Human rights historian says Flint water crisis is not about racism

politics | Feb 17, 2016 | By Martin Barillas

Award-winning author and investigative journalist Edwin Black wrapped up a five day visit to Michigan by delivering two lectures at the University of Michigan-Flint. Black has written several books, some of which deal with governments and progressive institutions that have led to policies such as forced sterilization and extermination of minorities in the United States and Europe during the 20th century.
 
In his first presentation to students and the public on Feb. 15, he spoke about the history of German and Nazi racism directed at Africans and persons of mixed African and European ancestry and their connections to the Holocaust. Later, he also addressed the ramifications of international law in the establishment of the various countries of the Levant and the Middle East, including modern Iraq, Israel, and Jordan.
 
For nearly two years, residents of Flint were largely ignored by local and state officials about discolored and malodorous water that was ultimately determined to have leached toxic lead into the city’s drinking water. The response on the part of local officials, especially those appointed by the state government, and Gov. Rick Snyder (R), is now under investigation and the subject of several law suits. The local Congressman, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D) has affirmed what he believes is the underlying cause of the disaster. Kildee called race “the single greatest determinant of what happened in Flint.” Moreover, Kildee – who is one of the two Democrats who have represented the area since 1976 – said “They treated it like it was a public-relations problem not a public problem for the people in Flint.”
 
Millionaire music label owner Russell Simmons said of the Flint water crisis, "It’s not a natural disaster, but they should be able to do more. What's happening here, this kind of environmental racism, could be happening in many other parts of the county. If this were Beverly Hills, it would be a minute before we found out and a second before someone would be blamed and be brought up on charges." Even outside of the U.S., progressive media have singled out racism as the cause for the contamination. The Guardian newspaper of the United Kingdom, for example, ran an article entitled “Environmental racism harms Americans in Flint – and beyond: Flint is a majority black city. Governor Snyder’s denial that the crisis is a product of environmental racism is deplorable and infuriating.”
 
 
In an exclusive interview, Spero News asked Black about the current Flint water crisis. “It’s not an instance of environmental racism,” said Black. “It’s environmental injustice, it’s environmental indifference.” Exhibiting his hand, Black said that as a result of taking a shower at a hotel in Flint his hand “broke out in blotches.” Continuing with his analysis, Black said that environmental injustice come as an “affliction of the politically weak, the disempowered, the invisible, and the powerless.”
 
Commenting that 2016 is an election year, Black said “So many politicians are going to come here and say ‘I will get this fixed in November,’” while adding “There’s no reason that the Army Corps of Engineers can’t be here tomorrow.” Black also said that “throwing 180 million at this won’t fix anything” and predicted that the people of Flint won’t see any of the money that will instead become a program and paid out to administrators and sub-contractors.
 
Indeed, politicians have already descended on Flint in recent weeks. On Feb.11, Chelsea Clinton visited Flint and said there is a “moral urgency” to respond to the crisis. Her mother, Hillary Clinton, spoke at a church just outside Flint on Feb. 7 and denounced the crisis as “immoral.” She has since garnered powerful endorsements from two leaders of local black churches.
 
On March 6, CNN will broadcast a debate featuring Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. And Jesse Jackson said earlier this month that he has been in contact with 50 local pastors to organize a “major national march” in Flint to focus attention on the crisis. Despite calls from local citizens and politicians, President Barack Obama has not yet signaled that he has plans to visit. In an exclusive interview with Spero News, Jackson called Flint a "crime scene" where the majority of the local residents are African-American.


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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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