A Discussion on Environmental Racism with Tait Keller, Associate Professor of History at Rhodes College By Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson, CNC According to their Facebook page, GlobeMed at Rhodes College, 2000 N. Parkway, was founded in September 2008 “to raise awareness about health inequity and provide monetary support to A Ministry of Sharing Health and Hope (AMOS), a partner organization in Nicaragua, while enabling college students to become aware of and use their privilege to empower those suffering from health inequities.” The Rhodes College chapter has partnered with AMOS “to implement home water filtration systems in rural communities.” On November 20, 2019, the nonprofit organization joined forces with the Rhodes Sustainability Coalition to sponsor “A discussion on environmental racism in Memphis,” featuring Dr. Tait Keller, a Rhodes College Associate Professor of History as the guest speaker. “I teach a variety of courses that focus on environmental history, war and society, and modern Europe,” said Keller. “Several of my courses, especially my environmental history courses, transcend national boundaries and place their subjects in a global context.” To bring a real-life context to his classroom environment, Keller is known for integrating educational off-campus adventures into his lectures and discussions. According to Keller and in the words of another historian, “A little ‘intelligent wandering’ will teach us more than ‘a half-semester of armchair study’.” The open-floor forum discussion, featured free Vegan Food provided by Pearl Walker founder of MRYE—Memphis Raise Your Expectations!!! Facebook page. The forum asked the question and the main topic of discussion was, “Why are a l l t he t ox i c was te p l an t s l oca ted i n predomi nant l y b l ack ne i ghborhoods ? ” Keller posits, “Communities are not all created equal and we know that. You’ll find that environmental injustice occurs whenever some individual or group bears a disproportionate amount of environmental risk. Like being located near a hazardous waste dump or if they have unequal access to environmental goods like clean air or clean water; or they have less an opportunity to participate in environmental decision-making. In every nation of the world you find that poor people, minorities face greater environmental risk. They have less access to environmental goods; they have less ability to control the environmental insults imposed on them.” Although dining on vegan delights, the room was silent as all eyes and ears were focused on the truth to the words that Keller spoke so matter-of-factly about. It was time to bring the subject home. 14 15 “Let’s focus our attention on the United States,” said Keller. “We all learned in the history of the United States institutional racism shapes our economy, it shapes our politics, and it shapes the ecological landscape…” Keller went on to explain that clear evidence exists that supports the hypothesis that being a minority or in fact ones’ race, or perceived race, is an “independent factor” in predicting which areas will experience excessive lead in water, higher levels of air pollution, industrial facilities placement, the enforcement of other inappropriate land uses including, but not limited to, highway routes. Minorities in the United States experience a disproportionate share of these environmental injustices and they have less power to prevent them from occurring. While Professor Keller did in fact mention that Buckman Hall was packed to a “standing room only” status that Wednesday evening, the population did not include, in my estimation, enough of the general public subject to and/or fighting against similar developments. My mother always taught me that “A closed mouth does not get fed,” so I speak up against injustice and, if you don’t want to lead, at least join the fight. Besides, nothing beats a failure but a try and, when we all try together—the way we’ve done in the past against Pull-a-Part, Kroger, and Waste Connections, LLC of TN, we can and will continue to prevail in preventing these environmental insults from destroying our minority neighborhoods. 26

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