Photo by Keoni Cabral, Flickr CC.
Photo by, Flickr CC.

To cut costs, the city of Flint, Michigan moved its residents from the Detroit city water system to water sourced from the Flint River. It was a temporary fix until Flint could access Great Lakes water directly. Now, as the world knows, there’s something in the water: lead. In Flint, more than 40% of residents live below the poverty line, and the high lead levels (10 times higher than originally estimated) have caused skin lesions, hair loss, vision loss, memory loss, depression and anxiety, and Legionnaires’ disease. According to sociologists, it’s no fluke that a disenfranchised community pays the ultimate price for environmental damage.

Nature is a battleground where the privileges of wealth and whiteness prevail. Race and class inequalities perpetuate practices that harm the environment, and the poor, immigrants, and minorities are most likely to live in areas with environmental damage (some 60% of African Americans and Latino/a people live in in places with uncontrolled toxic waste sites). This is largely due to the ways that bureaucracies and the state exercise power over resources in a capitalist economy. Flint, MI is just one of many examples of wealthy governments and corporations exporting hazardous material to poor communities of color.  
Poor communities of color also receive lower government response and assistance in environmental emergencies. From Hurricane Katrina to the Flint water crisis, African Americans tend to lack the economic resources and transportation necessary to evacuate an environmental danger zone, exacerbating its impacts on minority communities.