In Jackson, History Repeats Itself
The recent water crisis facing Jackson, Mississippi has led to a number of comparisons to Flint, Michigan. Both are majority Black cities that have suffered from a severe water crisis that points to infrastructure failures stemming from underlying matters of systemic racism within the economy and government. In some ways, this reoccurring storyline dates back well before Flint.
The origins of the environmental justice movement decades earlier are often discussed in relationship to toxic waste dumping. This month we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the six-week nonviolent action campaign that launched the movement in Warren County, North Carolina, where the government of North Carolina decided it would dump PCBs, a known carcinogen. What is sometimes forgotten is that this decision, in essence, created a water crisis.
Commonsense would dictate that the last place one would want to dump toxic substances is a place where there is a high water-table level, but that is exactly what the State of North Carolina did. Why? Instead of making moral calculations, the State used a different calculation by selecting as its dump site the county with the highest proportion of black residents and one of the highest poverty rates in the state.
Protecting water from toxic substances is morality at its most basic elemental level. It is about caring for neighbors. It is about preserving the common good. For this reason, when we hear the stories of Jackson, Flint, Warren County, and too many unnamed communities, public indignation is readily provoked.
Let moments such as these call us to prophetic action as people of faith. In discerning how to act, let us listen and learn from stories, past and present.