Jackson Water Crisis: A Legacy Of Environmental Racism?

Marshall is a resident of west Jackson, a primarily black and disadvantaged area of the city in the US state of Mississippi. He is forced to consume the tap water that residents of Jackson are warned about. It’s brown water coming out of the tap when he turns it on.

The way he puts it, he’s been forced to drink it like this for the past eight months.”Indeed, your honour. I’ve been consuming it.” When asked if he is worried about it, he laughs. I’ll be 70 years old this month,” he says.

Due to his lack of transportation, Marshall cannot visit the distribution centres where the National Guard is distributing water. A fire in the neighbouring house has left him without electricity or gas, so he can’t even boil the water to make it safer.

“Extremely infrequently is it untainted? It can be slightly brighter or darker, depending on the time of day. Every time I turn on the shower, the water is a rusty colour at first, but then it clears up. But the rust always appears first.”

Aaron Banks, a councillor in Jackson, Mississippi, has spent his whole life in the city and now represents a district that is more than 90% Black.

According to him, the most recent breakdown of Jackson’s water supply resulted from the disastrous interplay of ageing infrastructure and climate change.

Residents of Jackson have been receiving water bottles from volunteers.
Mr Banks claims his district went without water for about six weeks in 2020, significantly longer than the neighbouring areas, due to freezing weather that shut down Jackson’s water treatment facilities. Since then, the town’s infrastructure has had trouble keeping up.

In the past two years, “boil water” notices or low to nonexistent water pressure has occurred at least once every month, he claims. No one should have to acclimate to living in the United States, yet that’s the standard of living most of us have.

Mr Banks claims that people of colour disproportionately bear the burden of change each time society forces them to do so. The councillor claims that despite years of witnessing state cash pour into the infrastructure of towns and places surrounding Jackson, the city’s water treatment facility has been overlooked.

the city's water treatment facility has been overlooked.

Jackson, which in 2020 had a population of 163,000, benefited from President Joe Biden’s groundbreaking infrastructure plan, which set aside funds specifically for underprivileged and underdeveloped neighbourhoods. However, Mr Banks claims that state legislators are prone to playing politics and allocating funds in a way that benefits their constituents rather than addressing the underlying causes of Jackson’s problems.

Professor Edmund Merem of urban planning and environmental studies at Jackson State University said, “We have a water treatment system that is antiquated that nobody has thought about for years.”

In my opinion, the issue is that responses are often made on the fly. Prof. Meriem, however, thinks that racial tensions are also to blame for the city of Jackson’s neglected infrastructure. What’s happening in Jackson and other places where bigotry and segregation have a long history, experts and advocates argue, is a direct result of decades of discrimination and segregation.

experts and advocates argue, is a direct result of decades of discrimination and segregation.

Environmental justice attorney Arielle King describes the problem as “deep seeded” and “decades in the making.”The current environmental injustices, in my opinion, may be traced back to the country’s troubled past of racial segregation and redlining.

In the 1940s, the government sanctioned the practice of redlining, in which persons of colour were discriminated against in terms of mortgage and loan approval because they were “too dangerous.”

For almost 40 years, Ms King says, the programme pushed low-income, predominantly black communities into locations near polluting sectors like landfills, oil refineries, and wastewater treatment plants.

She also observes that these regions are still around today. She uses geographical regions like the United States’ infamous “Cancer Alley” to illustrate her thesis. In the place of the vast estates that once thrived there, more than 150 oil refineries and companies have sprung up along the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

For decades, pollution has caused some of the highest cancer rates in the country among predominantly black people. Ms King claims that decades of underinvestment in low-income communities and the legacy of environmental racism are having a negative impact on Jackson today.

Ms King argues that people wouldn’t be living in flood-prone areas if it weren’t for redlining. “They can state that there are many reasons that lead to flooding,” she says. “So once again,” he said, “it does come back to race and environmental racism.”

A few blocks from Marshall is where you’ll find law student Sarina Larson who lives. She was uprooted from Sacramento to pursue a career in criminal defence law. Similarly to other residents, she believes redlining is to blame for the problems in the neighbourhood.

Her kitchen floor is covered with bowls of varying sizes. Rainwater is collected in them and purified by a filter she employs. The water in Jackson is tainted with lead, so she never puts it in her body. “I only use bottled water for my toothbrush.”

However, she is honest about the fact that the $300 (£260) filter she purchased is out of reach for the vast majority of people.”No one cares about a water shortage until it harms the upper class. This trend, which Jackson exemplifies, has persisted for some time. The welfare of the state takes precedence above the well-being of its citizens.”

We encountered Imani Olugbala-Aziz, a member of Cooperation Jackson, while she and other volunteers distributed water bottles at a nearby community centre. A shortage ensued in less an hour. She says there’s hardly any water in her house.

“There is a lot of environmental racism, and there is a crisis of attitudes and values. We’re chipping in to help the government carry out its duties. And they aren’t even trying.

“We’re being neglected. Minority groups are largely ignored. To ensure our own survival, we choose to lodge in the seediest areas of town.

Having “the normal stuff,” such as flowing water and clean water, is all that Ms Olugbala-Aziz and her family ask for. She claims that there is a substantial number of homeless persons in the region and that the closure of local businesses has made it difficult for residents to obtain basic necessities such as water.

“About a month ago, we were alert only to drink boiled water. It’s undrinkable; now what? What should we eat, how do we cook, and how do we feed our children?” Ms Olugbala-Aziz claims that water rates in minority communities are significantly higher than in whiter neighbourhoods.

“This is not a recent development. The pace of this is unsustainable at this time. The going is tough right now.”