White supremacy produces disproportionate environmental pollution

Environmental racism describes the idea that non-white people are disproportionately exposed to toxic waste, agricultural chemicals, air pollution and drinking water contamination. Environmental racism is well-documented. Most of the time, though, instances of environmental racism are described as reckless individual acts of pollution or poisoning, instead of symptoms of a structural problem directly linked to white supremacy.

White supremacy, unlike the term “white privilege,” destabilizes the innocence of whiteness. It reminds us of the violent domination of Black and brown bodies through genocide and enslavement, which were both necessary in granting today’s white people their unearned rights, privileges and resources. White supremacy is much deeper than the Ku Klux Klan, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and Rudyard Kipling’s musings in “The White Man’s Burden.” It is embedded in the consciousness of a large majority of the world’s population, influences the beauty standards and even informs whose lives matter. Most importantly though, white supremacy facilitates the premature death of Black and brown bodies by devaluing their existence.

In the context of environmental racism, white supremacy simply exempts white people from proportional exposure to toxic waste because they are “too good” to be around it. Additionally, if money can be made by rerouting a source of pollution to a Black or brown neighborhood, it will be. The lives and well-being of Black and brown people are essentially sacrificed to afford white people a safe and clean environment to live in.

This can be seen in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, where pushback from the primarily white town of Bismarck, North Dakota, prompted the pipeline to be rerouted through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. It can also be seen in Flint, Michigan, where the financial success of the mostly white state of Michigan took precedence over the health of the mostly Black and poor city of Flint. Frankly, white people are willing to inflict violence on Black and brown bodies in the form of environmental pollution in order to keep themselves away from contamination.

Those of you that are thinking, “Well everybody in Flint wasn’t Black. So how was the poisoning of the city’s water supply an act of white supremacy?”

The truth is, since the white people in Flint are poor, they’re subjected to live in the same conditions as the Black and brown people in the city. Ultimately, because of this, their lives were also rendered disposable. A key component of whiteness involves distancing one’s white body away from Black and brown ones as a sign of status. White people who aren’t financially equipped to relocate to affluent suburbs or neighborhoods get lumped in with the Black and brown people in impoverished areas. This is what I like to call “disposability by association.”

Current work surrounding environmental racism has focused more on identifying exposure rather than actually solving the problem of disproportionate environmental pollution. Community-based organizations are often forced to work on a case-by-case basis, targeting specific polluters instead of the entire system that allows these corporations to pollute. Even though justice may be served in one community, white supremacy enables hundreds of other facilities across the country to dump, spill and spray toxic waste into communities composed of primarily Black and brown people.

The reality is, the only way to solve environmental racism is to dismantle white supremacy. This would mean shifting the currently unscrupulous thought paradigm of our nation to one of truth and justice. The first thing the United States could do is hold itself accountable for its ultimate sin by granting fiscal reparations to all citizens who are descendants of Africans who were brought to this country by the transatlantic slave trade. Next, we have to start making white people live next to the pollution they are responsible for. Once they start to see the adverse health effects it causes, things might start to change. It might spark a new demand for renewable energy, less wasteful production tactics and proper waste disposal.

History shows that things don’t usually become a problem until rich white people are negatively affected. So, the next time Los Angeles wants to build a trash incinerator, put it in Beverley Hills instead of Boyle Heights. As long as the dominant ideology in this country is centered around preserving white lives instead of Black and brown ones, landfills, oil refineries and uranium mining operations will more often find themselves strategically located in non-white communities.

Jibril Kyser is a third-year student at UC Berkeley studying plant and soil sciences.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • jimmyslippers

    I get so confused. First they tell me kum-ba-yaa we are all equal, then they tell me everything is my fault because I’m white.

  • garyfouse

    Yes, Jibril,

    We’ll round up all those rich white people and forcibly relocate them next to the city landfill. That’ll help everybody else.

    Seriously, are you going to spend the rest of your life consumed with all this white boogey man stuff?
    Where is it going to get you in life? In spite of the dark chapters in our history (and I am old enough to remember segregation and the civil rights movement), you live in the greatest and freest country in the world. You are going to college (and unfortunately being indoctrinated). For God’s sake, get your degree and go out and make something of your life. There is no white racist in the country who can stop you from being all you can be.

    And stop demonizing white people. We are not your enemy.

  • jim hoch

    I was just in China. They must have a terrible case of white supremacy as the pollution was terrible.

  • Reason And Believing

    Umm White supremacy has zero to do with brown people.
    White supremacy is the notion that ONE white group is superior to OTHER white groups.
    That’s why it’s not just called “white racism’. It’s a supremacy of whites compared to each other, not people of color.
    This is typically between the Aryans , who they are genetically superior, and the people who think they are “chosen by god”, exclusively of Jewish descent.

  • Zjduke7

    Who wrote this eFFing garbage??

  • jeffreyg

    LOL, I love snowflakes! They are so entertaining!!

  • Ramrod69

    People who use terms such as white privilege and white supremacy un ironically suffer from Race and success envy.

  • DarkStarCrashes

    As “Nunya Beeswax” pointed out, this article fails to show how race is a factor in the environmental injustice issue. All the examples seem to suggest class as the main determinant of how much environmental toxicity one is exposed to. It makes sense that richer people and groups would dump their waste away from their own communities, instead depositing it in places where the residents don’t have the means to stand up for themselves.

    The author is clearly a sloppy thinker. This piece illustrates the kind of thought process common to psychotics, conspiracy theorists, many religious people, and folks who are caught in a weird trip on acid. It’s a looping-pattern-revealing sort of thing, relying hugely on intuition and associative thought. It’s like a confirmation-bias hermeneutic circle phenomenon. Once you’re in it it’s pretty hard to get out because you just keep spiraling. You’re so committed to your story that you can’t help but see everything as evidence of its truth. Humans are very good at spinning narratives out of mere correlations, which is why we’ve developed more systematic methods of thought to defend ourselves from our own cognitive traps.

    The far-left identity politics camp has abandoned systematic rational thought. I cannot support any movement that does that.

    • Zjduke7

      I think you are being too generous in even labeling the author “a sloppy thinker”. I see very little evidence of any “thinking” at all!

  • Man with Axe

    I don’t know why there is so much concern about what happens to people who are already dead. I keep hearing about all the harm being imposed on “black bodies.” Who cares? They are beyond being hurt anymore. Just give them a dignified burial, and turn your attention to the living.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      It’s a strange quirk of the ID politics crowd that rather than talk about white, black, or brown people they want to refer to white, black, or brown bodies. I don’t know why, but it’s an irritating locution.

  • SecludedCompoundTTYS

    It’s amazing how little anyone at Berkeley actually knows about the world, or for that fact, politics. They are all in group think and refuse to even discuss it with me (because I am wrong). These tolerant people need to listen to some Ben Shapiro podcast with an honest ear or even just Adam Corolla to see why/how people think different than them without the blurs/lies/indoctrination.

  • Left Unsaid

    This is why higher indoctrination should be defunded. Serious lack of comprehension and reasoning skillz.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Your sixth paragraph is unconvincing. The facts you cite would seem to better support a thesis that the cogent factor in environmental “racism” is actually class, not race.

    But don’t let that disturb your fantasies of FREE MONIEZ LOL and putting white people in toxic-waste-laden concentration camps. Because that’s totally not batsh*t insane.

  • James Dawson

    People are free to move anywhere that they wish to. That dosen’t mean that they can afford to move there. I am white and must accept that as well.

  • DerpDerpDerp

    That’s funny. Your cousins live in their own waste and we are bad for the environment? LoL You’re like a virus. Any nation you people infect suffers for it. Your native lands are like scenes from a nightmare.

    Don’t like whites? Good, get ready to move. We don’t like you. 12% of the population and 66% of the crime… Exiling your race from our lands would save us billions in law enforcement and we get the added bonus of a reduction in welfare costs.

  • Alex

    College of Natural Resources at it again with the leftist SJW crap, even the other liberal arts majors on campus laugh at these morons.

  • JP

    And white supremacy produces disproportionate enrollment of Asian-American undergraduates at Cal. Go figure!

    • Jorge Carolinos

      The essay also makes me confused about gentrification.

  • ESPM360

    One sure way to distance yourself from whiteness and it is something you can do today. Stop using any laptop, cell phone, tablet, any oil based product, plastic, automobile, electricity, refrigerator, food processor, etc. You should drop out of UCB. That’s right. Founded by a white man.

    • Stan Morgan

      You forgot toilets.

      • lspanker


  • zzz

    The word violence literally has no meaning with this indoctrinated crowd. I’m going to go into the kitchen and do some violence on a frying pan right now.

  • Killer Marmot

    One day, people are going to look back on how so many academics despised Caucasians and blamed them for so many of the world’s woes no matter how ludicrous the logic, and ask “How did these supposed smart and enlightened academics get away with such open bigotry?”

    • Left Unsaid

      Caucasians? Have you ever seen people from that Caucus Mountains? They look nothing like any Europeans you’ve ever seen.

      • Man with Axe

        A “caucasian” is a white person who is being chased by the police.

      • Reason And Believing

        Someone tell LeftUnsaid about people being able to move around.

    • jimmyslippers

      Who is John Galt?

  • Joey

    “A key component of whiteness involves distancing one’s white body away from Black and brown ones as a sign of status.”

    Only halfway down the article, trying to wait till the end to respond, when I see this. How is this not unfounded and racially inflammatory? “Whiteness” is in regards to every single person who is considered “white”. That’s illogical. Trying very hard to remain objective as I read this article.

    • SecludedCompoundTTYS

      I think it’s because she is an obviously indoctrinated youth. It appears Berkeley is a breeding ground for young impressionable college students, especially those who didn’t have much social interaction in high school (mostly due to studying). They literally cannot think for themselves and its so glaring it’s making me blind! They just want to fit in and they find there way to fit in by just forming to the Berkeley norm.

  • Killer Marmot

    People of European descent are principally responsible for the flowering of science, technology, and industry over the last three centuries. Other populations have now joined in, particularly over the last half century. This has allowed humanity to support far greater populations with far greater affluence for each person.

    As an example, we are very good at the handling of waste, the treatment of drinking water, and the control of contagious diseases. Without these advances, cities and towns would be more hazardous places and populations would be much smaller. Sometimes it goes off the rails, but not often in industrialized countries. The fact that exceptions are so rare is a testament to our advancement.

    So thank you, white people.

    • SecludedCompoundTTYS

      This race stuff is highly annoying. I agree with people who might be stereotyped and treated poorly by some but that does not change by articles about that. I do not see the systemic racism that people are Berkeley speak of, but I do not deny cases of racism. Some minorities blame white people and those are the ones that don’t succeed in life. We are supporting failure of thought.

      • lspanker

        The problem is that these minorities blame the wrong people. The fact of the matter is that the liberal-left academic establishment sets up many of these “people of color” to fail. Social promotion, no discipline, and union tenure rules that make it nearly impossible to fire bad or incompetent teachers in the K-12 schools, result in a bunch of HS “graduates” who in many cases can barely read or write. AA/diversity admissions to college campuses and universities results in a bunch of students who are so over their heads academically, so the colleges create these various and sundry racial/ethnic/gender grievance/victims studies programs to stuff their heads full of nonsense because they are incapable of making it through any course that requires them to perform at the collegiate level. They get out of college saddled with debt and no useful skills, and in effect are worse off than if they hadn’t even gone there in the first place, because the other minimum-wage workers they will have to compete with at least aren’t up to their eyeballs in student debt. Naturally, they run around yelling and screaming that “white racism” is responsible for all their problems, which is what the lefties wanted in the first place: cannon fodder for their Marxist class warfare…

      • Reason And Believing

        What we need to consider might be if racism is innately immoral or wrong, and if so, what objective logical argument gets a secular world to that belief.
        It could be racism itself is natural , universal and in need of proper guidance, rather than the delusion that anyone, especially anti-racists, can be not racist while rambling against a race.

    • Reason And Believing

      You are welcome.

  • lspanker

    Obviously the writer has never been to certain neighborhoods in Oakland and Richmond, much less countries where “people of color” predominate to see how they often treat their own environment. Another example of the loopy left-wing lunacy that had become the new “standard” (I use that term loosely) for the Daily Cal.

    • SecludedCompoundTTYS

      As someone who grew up in a minority area, its so obvious to me, that none of these entitled college students even know what its like. Not that its bad and that’s the problem. They see the minorities as only living in horrible poverty and being hated on.

      • . . . . .

        The author of this article is a black man.

        • Ramrod69

          also a racist.