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The Quest for Environmental Justice in Communities of Color


In introducing guest speaker Dorceta Taylor, Associate Professor of Government Peter Cannavo referred to her as someone who “utterly changed my thinking on the environmental movement.” Taylor, environmental sociologist at the University of Michigan, was on campus March 3 to give a lecture titled “Food Insecurity, Resistance, and the Quest for Environmental Justice in Communities of Color.”

Taylor spoke on the evening’s topic from a variety of perspectives. She gave an overview of the American environmental justice movement from its early days to the present, including some of the most immediate problems facing communities of color. “A lot of it has to do with how communities of color have been disrupted and how this disrupted their search for food,” she said.

Offering brief histories of instances where racial oppression has been linked to a control of food supply, Taylor gave these specific examples: the decimation of the American West’s buffalo populations in an attempt to control Native American populations and the strategy of moving slaves around the country because of their skills in agriculture.

She discussed stories of oppressed groups’ relationships to environmentalism and extolled the virtues and necessity of environmental education in empowering oppressed groups. She mentioned contemporary leaders such as Winona LaDuke, citing her efforts to reclaim the buffalo as a symbol of sovereignty for Native American populations.

Taylor gave examples of environmental injustice related to food including the proximity of industrial areas to poor residential areas. She referenced case studies including the 1982 United Christ of Church study that was the first to prove that proximity to PCB, a synthetic organic chemical produced by industry, causes cancer.

Pointing out small examples of progress in building an inclusive environmental movement, Taylor identified urban farming as one effective measure. Teaching agricultural skills, particularly to minority groups, allows for a more equitable environmental justice movement, she explained. “If you don’t know how to grow your own food, then you are forced to support the corporate food supply.”

In a question and answer period following the lecture, Taylor explained that the future of the environmental justice movement is in moving toward an understanding of food access, nutritional value and climate justice for oppressed communities.

Taylor’s lecture was sponsored by Africana Studies, Environmental Studies, Women's Studies, the Days Massolo Center, the Levitt Center and the Government Department.

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