What Is Environmental Racism?

Civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin Chavis coined the term in 1982, providing a thorough environmental racism definition: “racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of colour for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of colour from leadership of the ecology movements.”

His definition hits on many of the environmental racism issues that are sadly still continuing today. From toxic waste to industrial pollutants, communities of color disproportionately bear the burden of environmental hazards. These effects can be intentional or unintentional, but stem from a problematic system of institutionalized racism and an attitude known as NIMBY-ism.

NIMBY stands for “Not In My Backyard,” and refers to “one’s opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable in one’s neighborhood.” This means that the wealthy can often leverage their power to keep toxic waste dumps and polluting factories out of their immediate area, which often leads to their placement in communities of color, who don’t have the same resources to push back.

In addition to more visible issues, environmental racism also results in widespread negative outcomes that—as just one example—have left communities of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19.


How To Combat Environmental Racism

Environmental racism is a deeply rooted issue, but we can work to dismantle it from many angles. Here are some of the ways you can fight environmental injustice:

Policy: supporting changes and additions to legislation that promote equality, fairly distribute the impacts of environmental harm, and repair environmental damage
Education: raising awareness about environmental racism, injustice, and inequality. Educating and equipping communities of color to combat environmental racism and to have a voice in environmental justice movements
Support: supporting organizations that are facing these issues head-on and are dedicated to equality in the environmental movement.
Community Initiatives: supporting nonprofits and community organizations working to alleviate the effects of environmental racism.

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