Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Omar Khoury
Omar Khoury is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
The erroneous assumption that some lives matter more and other lives matter less than others is the root of wrongdoing in this world. Societally speaking, our worth is defined by the color of our skin and our area code rather than our attempts to rise above the circumstances in which we were born. Despite the criminalization of racial discrimination, it is overwhelmingly evident that there exists a culture of de facto racial and economic discrimination within our country and within the world.
Our age-old worship of financial worth and toxic hatred of different skin colors manifests itself in the undervaluing of human life. The current water crisis in Flint, Michigan demonstrates environmental racism, or the placement of low-income or minority communities in proximity of environmentally hazardous or degraded environments. 
Despite the deluge of media coverage, it does not solely occur within our domestic communities. Companies based in richer nations commonly discard goods to poorer countries in Africa or Asia under false pretenses.  In an effort to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling, a substantial proportion of e-waste exports go to developing nations. Treatment in these countries usually occurs in the informal sector, causing significant environmental pollution and health risks for local populations. 
This is a tragedy. It is important to further understand that this type of systematic environmental racism is directly associated with economic status as well as skin color. The city of Flint in central Michigan is nearly 56% black, and 40% live below the poverty line.  The present water crisis in Flint has origins in actions that occurred over a year ago when the city changed its water source from treated water to water sourced from the Flint River in an effort to reduce the expenses of the state. Despite a reduction in the state’s expenditures on water, they also cut corners on safety. 
According to Mays, et. al. v. Snyder, et. al., Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality wasn't treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, which is in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning it toxic brown, and emitting a vile smell. 
The deliberate conversion from a treated water source to an untreated water source reflects a dismal reality. If the city had been predominantly white, or had a higher average income, the risky—and hazardous—change of the water source would never have been attempted. Such a bold statement can be made because even as the safety of the water continued to worsen, the Flint public was deprived of an effective voice and had grave difficulty being heard by local and state officials. 
However, this is not the only case of environmental racism that has affected our nation. Before the classification of the Flint water situation as a crisis, a federal complaint from five states questioned the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the ongoing operation of hazardous waste dumps and other pollution-spewing facilities in low-income and minority communities in Michigan, California, Texas, New Mexico and Alabama between 1994 and 2003. 
What would have happened if the area was predominantly white or rich? The almost-criminal negligence of the EPA is patently clear, and the realization that no advancements have been made to this day makes it more likely than not that race and economic background is an underlying reason behind the lack of action. 
Some may deny the undeniable sociological connection between area code, skin color, and worth. However, it is time to start tackling human rights in a more indiscriminate manner through a legally binding process, and in a way that is colorblind.
Though the cynical view that many people have across our country – and our world – about the realities of race and money is well justified, it is time to start working once more for peace through solidarity. But peace does not only mean an absence of violence, but a manifestation of justice.
Let us make it our sacred duty to manifest justice.
 Melosi, Martin V.. 1995. “Equity, Eco-racism and Environmental History”. Environmental History Review 19 (3). [Forest History Society and The American Society for Environmental History, Oxford University Press, Forest History Society, American Society for Environmental History]: 1–16.
 Vidal, John. "Toxic 'e-waste' Dumped in Poor Nations, Says United Nations." The Guardian. 2013. Accessed February 07, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/14/toxic-ewaste-illegal-dumping-developing-countries.
 Ibid. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/2629000.html
 Melissa Mays, et. al. vs. Hon. Governor Rick Snyder, et. al.
 Cole, Juan. "Flint and Gaza: Water Crises of Colonialism." The Nation. 2016. Accessed February 07, 2016.
 Iovino, Nicholas. "EPA Failed to Investigate Environmental Racism in 5 States, Claims Lawsuit." Alternet. July 22, 2015. Accessed February 07, 2016. http://www.alternet.org/environment/epa-failed-investigate-environmental-racism-5-states-claims-lawsuit.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Michigan Municipal League
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.