Flint: Racism & water

Flint, Michigan is a microcosm of U.S. political and economic elites’ entanglement with structural racism and the persistent disregard for the lives, health and well-being of African Americans, people of color, working class and poor whites. The city’s residents have been surviving on the margins of society and eking out a living on limited opportunities after manufacturing jobs were outsourced overseas. The city’s middle class was decimated and rendered into permanent poverty due to periodic recessions dating back to the mid-1970s and all the way up to the present. African Americans make up 60 percent of the population and the rest are poor working class whites who have no future possibilities and limited investments coming from the government. The city itself and other parts of Michigan were in dire straights and effectively bankrupt, thus coming under state receivership and subject to political and economic vultures ravaging on what was left.

In the middle of all the financial difficulties, the city’s water supplies which were historically connected to Lake Huron via Detroit’s water system were switched to Flint River in order to save some pennies. The water from Flint River was far more corrosive and in a short period of time began to eat into the aging pipes causing lead to leach into water supplies and into the homes of residents. Adding insult to injury, the city decided to forgo the use of recommended chemicals that would have prevented the erosion of the old pipes and possibly reduce the leaching of lead into the water supplies. At the time, the estimated cost of the chemicals was less than $5 million and the political leadership who knew of the consequences opted to go ahead with the switch and the rest is history.

As early as 2014, medical and environmental researchers sounded the alarms as evidence of rising lead rates in children and water supplies was documented. Government agencies and political leaders dismissed and mocked the experts while assuring the public that the water supplies were tested and are safe to drink and use. In addition to the evidence of lead, the change of water supplies into Flint River is possibly behind an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the county, which has killed 10 people with another 77 being affected. In reality,

Flint’s residents complained and collected over 26,000 signatures in a petition concerning the quality of the water but the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality insisted that the water was safe and nothing was wrong with it.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the MPH program director for pediatric residency at the Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, conducted and released a study on Sept. 24, 2015, “confirming that proportion of infants and children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source.” The findings of Dr. Hanna-Attisha were dismissed again by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and insisted the water was tested and found to be safe for use.

Dr. Marc Edwards, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech was commissioned by the National Science Foundation to conduct a study on Flint’s water supplies and reached the same conclusion on the lead contamination. Dr. Edwards remarked concerning the circumstances: “It was the injustice of it all and that the very agencies that are paid to protect these residents from lead in water, knew or should’ve known after June at the very very latest of this year, that federal law was not being followed in Flint, and that these children and residents were not being protected. And the extent to which they went to cover this up exposes a new level of arrogance and uncaring that I have never encountered.”

Structural racism is so deep and leaves nothing untouched including the people’s veins and eats the bodies from the inside. African Americans, communities of color, and poor whites are treated to contaminated water, polluted air, toxic, intensely fertilized and expired food supplies while not forgetting the basic fact that they are confined to rodent and cockroach infested housing. Nothing is incidental in the existing conditions found in the inner cities and in the forgotten and made to be forgotten communities of color, African Americans, and poor whites. Collectively, they are treated as mere “human rejects” based on a long chain of racist distortions rooted in pseudo-scientific evolution and religious rationalization.

The crude racism of old has given way to a contemporary structural economic, political, social, religious, and cultural racism that has as much effect and impact as its earlier and more visible manifestations. Consequently, and in the current period, what we have is a racist structure that is in place but with the absence of the visible racist and an elite that espouse a color blindness and equality for all. What we have is “racism without a racist.” Thus, racism runs in society like water and is molded into every aspect of society but denied at every turn. Indeed, in Flint, Michigan where racism runs smoothly deep down the river, through the halls of power and into the veins of people!