Slow Violence and Environmental Justice


For the next few blog posts, I will examine the illuminating book “Baptized in PCB’s: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town” by Ellen Griffith Spears. 

Part One: Slow Violence

Violence is a term easily understood.  One Mother’s Day in 1961, a white mob firebombed a Freedom Rider bus in Anniston, Alabama.  The Greyhound bus had just passed the Monsanto Chemical plant when it was forced to stop near the Anniston Army depot.

 

A crowd had already gathered and the mob descended… smashing windows and lobbing a fire bomb into the bus… billowing smoke soon forced all the passengers from the flaming vehicle.  “The Klan attempted to burn us alive” Hank Thomas said later “The brought their wives and kids to watch.”

In response to the violence, the Freedom Riders deployed nonviolent tactics to speed the pace of racial reform.

In contrast to these acute, focused acts of violence, the term “Slow Violence” is less easily defined and even harder to overcome.  As African Americans began “dismantling the pillars that supported structural violence,” a more covert form of discrimination and oppression has emerged and even grown over the last century.

“Slow Violence” is the term used to characterize the environmental assaults on the poor.  Once an areas of the nation, state, or neighborhood has been identified as environmentally toxic, “the already stigmatized space becomes more undesirable, more stigmatized, devalued.  Once in place, pollution not only reinforces, but also exaggerates existing disparities as… the value of land and homes drop, bring a further decline in funding for schools, parks, … Environmental injustice becomes naturalized, part of the landscape.

Next Month: The legacies of Slavery and Defeat as  I continue to examine “Baptized in PCB’s: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town” by Ellen Griffith Spears. 

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