Look, I get it, you’re not an institution, so I know you probably didn’t do anything to promote institutional racism. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, because it shows its ugly face in places where you wouldn’t think to search. That’s kind of its whole thing.
However, if you want to understand the concept of “institutional racism” a little better, answer this question: Where is the nearest dump? If you have no idea, or if you know where it is but it’s nowhere near your home, then chances are you’re not a minority.
In studies of Houston, it was found that, if not all, nearly all of their city’s municipal landfills were located in primarily black neighborhoods. This was due to Houston’s white, powerful city leaders, who decided it was appropriate to dispose of all the city’s waste in black neighborhoods.
This kind of racism leads to a type of inequality that isn’t recognized as seriously as it should be: environmental inequality.
Environmental inequality focuses on the access and distribution of environmental resources and protection from their consequences. Historically, minority communities either don’t have equal access to environmental resources, they aren’t equally protected from their consequences, or some combination of both.
For example, in more studies of Torrance and Los Angeles, it was found that because of racially biased urban planning, Chicanos “faced the highest levels of exposure to industrial pollution in those cities when compared to (white people.)”
This isn’t a recent development. For these consequences to be seen effectively working against minority communities in the present, there were many years spent planning the location of these landfills or factories behind the scenes. So there were also many years where no one realized the extent of racism at play in local government, which allowed for environmental inequality for minorities, specifically people of color, in America.
There is absolutely no excuse for certain groups of people not having the same access to environmental resources as the rest, and even less of an excuse for the fact that they don’t have the same protection from environmental consequences.
It’s completely inhumane, and even though guilt isn’t a productive feeling, in this case, I definitely feel it. But don’t feel guilty. Just be aware of the methods used to oppress people of color and devalue them in society, and it’ll be exponentially more difficult to practice them.
A driving force behind the institutional racism that allowed for this kind of inequality was the fact that it was under most people’s radar.
Now that the consequences are able to be seen clearly, we have to make sure that it shows up big on everyone’s radar. We have to make sure that no one can try to make black and minority communities the home for all waste and pollution sites without anyone recognizing the underlying racism.
And we have to eventually start to amend our past mistakes as a country because it’s everybody’s fault for not realizing the horrible plans made while no one was paying attention. But that starts at a local level, which is why I’m writing to you.
Please keep learning about methods to promote institutional racism beyond the ones I’ve just laid out,
I know I’m going to do my best to educate myself as much as possible because that’s the first step in our fight. And don’t think Santa Barbara is free from these issues. It wasn’t so long ago that we had “Indo Muerto Street,” or, in English, “Dead Indian Street.”
The author is a UCSB sophomore.