Dr. King Said Segregation Harms Us All. Environmental Research Shows He Was Right.@NYTimes

Speaks for itself:

A half-century ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. To get to the site, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum, you can cross through neighborhoods that are as much as 97 percent black or as much as 93 percent white.

Dr. King preached that segregation was harmful not only to black Americans but also to the nation as a whole. He died before the modern environmental movement, but a growing body of research around pollution and health shows that his belief about segregation hurting everyone extends to the environment as well. Many American cities that are more racially divided have higher levels of pollution than less segregated cities. As a result, both whites and minorities who live in less integrated communities are exposed to higher levels of pollution than those who live in more integrated areas.

“The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro is the price of its own destruction,” Dr. King wrote in a 1962 address, “An Analysis of the Ethical Demands of Integration.” In it, he set out the political, ethical and spiritual reasons he believed that segregation was harmful for all. Some historians say his thoughts are applicable to understanding environmental issues today.

Researchers have known since at least the 1980s that black and Hispanic communities have higher levels of pollution and its associated harmful health effects than white communities, even when controlling for income. Studies show that racial discrimination leads governments and companies to place polluting facilities, like landfills, power plants and truck routes, in black and Hispanic communities. Race is not the only factor in environmental inequality — poorer people experience more pollution than wealthier people. But for blacks, race trumps income. Middle-class blacks experience higher levels of pollution than low-income whites.

Over the past decade, more researchers have focused on the correlation between segregation and broad pollution exposure. Residents of a city like Memphis, they have found, are exposed to more pollution than those living in a city like Tampa, Fla., which is less racially divided.

“Even though white residents in segregated cities were better off than residents of color in those segregated cities, those white residents were worse off than their white counterparts in less segregated cities,” said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor of environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Studies have found this relationship between segregation and air pollution, water pollution and even noise pollution. A large body of literature shows that high exposure to certain pollution can cause asthma, heart disease and many other negative health effects.

“It’s so much pollution that it led not only to very high exposure to minorities but it actually bounces back to at least some whites,” said Michael Ash, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an author of a study that looked at the impact of segregation on pollution levels.

There are several ways to look at segregation: by isolation, defined as the degree to which ethnic groups are clustered together, or by dissimilarity, defined as how evenly two groups are spread across an area. By either method, pollution is higher in more segregated communities.

The average white person in metropolitan America lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white. The average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 35 percent white and 45 percent black. Those numbers have not changed much since 1940.

These studies do not prove that segregation leads to more pollution, or vice versa. But the outcomes showing that all people who live in racially divided communities are exposed to higher levels of pollution probably would not have surprised Dr. King, according to King scholars.

“King thinks that racism divides the people who are most vulnerable and most disempowered for economic and political reasons,” said Brandon M. Terry, an assistant professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard and an editor of a new book on Dr. King’s political theories.

“In a community where there are really stark racial tensions it’s going to be really difficult to organize a large enough group to fight back against exploitative industries or corporations that don’t want to do their fair share to take care of environmental hazards,” Dr. Terry said. “All those people have to do is invoke the idea of a racial interest and they can split those groups quite easily.”

Several studies have shown that unequal societies invest less in environmental policies, monitoring and research.

“In more segregated cities, communities of color and the poor might be less able to have civic engagement power and influence land-use decision making,” said Dr. Morello-Frosch. “They have less ability to resist” when decisions are made about polluting activities, she said.

Dr. King may have foreshadowed this in his 1963 speech in Detroit. “Segregation is a cancer in the body politic,” he said, “which must be removed before our democratic health can be realized.”

via Dr. King Said Segregation Harms Us All. Environmental Research Shows He Was Right. – The New York Times

How to apologize, the National Geographic way: Denise Balkissoon

Good commentary:

Everybody’s saying sorry these days, for transgressions old and new, big and small. Earlier this month, Canadian singer Jacob Hoggard, of the band Hedley, joined the list of high-profile men issuing apologies for their past treatment of women after an accusation of sexual assault.

The President of Poland apologized for the 1968 expulsion of Jewish people from the country, and The Chronicle-Journal newspaper in Thunder Bay apologized for a headline that made fun of a wave of assaults on Indigenous people.

None of this went over well.

In every case, observers accused the apologizers of acting insincerely: of being more sorry that they got caught than of their hurtful actions, of offering hollow mea culpas without committing to meaningful change. There was, though, one admission of guilt widely considered sincere and it was made by National Geographic.

This week, the 130-year-old magazine published its April issue, on the topic of race. Alongside stories about twins born with different skin tones and a lengthy, genetics-based explanation of why race doesn’t really exist, it included an editor’s letter with a headline that made a stark admission: For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.

Identifying herself as the magazine’s first female, Jewish editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg details the findings of historian John Edwin Mason, whom she enlisted to parse how the magazine’s historical coverage has presented race and ethnicity. He found that it often ignored the voices and movements of African-Americans and other communities of colour in the United States, while presenting non-white people around the world as exotic, primitive creatures with inferior intellect.

“National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized,” Mr. Mason said. “That was a colour line and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

After unashamedly dissecting the past, Ms. Goldberg promised a future full of writing, photograph and videos made by a true diversity of creators. This month’s contributors’ masthead is encouraging.

The issue is meant to commemorate, on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a fitting occasion to look at the realities, rather than the ideals, of racial justice. Since his death, Dr. King has often been, well, white-washed: depicted as a kind, hand-holding teddy bear willing to spend his lifetime coaxing white Americans into sharing.

It’s common for people uncomfortable with discussions of race to simplify Dr. King’s work. Too often, his dream that “people … not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character” is invoked as a way to avoid grappling with the privileges and responsibilities of whiteness.

But Dr. King was very clear that he didn’t find good intentions to be of much use in the fight for civil rights. When criticized by white clergy for direct-action tactics, such as sit-ins, the Baptist minister sharply condemned their unwillingness to disturb their own comfort, which he saw as complicity in black oppression.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block is not … the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,” he wrote in his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail, published the same year as his more famous Nobel acceptance speech. “Shallow understanding by people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding by people of ill will,” he added.

It seemed fairly shallow this week when actor-producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon announced future projects by their production company Pearl Street will have an “inclusion rider.” A concept introduced to the wider world by Frances McDormand when she picked up her Oscar, an inclusion rider is a requirement by the biggest players on a movie that various types of diversity be represented among cast and crew.

Such targets are a great idea, but these BFF-bros have multiple failings on the diversity front to atone for – such as when Mr. Damon mansplained diversity to black producer Effie Brown; or when Mr. Affleck coerced Henry Louis Gates Jr. into concealing the movie star’s relatives’ slave-owning past, leading to questions about the integrity of Prof. Gates’s geneological TV show, Finding Your Roots. Before attempting to change the system, they need to admit their place in it.

As National Geographic has shown, change begins at home. The magazine’s broad approach to rectifying its past is promising because it recognizes both individual actions and a larger system. As the age of apologies rolls on, it’s a good example to follow.

via How to apologize, the National Geographic way – The Globe and Mail