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  Web Editor:
  Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton
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Race and Health Care
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March 13, 2009

In March of 1963 Martin Luther King’s famous march on Washington to protest the government’s failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks took place. This is considered one of the most important events in the fight on racism in the past 50 years. The march did make specific demands with some being the end of segregation of public schools, meaningful civil rights legislation and a $2 minimum wage.

Racism has changed over the years but it still exists. Are you a victim of racism? In the years following 9/11 people of Middle Eastern heritage were blatant targets and even now we have people who are still experiencing racism. Is the type of racisms you are exposed to based on the color of your skin, sexual preference, political beliefs or by just where you live.

Environmental Racism is defined as the intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, the intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities for the siting of polluting industries, or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies.

In the United States researchers have been investigating why minorities are more likely to live in areas where there is more pollution than Caucasians. It has been suggested that the segregation practices of the past have contributed. Even affluent minority communities are more likely to be in high pollution areas than similarly affluent Caucasian communities.

From 1987 to 1992 researcher James T. Hamilton studied American Zip Codes for targeted expansion of hazardous waste facilities. He found that the average minority population in the targeted areas was 25% compared to only 18% in the non-targeted areas. Of the more than 9 million people estimated to live within 2 miles of one of the nation’s 413 commercial waste facilities, 5.1 million are people of color and Caucasians only make up 25% of the estimated total.

While this study shows a startling reality in the USA, Environmental Racism is not limited to affluent countries. Between 1989 and 1994 it is estimated that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries exported 2,611,677 metric tons of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries.

The question of “Why is this happening?” ends with the answer of “Racism and Profit.” The large corporations continue with the “Profit before People” mindset. Corporations have become more powerful than nation states and feel that they are not accountable to anyone except their shareholders. Second, around the world people of color pay a far greater and disproportionate price for economic development and industrialism with their health.

Is there a solution? Experts point that the solution is Globalization based on a global civil society that puts accountability of moral, legal and environmental issues of the leaders on the people they govern. This means that we should hold the governments accountable. In a democratic society this accountability exists with the ability to remove existing governments from power. Unfortunately, the world is not all democracies. The fact is that humanity still has a long way to grow up and mature. This is exactly what Martin Luther King was hoping for; let us hope that one day we can realize his dream.


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