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Guest Post: Why The Presidential Debates Need to Cover Environmental Injustices and Systemic Racism

While we have heard from quasi progressive pundits surrounding environmental challenges like climate change, we really need to hear someone call the issue what it truly is--ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM. White Liberals have often tip-toed around uncomfortable conversations, but now is simply not the time to deal with white tears. Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are dying. At the presidential debates, we are not interested in hearing warm and fuzzy (misinterpreted) MLK quotes and empty promises. We need to hear what the next leader of this country is going to do to restore, repair, and replenish our environment. Period.

Climate Change is Attacking Black Motherhood...How Will the Next President Stop This?

In June of this year, The New York Times released a compelling story--Climate Change Tied to Pregnancy Risks, Affecting Black Mothers Most. The story unveiled startling truths from a report published in JAMA Network Open which determined “Pregnant women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight or stillborn, and African-American mothers and babies are harmed at a much higher rate than the population at large.” On top of climate change being detrimental to Black maternal health, racism is another public health issue plaguing Black women. Climate change also threatens other social determinants of health. From lack of equitable access to maternal and reproductive health care, the gaping wage gap, limited affordable and healthy housing, high probability of living in food deserts with few green spaces--the real-life examples of systemic racism are literally too long to list.

Let’s go a step further, shall we? In an article from the Washington Post, a heat map amplified the regions in the U.S. that are most heavily racially segregated. The map clearly shows that the parts of the U.S. that experience the highest temperatures and the most intense storms are mostly populated by Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. The majority of Black Women live in the Southern States--also where exorbitant heat and extreme climate-induced storms exist. 60% of the top ten states in the US with the most Black residents are the Southern States. We need that same energy that presidential candidates exuded during the primaries--scrapping for votes from Black Southern Women, in particular, to show up as much as possible every single day from November 3rd and for the next 4 years. During the Presidential Debates, we need the candidates to speak directly to Black women. The same Black women that show up at the polls - time and time again - in an attempt to save this country. We deserve visibility. We are owed a platform dedicated to our issues.

Climate Change is Whack, But So is Lead Poisoning

Remember that trending hashtag #GrammysSoWhite, well the same could be said about the environmental justice space. With the majority of the well-funded, well-resourced, and well-heard “green” organizations being majority white, presidential candidates have to be careful to ensure that environmental concerns are not “whitewashed”. Climate change impacts EVERYONE, but some environmental issues uniquely impact Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. One example is lead poisoning. When most Americans hear “Lead Poisoning” the first thought is the Flint Water Crisis. But there are hundreds of cities across the country with extreme water quality issues. Our crumbling infrastructure has led to an overwhelming presence of lead service lines--which are disproportionately found in Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. America also has a housing problem and lead paint is the culprit. Even though lead-based paint has been banned for decades, the remnants of its toxicity still linger in lead paint dust in older homes typically built before 1978. In 2019, the nonprofit Black Millennials 4 Flint was featured in a documentary on Black Entertainment Television (B.E.T.) focused on the Lead Paint Crisis in Baltimore. In the documentary, there are blocks and blocks of vacant and abandoned homes with visibly peeling paint--a major sign of lead exposure. During the documentary, the non-profit volunteers canvassed and visited homes where there were outstanding lead paint violations. Out of 65 homes visited, 100% of those homes are still out of compliance with mandatory lead paint abatement standards. This is more than enough evidence that lead needs to be a presidential debate topic.

The presidential debate better come correct when addressing the topic of the environment. Go hard or go home. The debate stage should be an opportunity for this country to witness a colossal breaking point where the next leader of this country stares white supremacy right in the face, rolls up their sleeves, and gets ready to make America great, because it has never been great for Black, Latinx or Indigenous people.

LaTricea D. Adams, MAT, EdS is the Climate Power 2020 Michigan State Co-Chair Advisory Board Member + Black Millennials 4 Flint Founder, CEO, and President.


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