David Pellow continues the “Just Environments” series with a critique of prisons as sites of environmental racism and climate change. Facing exposure to contaminated land, water, and toxic substances, prisoners—who are predominantly poor and nonwhite—are subject to increased environmental risks, compounding the vulnerability and marginalization they experience through other social, political, and economic forces. One potential way to highlight these injustices is to collaborate across social movements—for instance, if campaigns directed at environmental and racial justice work together to tackle complex, intersectional issues.
Toxic Exposure and Constructing Environmental Rights in Latin American Citiesby Veronica Herrera
Veronica Herrera continues the “Just Environments” series by examining the ways in which low-income communities that are impacted by toxic contamination mobilize grassroots movements as forms of resistance and vehicles for claims-making. Focusing on neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and Bogotá, Herrera notes that community residents partner with better-resourced actors to frame environmental protections as legal rights, effectively forging new types of environmental citizenship.
Prisons and Other Maladies of the Racist State: Reading Blood in my Eye in the Era of Mass Incarcerationby Dan Berger
Our “Reading Racial Conflict” series continues with a reflection on the evolution of mass incarceration policies. Dan Berger engages the present through George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye. Published posthumously in 1972 after Jackson’s death in a prison revolt he led, the book engages the intersection of race, imprisonment, and capitalism as it appeared in an earlier polarized period in the United States. Berger suggests Jackson’s work may be newly relevant in a political moment in which the slow reversal of mass incarceration strategies may itself be reversed in the current administration.
The Environment as Freedom: A Decolonial Reimaginingby Malini Ranganathan
Drawing upon a long history of anti-racist, feminist, and decolonial struggles, Malini Ranganathan continues our “Just Environments” series with an essay that suggests freedom can serve as a powerful analytic through which to reimagine environmental justice. Ranganathan makes the case that a comprehensive understanding of freedom must include (though, crucially, is not limited to) the ability to live in a safe and clean environment. Situating environmental harms within a broader emancipatory politics, she brings us closer to redressing multiple, intersectional injustices.
Seeds from the Same Tree: Environmental Injustice across Transnational Bordersby Alexa S. Dietrich
Alexa Dietrich co-launches the “Just Environments” series by reflecting on the environmental challenges faced by transnational communities—in this case, families that live on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, whose lives are separated by stringent immigration policies. In highlighting the connections between immigration and the environment, Dietrich argues that a more humane approach to legal residency is critical to bolstering local resilience to climate change on both sides of the border.
Public Spaces, Private Acts: Toilets and Gender Equalityby Isha Ray
Isha Ray’s contribution, the first of several essays in our “Just Environments” series, examines gender equality through the lens of access to basic sanitation. Moving beyond what the United Nations and others have proposed, Ray argues that in-home toilets are inadequate because they fail to account for those without homes, or those who are not home all day. Rather, if we are to make sanitation truly accessible, we must explicitly design and construct infrastructure that meets the needs of the most marginalized—including the low-income woman whose dignity and mobility rests on the presence of clean, safe facilities outside of the home.
Neoliberal Social Justice: From Ed Brooke to Barack Obamaby Leah Wright Rigueur
Leah Wright Rigueur, as part of our "Reading Racial Conflict" series, critically engages with the career and the writings of Edward Brooke in a reflection on the arguments for and limits of capitalism to uplift African Americans out of poverty. She also deploys Brooke, the first popularly elected black senator in US history who served in the 1960s and 1970s, as a window onto how Barack Obama connects racial inequalities to access to the market. Brooke’s The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System makes the case for a “progressive conservatism” that sheds light on how parts of the black community today embrace what Rigueur regards as the contemporary neoliberal moment.
Capitalism, Colonialism, and the Long Arc of Black Struggle: Reading Jack O’Dellby Nikhil Pal Singh
Nikhil Singh’s essay for our "Reading Racial Conflict" series reflects on the work of black activist and intellectual Jack O’Dell. For Singh, O’Dell’s historical analysis of the relationship between antiracist and anticapitalist movements is relevant in a moment in which voices on the American left are debating the compatibility between politics of the (white) working class vis-à-vis that of marginalized identities. O’Dell’s focus on the reinventing of black freedom struggles over the long term provides an opportunity to consider the present in light of that history.
Beyond the Wages of Whiteness: Du Bois on the Irrationality of Antiblack Racismby Ella Myers
Ella Myers provides an account of W. E. B. Du Bois's nuanced analysis of the sense of entitlement among whites in the United States. Drawing from Du Bois's Black Reconstruction and other writings, Myers draws attention to both the concept of a compensatory "wage" that elevates the social status of lower class whites in ways that bind them to white capital, but also to the irrational aspects of antiblack racism. Myers's essay complements the earlier "Reading Racial Conflict" essay by J. Phillip Thompson on Black Reconstruction, and also makes a direct connection to debates on the role of the white working class in Trump's electoral victory.
Black and Woke in Capitalist America: Revisiting Robert Allen’s Black Awakening… for New Times’ Sakeby N. D. B. Connolly
In a new contribution to the "Reading Racial Conflict" series, N. D. B. Connolly analyzes an early gathering of black supporters in the new Trump administration, and much more about the contemporary political economy of race, through Robert Allen’s 1969 Black Awakening in Capitalist America. Drawing on Allen, Connolly makes a strong case for the relevance of (neo)colonialism—and its emphasis on both violence and the co-opting of sections of the elite among the “colonized”—as an essential framework for understanding America’s present.