What does Environmental Racism look like first hand?
By Dwayne Carson
On the first day of Spring in New Haven, CT, it was beautiful; the sun was out, it was warm, the sky was blue, and the people of the city looked so vibrant. After a long time in quarantine, everyone was ecstatic to be outside. It was also the first day my city decided to open up before the COVID-19 quarantine. What does that look like in New Haven? Honestly, I didn’t recognize much change, everyone still had masks on, and restaurants still had capacity limits. One thing I noticed was that New Haven parks & Recreation decided to put the rims back on the basketball courts all around the city.
Because of protocol to quarantine, New Haven decided it was best to take the rims off of every basketball court in the city to limit person-to-person contact. Although I missed balling out on a regular summer day with my friends, I understood that it wasn’t safe at the time. Last summer, we opted to do other things like hiking and camping to satisfy our need for activity. To hike, we needed to travel to the white rural parts of Connecticut like Cheshire, which is about 30 minutes away. When we went out there, we noticed that the basketball courts in their city were up, and the people of Cheshire were running 5s. Even though we understood it wasn’t safe, our urge to play overcame quarantine protocols, and we had a great run.
On our drive through Cheshire, we also noticed Coronavirus testing sites at nearly every church and school. In New Haven, we only had two testing sites at the two biggest high schools in the city. I found this odd because Cheshire has a smaller population than New Haven and fewer cases of COVID. New Haven County has a reported 77,335 cases of COVID-19, while Litchfield county reported 12,145 cases. New Haven county accounted for 25% of coronavirus cases in Connecticut. But were only provided with two testing sites throughout the city.
My observations led me to only one explanation for the differences between the two cities, environmental racism. Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental racism is caused by several factors, including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas, and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color. It is a well-documented fact that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries and, very specifically, hazardous waste facilities and lax regulation of these industries. Environmental racism can also look like a lack of healthy food options and a surplus amount of destructive food options in communities of color. Instead of having health food stores, New Haven has more stores that sell tobacco, junk food, and liquor. All of which is detrimental to the immune system.
New Haven is an industrial city which means we have more factories than a town like Cheshire. The factories produce pollutants in the air that have a harmful effect on life expectancy. Being in a food desert, surrounded by unhealthy air qualities, lack of COVID testing sites, and taking away one of the community’s favorite physical activities, it seems like the government set the city of New Haven up to fail.
But now the courts are back up everywhere, maybe there is hope to revive the city after COVID-19. Furthermore, to revive the community, I would like to see more healthy food options, less poisonous food options, more testing sites, and vaccine sites. I believe that with healthier resources available to the people of color in New Haven, the life expectancy of people will rise, and the cases of COVID-19 will fall.