Community Voices

Kimmie Madrigal is a 19-year old first-generation college student.

My family consists of generations of undocumented immigrants, so our movements were always a bit hesitant at times since I was raised here in the states. My passion can be seen through my activism since I am currently working on a non-profit including topics pertaining to environmental racism and wellness in a way that is inclusive and intersectional to support people of color!

I remember walks through my neighborhood. My head lowered down while paying attention to my small steps as I was a way too embarrassed child to look up. If only I had given myself a chance to lift my head up in time to realize sooner what was happening around me. With the migration and settlement of many minority groups, came the foundation of what is known as environmental racism. According to Robert D. Bullard, environmental racism can be defined as “any environmental policy, practise or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups or communities based on race or colour” (Bullard, 1999). This Environmental movement began in North Carolina caused by the huge portion of waste being disposed in the communities of people of color. Such cases involve the safety of waste facilities, air pollution, and water contamination, especially in Chicago, Louisiana, California, Michigan, Texas, and Alabama. Places that have been historically segregated now have higher disparities for communities of color, therefore the leading factor for the placement of hazardous waste sites relates back to race as Bullard’s case studies have closely examined.

The process of how race plays a part is a key to understanding the roots of environmental racism and how this has branched out into different forms not just across the United States but also globally. Racism still continues to influence where these hazardous waste sites are placed, where the toxic substances are released, and where the dumping of substances that are contaminating and threatening the safety of others are distributed. Air pollution and the toxic waste products that are dumped near people of color have lowered their life expectancies. The data reviewed by Bullard about off-site hazards showed that communities with income lower than the poverty line were black and brown communities. California and Chicago are just two places where the highest percentages of cases reported documentation of environmental racism present. One of the first studies suggesting the existence of environmental racism was from the national study made by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC/CRJ) where documentation showed how communities of people of color were being disproportionately affected. Higher exposure of lead has been found in water and soil, contaminating the areas where low-income and minority communities live.

Many of these underrepresented communities are not offered or cannot afford the basic resources for survival, such as clean and safe drinking water, nutritional food, and affordable housing. When our quality and safety of water is being contaminated, this is also threatening to our mental and physical health. This pattern and existence of segregation through the process of environmental racism goes even beyond the United States. Acknowledgment needs to be made since these things threaten the safety of people of color, and those below the poverty line. The way racism is shaped into our everyday lives has helped with the understanding of why these inequalities continue to occur. I find my passion when looking at my surroundings, my activism revolves around the injustices found within our communities. This system that is purposely putting people of color and people like my family at a disadvantage, while also excluding our voices. Now as I make my way around my neighborhood, I find myself looking at my surroundings. Only this time I am met with some familiar faces and as we breathe in the air, we look out towards the nearby facilities. 


Words and studies done by Robert D. Bullard:

Environmental Racism/Justice: