Comedian John Oliver addresses environmental racism
TV personality and comedian John Oliver shared opinions on the emotive issue of environmental racism in the US. While delivering his weekly show , the host took a dive into the history of America and how environmental racism has shown up across communities over the years. He cited studies showing how people of color are exposed to higher environmental risks than other racial groups. He noted that 38% of black Americans are exposed to polluted air and 75% are more likely to live in communities bordering factories.
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The comedian delivered the message in a satirical and funny manner, attempting to get the point home without seeming to target anyone. Statistically, racial disparities exist across the US even when earning disparities are accounted for. Oliver noted from studies that black Americans earning $200,000 annually are more exposed to air pollution than whites making $25, 000 annually.
Oliver used this example to show how racism in America is greater than money. He even came up with a list of top powerful things to Americans in an attempt to lighten up his room: “In fact, I believe America’s current top five power rankings go: racism, beef, viral videos of soldiers reuniting with their dogs, DJ Khaled’s PR team, and then money,” he said.
Delving deeper, Oliver looked at the history of America and tried to explain how this happened. He cited federal policies among the causes of racial segregation today, such as the prevention of blacks from owning land where whites did and zoning of areas where blacks lived as industrial parks. Further, he says that although history played a role in the segregation faced by blacks, the lack of social power to fight polluters today is another factor.
“But history and zoning are only part of the story here because it also is about who has the power to push back,” Oliver said. “And polluters often assume that black communities, in particular, won’t be able to stop them. Sometimes, pollution can be invisible. And those that you’d expect to warn you about that can be incredibly slow to do so when it comes to communities of color.”
Looking at the West Calumet housing complex as a classic example, Oliver delved into the history of how powerless people of color are settled in unsafe environments. The settlement was built on former lead-smelting land despite the fact that it was supervised and supported by the federal government. Government investigations found the areas around the community to have 200 times more than recommended levels of lead, but still kept quiet since 1985.
According to Oliver, these issues are way beyond the scope of black Americans and people of color, and can only be handled from the top. He did, however, call for support from social and environmental support organizations.
Via The Guardian