Sunday, September 24, 2023

Students report environmental racism in Houston


Student reporters at St John’s School in Houston, site of the nation’s seventh-largest school district, report that the concentration of environmental pollution is much higher in neighborhoods where mostly Black and Brown people live.

“Back in 1979, a study of the distribution of industrial waste sites throughout Houston found that 14 of the city’s 17 hazardous facilities—accounting for over 80 percent of the city’s waste—were built in historically Black and Brown neighborhoods,” students note. And the situation is much the same today.

“Houston’s massive infrastructure upholds its reputation as the stronghold of American oil,” write Indrani Maitra and Max Stith in The Review student newspaper. “But underlying Houston’s status as an industrial juggernaut is a tortured legacy of environmental racism, defined as the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.”

Racism is “a systemic issue,” the student-reporters quote a former editor at the student newspaper, who has reported about equitable development around Houston for a local paper, as saying. “And environmental racism is jarring proof.”

An extensive report in Education Week earlier this year offers some insights into the different meanings of “critical race theory” and why the topic is so controversial among K-12 educators and those who try to control the curriculum.

Using a city map that identifies neighborhoods populated mostly by Whites, January Advisor noted about six years ago that mostly-White neighborhoods have fewer treatment storage and disposal facilities, which spew tons of pollution into the environment, than neighborhoods with higher percentages of people of color. Those are concentrated mainly in the northeast-southwest corridor of the city.

As the report notes, city zoning policies have historically promoted segregation and banks have been reluctant to lend money to minority individuals seeking housing in mostly-White neighborhoods, further widening the opportunity or equity gap for individuals of color. In Houston, the vast difference between communities in the so-called “arrow” with nice lawns and mostly-minority communities to the northeast with soot-covered streets is a prime example of environmental racism advanced by government policy.

St John’s School is a private school and is not affiliated with the Houston Independent School District.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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