When Environmental Justice Intersects Social Injustice
This week, June 1 2020, Assateague Coastal Trust finds it necessary to step aside from our usual routines and take a hard look at the events of the past few days, and indeed the past three months.
The phrase “institutional racism” has been used in the media a great deal this weekend, but when someone speaks about institutional racism, what do they mean? Most people can’t really define it; is it discrimination in hiring? Is it discriminatory police profiling? Is it calling the cops when a black bird watcher asks you to leash your dog? Well, maybe. And just maybe it is here on Delmarva in ways you can’t imagine. Here is another phrase that is hard to define exactly, but it is one that ACT is all too familiar with, “underserved communities.”
So what is an underserved community and why would an organization with Assateague in its name be concerned with them? Underserved communities are one of the harder to see aspects of institutional racism. They are communities most often chosen for the building of prisons, the creation of landfills, and the placement of polluting and unregulated industries. They are communities that have an identity, a culture and a structure, but they are frequently poor and frequently populated by racial minorities. Ten years ago as ACT continued its work to provide cleaner waters on Delmarva we began to partner with members of these underserved communities when we recognized that, while the impact of these polluting industries affect water quality, they had a more immediate impact on the lives of the people who lived near them.
It is important to recognize that we can’t have clean water without addressing the system that willingly victimizes one portion of the population to the benefit of another; that we also can’t expect to be supported in our work to clean up the environment unless we work to clean up everyone’s environment. Fred Tutman, founder of the Patuxent Riverkeeper program, was recently quoted in the Washington Post saying, “I believe if you focus on helping people, you get more people helping and a better environment becomes a byproduct.”
Seven years ago ACT joined forces with the NAACP and community groups protesting a permit that would have allowed three million chickens to be grown directly on top of a community’s drinking water source, because the local government didn’t give a second thought to placing this polluting industrial facility smack in the middle of a community that was 80% African American. This is a prime example of exactly what is meant by the phrase institutional racism.
Today the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the inequities our Haitian, Hispanic and African American citizens on Delmarva face at the workplace within the poultry industry. For a variety of reasons they suffered disproportionately from the effects of the pandemic; working while sick, working in conditions that spread the virus and lacking access to vital medical services.
This week ACT asks our members to take action and reach out to those who need help. Volunteer your time, and your money, to the organizations on the Lower Shore working every day to level the playing field for those who are underserved.
Support the Community Foundation of The Eastern Shore, an organization that provides funding to many non-profits fighting on the front lines of poverty every day. Get to know the community non-profits they fund and volunteer your time with one.
Give a donation to support the CATA-Farmworkers Support Committee office on Delmarva. CATA is a non-profit organization founded by migrant farmworkers in southern New Jersey in 1979. Since then CATA has expanded out into our region and now works with the Latino immigrant community on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Purchase a membership, or volunteer your time, with your local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter. The Wicomico County NAACP Chapter works to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all citizens and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
Make a donation to, or volunteer with, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services in Berlin, MD. WYFCS helps people of all ages with a broad spectrum of services that include mental health counseling, youth and adolescent enrichment programs, advocacy for abused and neglected children, and empowerment programs for those less fortunate.
Visit the Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center in Salisbury, MD. Built in 1838, the Chipman Center is the oldest standing African American church on Delmarva. Located just off Rt. 50 in the heart of Salisbury, it occupies the site of a former open meadow where slaves gathered for worship and today houses important cultural artifacts that pay homage to the importance of African Americans in the history and development of Delmarva. Make an appointment to visit.
Become more engaged in your community and learn more about the communities around you. ACT firmly believes that an informed citizenry is an engaged citizenry.
Community Foundation Of The Eastern Shore ~ 1324 Belmont Ave. Ste 401, Salisbury, MD 21804 410.742.9911
CATA-Salisbury Office ~ CATA Salisbury MD c/o CATA New Jersey, PO Box 510, Glassboro, NJ 08028 856.881.2507
Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services ~ 124 N Main St, Berlin, MD 21811 (410) 641-4598
NAACP ~ Wicomico County NAACP Branch 7098 P.O. Box 1047 Salisbury, MD 21802 410.543.4187
Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center 325 Broad St., Salisbury, MD 21801 410-860-9290