Black Buffers & Environmental Justice (9/00)

Today, when there is an assault launched against the interests and aspirations of Black people, there is a high probability that the power structure will use a Black person, a black face to be the point person for the attack. I have termed this phenomenon the new Black on Black crime, Black buffers who block progress. This certainly appears to be the case with the Environmental Justice Movement, which is facing a growing assault spearheaded by the "Black" Chamber of Commerce and the "Black" Mayor of Detroit, Michigan, Dennis Archer.

The Environmental Justice Movement (EJM), which I consider to be one of the most powerful movements in the US, developed as a response by Black people and people of color to "environmental racism," the disproportionate dumping of toxins and environmental contaminates in communities of color. It began in 1982 in Warren County North, Carolina when a group of courageous community residents engaged in a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience to block the state from storing 6,000 truckloads of PCB contaminated soil in a landfill near their community. The issue was picked up by the Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ) of the United Church of Christ under the leadership of Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis (Minister Benjamin Muhammad). It was Chavis who coined the term environmental racism, based on a CRJ study showing that throughout the South there was a pattern of locating toxic dumps and pollution emitting facilities near Black and poor communities. The CRJ study was supported by a milestone study conducted by Dr. Robert Bullard of Clarke University, who published his findings in a highly acclaimed book, Dumping in Dixie.

The struggle in Warren County North Carolina marked a turning point in the environmental movement in this country. Prior to 1982, the environmental movement was largely viewed by Black people and people of color as a "White movement" because of the focus on the preservation of various species of endangered wildlife. As the awareness of environmental racism increased, more and more Black people came to understand that people of color all across America are living in "endangered communities" because of environmental pollution and contamination — conditions which pose serious dangers to the health and well being of community residents.

Inspired by the example of the struggle in Warren County, North Carolina, and with Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis preaching and teaching about environmental racism around the nation, the EJM took roots and began to spread, eventually encompassing people from affecting communities among Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

In October 1991, more than 600 hundred environmental activists converged on Washington, DC for the first People of Color Environmental Justice Summit. At the Summit activists, scholars and experts from communities of color hammered out a holistic definition of the "environment" to include all of the physical and social elements required to build and sustain healthy communities. The Summit gave an enormous boast to a movement, which was already redefining the landscape in terms of awakening communities of color to the dangers of the disproportionate dumping of toxins in their communities. Ordinary people began to challenge the government and corporations for their failure to protect communities from pollution and contamination.

As a consequence of the mounting pressure from affected communities, local and state governments and the federal government began to respond by enacting more stringent environmental policies/ regulations. President Clinton responded by issuing an Executive Order on Environmental Justice designed to prevent environmental racism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A powerful new movement was building momentum. In communities around the nation environmental justice activists began to score victory after victory by utilizing local, state and federal regulations to compel plants and factories to clean up their act and by blocking pollution emitting facilities from locating in people of color communities. In a development that sent shock waves throughout the corporate business community, a broad based coalition environmental justice activists joined with the St. James Parish Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice to block the sitting of Shintech, a massive multi-million dollar polyvinylcloride plant in Convent, Louisiana in a region which is already known as "cancer alley" because of the immense number of polluting facilities that have been located there.

In a sign of a things to come, the "Black" President of the Louisiana NAACP came out in support for Shintech on the grounds the community needed economic development and jobs. A black face became the chief ally of a company that was willing to put profit above the health, welfare and wishes of the community. Fearful that the success of the battle against Shintech might be repeated in other locales across the nation, the US Chamber of Commerce has enlisted the support of the President of the Black Chamber of Commerce and "leading" Black elected officials like Mayor Dennis Archer of Detroit in an all out effort to blunt the progress and effectiveness of EJM. Parroting the position of their corporate sponsors in their disdain for environmental justice regulations, black faces have become the point persons in the effort to destroy the influence of the environmental justice movement. The EJM now facing the challenge of neutralizing and overcoming black buffers hell bent on blocking Black progress.

This article was provided by the Black Radical Congress (BRC-NEWS). 
To Subscribe, e-mail "subscribe brc-news" to