NAACP Director Discusses Environmental Racism

Jacob DeCarli ’22, Staff Writer

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The director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) spoke about environmental injustice and how “differential access to human rights is a threat to justice” at a Clarke Forum event on Oct. 10.

Patterson, who started work in environmental justice post-Hurricane Katrina, focused on the intersectionality of environmental racism where different effects of injustice interconnect with each other. 

Leda Fisher ’19, Clarke Forum student project manager, defines environmental racism as, “the practice of intentionally and unintentionally placing unequal environmental burdens on racial minorities.”

Low-income communities of color experience various facets of environmental injustice including poor water quality, lack of nutritional food access and under-resourced school systems, according to Patterson. She used the town of Port Gibson, Miss. as an example in her presentation. The low-income community has a nuclear reactor built within the town. When a tornado hit the town and caused flooding in 2017, locals were displaced, but could not seek help from the Red Cross because the organization is not allowed to establish shelter within seven miles of a nuclear reactor. This example is one of many that Patterson drew on to stress the disadvantages communities face within environmentally hazardous situations. 

Hayat Rasul ’19, explained how her town was affected by a gas leak with little intervention or help from outside disaster relief. “Environmental injustice is inherently tied to the well-being of people,” Rasul said. Rasul said that during the gas leak the community on top of the mountain in her town had the best air quality while “all the poor air quality went down into the valley which is predominately people of color of lower income.”

Rasul also spoke about the intersectionality between environmental injustices. She said “there are very small nuances like that within environmental justice and environmental politics that are grazed over.” That the affluent part of the community “had all this news coverage yet had $100,000 or more [yearly] income… just seemed counterintuitive because the communities below were not talked about or compensated by not being told to evacuate or stay inside their houses.”

“I think it’s important for our generation to be involved with these things,” said Rasul. 

Patterson further spoke about how low-income communities cannot afford to regularly consume nutritious foods, instead eating foods that are high in sodium with no nutrition. 

“Apples should be just as available as a bag of Doritos,” said Dee Findlay ’22 after the event.

Patterson said her time in the Peace Corps in Jamaica lead to her work in environmental justice.

“The water supply was contaminated by Shell Oil. The people drank the water for weeks with little help from the government,” she said. Patterson was a volunteer for a hurricane disaster recovery center, where she noticed the “policing of disaster survivors,” and felt compelled to help reform the system. 

According to the Clarke Forum website, Jacqueline Patterson is the director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, and she has participated in work there involving HIV/AIDS education. She presented on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in ATS. 

For more information about Patterson and her work, visit NAACP.org.

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