2018 Earth Day — black women are leading the fight against environmental racism

BY MARCELA HOWELL AND JANETTE ROBINSON-FLINT, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS — 04/22/18 10:30 AM EDT

Environmental policy in the age of the Trump administration and Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proved to be devastating, with a long list of first year actions designed at dismantling basic protections. These actions range from rolling back Obama-era regulations that tackled climate change to limiting funding to our communities attempting to address environmental risks.

Historically, low-income communities, predominately communities of color, have faced the most severe burdens of environmental hazards that are made worse as the government takes huge steps backwards in regulations.

As the nation watches the EPA’s actions, Earth Day should not only be a day to celebrate our planet and protect our natural environment, but should also serve as a harsh reminder of how environmental racism continues to burden black communities, specifically black women.

Whether it is the disproportionate placement of highways, factories, landfills, or other industrial facilities in or near communities of color, race is actually the most significant indicator that a person lives near contamination.

The attention on lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan played a large part in exposing the impacts of environmental racism. It is not enough to acknowledge the numerous cities across the country showing horrifying levels of lead, heavy metals, and other pollutants. We must also mount a defense against an administration that refuses to address these issues.

In addition to the increasing environmental risks in our communities, there are also heightened hazards faced by black women and girls, like toxic personal beauty products that are specifically marketed to us.

Black hair care products, such as hair relaxers and detanglers, contain dangerous ingredients that are associated with health issues like respiratory disorders, reproductive disorders, cancer and more. These products are widely unregulated and add to the cumulative burden of chemical exposure experienced by black women and girls.

This Earth Day, we have to do more. To truly effect change, we must stress the urgency and impact of environmental racism on our communities. Black woman are spearheading efforts to raise awareness in our communities about the impacts of environmental racism through education and advocacy, creating resources that spread the word on personal safety. We have been advocating and working on protective legislation like AB-2775 in California, a bill that would require manufacturers to list ingredients on the labels of professional cosmetic products.

It is essential that we hold our elected officials accountable and make them aware that we will not stand for chemicals and toxicants in our beauty products and our neighborhoods. While government agencies have demonstrated that they will not protect our communities, we have to fight locally to make systemic changes rooted in our community.

When black women lead, we defend our communities. We understand these problems and have been historically dedicated to standing against environmental racism. Investing in the leadership of Black women is a concrete step we can all take to better the planet.

This Earth Day: Be more than an observer. Take action to fight to protect the earth and promote the health and well-being of black women and girls.

Marcela Howell is the founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. Janette Robinson-Flint is the executive director of Black Women for Wellness.

This article originally appeared at The Hill