Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots

By Robert D. Bullard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Beyond Toxic Wastes and Race

Charles Lee

Racism is racial prejudice plus power. Racism is the inten
tional or unintentional use of power to isolate, separate and
exploit others. This use of power is based on a belief in
superior racial origin, identity or supposed racial character
istics. Racism confers certain privileges on and defends the
dominant group, which in turn sustains and perpetuates
racism. Both consciously and unconsciously, racism is en
forced and maintained by the legal, cultural, religious, edu
cational, economic, political, environmental and military
institutions of societies. Racism is more than just a personal
attitude; it is the institutionalized form of that attitude (Commission for Racial Justice 1987, p. x).

-- Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Jr.
Toxic Wastes and Raceb

The federal government has traditionally been assumed to have the major responsibility for protecting the health and well-being of the nation. During the 1980s, however, an alarming trend emerged. The "New Federalism," ushered in by the Reagan administration, signaled a reduction of domestic programs to monitor the environment and protect public health.

The Reagan era and its policies have resulted in a number of negative actions by federal agencies, the most startling perhaps being a 1985 U.S. Labor Department ruling that farm owners were not required by federal law or regulations to provide water and field sanitation facilities for farmworkers. In his decision, Labor Secretary William Brock stated that while there was clear evidence of "unacceptable risks" from the lack of such facilities, he felt "action by states would be preferable, and more effective." In striking down this ruling, a threejudge panel in Washington, D.C., labeled it part of a "disgraceful chapter of legal neglecf ( Noble 1987, p. A1).

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