I’m currently working on a research paper for school, so my mind is a little cluttered at the moment. The class is teaching diversity in the classroom, and my topic I’ve chosen to research is environmental racism. So far, I have read a couple of books by Jonathan Kozol, a prominent author in detailing segregation in our schools, that describe instances of environmental racism. I chose this topic because 1) I am an advocate of cleaning up our environment, 2) our cities are very segregated for the most part due to poor city planning (this poor planning also affects my bike riding!), and 3) I grew up in a desegregated school district that had enforced busing, but has since discontinued this practice leading to more segregated schools.
Kozol’s books specifically focus on apartheid education and how there is great resistance to move towards integration. In part, this is due to people’s ignorance and the government’s unwillingness to do anything about it. A couple of things that have struck me, and why I chose my topic of environmental racism, is how poor communities are surrounded by manufacturing and industrial plants. It’s not that these people have chosen to live near the paper plant that occasionally has a toxic chemical spill, instead the paper plant chooses a community that they know won’t fight them. The poor community doesn’t fight the plant moving into their neighborhood because they don’t know how to or who to contact, and they usually don’t have the financial means to do it or, unfortunately, the education to even know that they can fight something like this.
Another interesting topic that Kozol’s research shows is that some communities have literally segregated their racial populations by physically altering a neighborhood or cutting off one section of town to another by removing a bridge or building a freeway. For instance, East St. Louis (a prime example of environmental racism) built a bridge, that the neighboring suburban community had fought, connecting a poorer neighborhood to a more wealthy neighborhood. During an Independence Day celebration, the wealthier suburban neighborhood blocked access across the bridge so that the people from the other side couldn’t partake in the festivities. They claimed that the reason this was done was because they were worried about violence and crime. However, they completely segregated themselves from what they perceived as a racially inferior group of people. How truly unpatriotic for a July 4th celebration.
The biggest contention I have is that so many of our cities are poorly designed with no central meeting area or community center that makes a community feel connected. If we could redesign some of our suburban areas, our cities would most likely become more desegregated on their own, which would lead to desegregated schools. Desegregated schools allow children to become familiar with many cultures, which is a more accurate picture of what their adult lives will be like. Children learning in a desegregated environment are more comfortable in social situations, and social skills are just as important as academic ones. As I continue researching how chemical toxins affect children’s learning capacity and how communities purposely segregate themselves because of their own ignorance, I will update my posts to include my findings.