have 'The Complexion for Protection.'(environmental racism)(Interview)

By Motavalli, Jim | E Magazine, July-August 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Dr. Robert Bullard: Some People Don't Have 'The Complexion for Protection.'(environmental racism)(Interview)


Motavalli, Jim, E Magazine


When, in 1979, Dr. Robert Bullard wrote a study called Solid Waste Sites and the Black Houston Community, nobody had heard of environmental racism (see the special report in this issue). It would be three more years before anyone used that phrase, but Dr. Bullard had plainly made the connection between toxic siting and communities of color, leading to the first lawsuit, Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, (filed by his wife) that used civil rights law to challenge environmental discrimination. By 1991, when Bullard helped plan the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., the fight for environmental justice was well-established, with activists from around the country making common cause with each other.

Dr. Bullard is the author or editor of three landmark texts, Confronting Environmental Racism (1993), Dumping on Dixie (1994) and Unequal Protection (1996). He serves on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, offering direction on complaints filed under the anti-discriminatory Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. Bullard, who teaches sociology and heads the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, has become the country's leading authority on toxic discrimination. His most recent book is Just Transportation, a look at barriers to mobility in minority communities. Dr. Bullard says he's heartened by recent decisions showing the federal government taking an increasingly activist role against do-nothing state environmental agencies that collaborate with polluters. Environmental racism isn't going away, he says, but communities are banding together to fight it and, in many cases, winning.

E: Maybe we can start with the general concept of environmental racism, where the term originated and how it has come into broad acceptance.

BULLARD: The phrase "environmental racism" was coined back in 1982 by Reverend Ben Chavis, then the director of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ). He was talking about Warren County, North Carolina and the siting of a toxic waste landfill in that predominantly black county. People saw that the only reason Warren County was selected was because it was poor and black. The process by which that happens has now been codified and defined in all kinds of reports and books. Basically, environmental racism is another form of institutionalized discrimination.

In 1987, CRJ published a report entitled Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, which looked at the siting of hazardous waste sites by race and income. It concluded that the most important factor in locating these facilities was race.

Before that time, was there very little awareness of this as an issue?

There was a lot of awareness in terms of local communities. As a matter of fact, in 1979 my wife filed a lawsuit in Houston, Texas charging the city and one of the largest national waste companies, Browning Ferris Industries, with environmental discrimination in siting its facilities. And that was the first environmental justice lawsuit filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But most of the awareness was local. There was no pulling together of the fact that African-American children are poisoned with lead in their homes and on the playgrounds at a greater rate than any other group. And this is one of the reasons why kids are dropping out of school, put in classes for the retarded, and told they're slow learners.

Where the freeways go, where the landfills and the bus barns are, that's where you'll find environmental injustice. And it wasn't until people started to meet and talk and share their notes that we saw this national pattern. And we began to see that environmental racism is more than where the garbage dump is, it's all those other things, too.

In Convent, Louisiana, there is an incredible concentration of plants in a very small black community.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Dr. Robert Bullard: Some People Don't Have 'The Complexion for Protection.'(environmental racism)(Interview)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?