Environmental Racism in the Bay Area

unnamed“Have you ever wondered why all of the oil companies and industries are located in low-income neighborhoods with majority people of color?”

When my 9th grade Biology teacher asked our class this question, I was perplexed. Yet, being in an environment where students did not always challenge the authority nor immerse themselves in learning outside of the classroom, I was never really able to significantly ponder that question until 11th grade, when reality came crashing down.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Freedom Breathers, I became very acquainted with my city government, grassroots organizing, and, most importantly, knowledge, understanding, and questioning of complex and institutionalized injustices. From that experience, I learned that Pittsburg, California was only one of few marginalized communities that faces a large amount of industry, and thus, pollution, toxic plumes, and poor health conditions. I also learned that gentrification, income, skin color, education, and other factors are all linked, a concept that my freshman year Biology teacher had hinted at.

When reading the article, “Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill,” I noticed a very interesting and important point: white people did not want African Americans entering or living in the same neighborhoods as them. This discrimination occurred during the World War 2 era, and still continues to this day. In fact, the tech boom has caused further acceleration of gentrification in most of the Bay Area.

Young, often white tech workers moved into San Francisco because of the many tech companies that house their headquarters in the city. The young tech workers are attracted to the city, and its abundance of food options, nightlife, and culture. Unfortunately, they are also affecting the local culture in a negative way, by pushing rents costs up. These higher costs can be afforded by the tech workers, but not the long-standing members of the community who are now being displaced out of San Francisco. These displaced people are often African Americans or Chicano/Latinos who have contributed to much of the culture and livelihood of the neighborhoods in San Francisco, such as the Mission District or Clarion Alley.

Where are these displaced people moving? They’re all being pushed more inland, to places like Oakland, Richmond, Pittsburg, and Antioch, where the population is predominantly low-income and from minority groups. They are being forced to live in places with limited resources and poor health conditions, which further divides the white population living in clean, healthy neighborhoods from the people of color living in – what should be -uninhabitable spaces.

These forced migrations into unsafe areas are definitely aspects of environmental racism. The fact that citizens in Porter Ranch, who are predominately white, received government help only a few months after a gas leakage, while communities of color facing environmental injustices continued to be ignored, even after years of asking for help. In many ways, discrimination against people of color is institutionalized and furthered by poor political practices.

I stand with the people of Richmond to increase more citizen level representation in city council and places of power, because only those who can identify with the issue can take the steps needed to fix it. By doing so, I hope that questions such as the one my 9th grade Biology teacher posed could be understood and discussed at an earlier age.



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