Environmental Justice


with Jacqui Patterson, Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program for the NAACP


Feb 07, 2018

A recent study, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency, discovered that exposure to air pollutants is notably influenced by race. Jacqui Patterson, Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program for the NAACP discusses the organization’s efforts in providing resources and supporting community leadership by addressing this human and civil rights issue.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: In the United States today, communities of color in lower-income communities have disproportionate exposure to all forms of pollution and the associated health risks than higher income areas. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me for discussion about environmental justice is Jacqui Patterson. She is Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program for the NAACP. Jacqui, welcome to the program.

Patterson: Thank you.

Traynham: So what I just said a few moments ago is really sad to say. Please confirm that it´s true or not true that communities of color, specifically communities where perhaps maybe the medium income is a bit lower than their white counterparts, there is a predisposition, if you will, that that community would be more exposed to pollution.

Patterson: That is true, and it tells the true that even higher income communities of color are more likely to have toxic facilities than lower-income white communities.

Traynham: So it doesn´t matter about the income in this context. It really matters about your skin tone.

Patterson: I mean, both matter, but yeah. But yeah.

Traynham: Why is that the case, Jacqui?

Patterson: Yeah. So, it´s a couple of things. One is often the communities -- whether it´s communities of color or low-income communities not necessarily have the political power to fight back against the siting of a toxic facility in those communities. Also property values are often tied to both skin color and low income. And so when property values are lower, that´s where the corporations are more likely to place their facilities there because it´s cheaper for them to operate there.

Traynham: I´m gonna go out on a limb here a little bit. Is it also because there´s just a lack of community organization at the local level? Perhaps maybe to push back or to fight back? Let me give a prime example. Let´s just say this is community A, and this is a white community that has a very affluent community. They´re very vocal in their community, and this is community B that´s all predominantly African-American. And perhaps maybe there´s local -- no local infrastructure. If I´m a corporation, I´m gonna go with this community as opposed to this one because there´s gonna be less resistance for lack of a better term.

Patterson: Well, what´s interesting is that as much as that might be, to some extent, true, what´s happening is that there might be equal organizing in both communities.

Traynham: I see.

Patterson: But that higher-income community or that white community has more political power. So this community could be fighting all day, every day, but they´re not gonna necessarily have the same influence as that organized -- that other organized community.

Traynham: Talk to us about your work. Talk to us about the NAACP. How did you get involved with this? You, specifically, but also the NAACP.

Patterson: Yeah, so the NAACP really came into this through the climate change lens. They were finding as climate change impacts disasters, ships, and agricultural yields, where specifically impacting communities of color, then they really were starting to get demands from their communities -- our communities -- to say that there was assistance needed to deal with. Whether it´s the impact of Hurricane Katrina or these other disasters. And so they decided to pass a resolution on engaging around climate change. And from there, the program was born.

Traynham: And your work in this? How did you get involved?

Patterson: My work in this was actually started with my work on women´s rights internationally and seeing the disproportionate impact of climate change and various environmental injustices on women around the world. And then also working in the U.S. and seeing how women are even more impacted, whether it´s the spikes in violence that happen after disasters, or the fact that the toxins that come out of these smokestacks are endocrine disrupters. It affects reproductive health for women.

Traynham: Jacqui, I´m going to go out on a limb here in the minute or so we have left. I´m working under assumption, and it´s based on my personal experience that, in my community of color, we don´t talk about the environment that often. We talk about recycling. We talk about hybrid cars. We talk about the cost of gasoline and so forth. But in the context of an organizing voice, if you will, around landfills, around coal mines and fracking and so forth, that´s just not part of our nomenclature. Is that true throughout the African-American community? And if so, how do we change that? How do we change that narrative?

Patterson: Yeah, so it varies. There are communities like the Mossville Environmental Action Network, which is in Louisiana, that have been fighting a fight around the toxic facilities that have been in their communities for years and years and years. In Chicago, fighting against the Fisk and Crawford coal plants for a decade, which finally resulted in those plants´ closure. So communities who are on the front lines of those impacts and really feel those impacts and know where those impacts are coming from, they´ve been slogging away. There´s other communities that, for them, that coal plant in their backyard, they don´t even know that it´s why half the kids in their school are carrying nebulizers to school every day, or half the people in their church are dragging around respirators and so forth. And so, those are the communities with whom we´re working to kind of help to make those linkages and help folks to organize to make the changes that they needed to make.

Traynham: Jacqui Patterson with the NAACP, thank you very much for joining us. And keep up the great work.

Patterson: It´s a pleasure. Thank you.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham.

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