Environmental Justice: Histories of Contamination and Stories of Resistance

Starting at the scale of infrastructure, policy, and land acquisition, this lecture examines how the groundwork has been laid for ongoing exploitation and slow violence against communities of color in the United States. It explores the impacts of industrial pollution and contamination by highlighting the connections between the built environment and public health in light of the history of industrial zoning. Acknowledging the connections between race and contaminated environments, it grounds an examination of contemporary lived experiences with a history of zoning laws in American cities and federal policies that stripped Native Americans of their lands and led to high rates of environmental pollution near their communities. The lecture links to other educational resources and videos to explore how contamination has affected the built environment and cultural practices and connections to urban and natural landscapes. After an introduction to the origins of the environmental justice movement, this lecture briefly outlines these case studies: 1. New York City, South Bronx - Moving from policy to impact on living conditions, the lecture outlines the history of pollution and contamination in New York City and the impact on Black and Latinx communities, explaining the policies that informed the location of waste transfer stations, major expressways and trucking routes, and vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. It turns then to actions and spaces of resistance: community land trusts, community gardens, murals, and the community-designed H.E.ARTS building, a center for health, education, and the arts. First person accounts from residents of Mott Haven in the South Bronx, graphically represented as comic strips and a short film, aim to connect students to the impact of these histories on real people. 2. Native American Land, Superfund Sites, and the experiences of the Ramapough Lunaape Turtle Clan - Environmental racism has always been at play in the production of American space. This lecture explains how this has informed land policies from the earliest days of the nation with the 1830 Indian Removal Act to more recent legislation.. Examples include maps illustrating this large-scale reorganization and the experiences of Mohawk and Ramapough communities who have had to respond and find ways to survive and continue cultural practices despite the disruptions caused by contamination. This section of the lecture draws from Our Land, Our Stories – a collaborative research project with the Ramapough Lunaape Nation Turtle Clan in Ringwood, New Jersey. First person accounts and visualized stories describe their changing relationship with the landscape, cultural restoration projects, and their efforts towards food sovereignty with the Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm. A book and a short film, funded by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, are resources for teaching, available free of charge to educators and students to support learning in this module.


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