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Systemic Racism in East Palestine
White privilege means poisoned water and air.
By Daniel Greenfield
Two years ago, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg announced that he was making the fight against “systemic racism” into the core of his job. The failed South Bend mayor came out of the gate claiming that highways were racist. Last year, he went to Birmingham to announce the launch of a $1 billion plan to tear down racist highways and implement transportation equity.
Taxpayer money would be directed to “economically disadvantaged communities, especially those with projects that are focused on equity and environmental justice.”
East Palestine was not one of them.
On Feb 3, a train filled with hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine. That same day, an interview with Buttigieg about “infrastructure, safety and equity” appeared in Forbes Magazine.
Buttigieg did not mention the disaster in East Palestine, instead he talked about how “communities of color” were being “destroyed” by infrastructure investment and how under Biden, they’d have the opportunity to “reconnect across highways or railways that divide them.”
In East Palestine, the thousands of residents, unfortunate enough to be born the wrong color, were terrified of drinking the water or taking showers. Rashes were breaking out in children. Those who could afford to, fled the area across the racist highways Buttigieg had yet to destroy.
Buttigieg would not offer any comment on what happened for another ten days.
The disaster that would be compared to Chernobyl around the world did not change Buttigieg’s schedule or his priorities. At the National Association of Counties, Buttigieg complained that there were too many white construction workers working on projects in black neighborhoods. That same day he finally got around to tweeting a press release, “I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment.” Afterward he tweeted about his NACO event.
In his great search for systemic racism, Buttigieg had finally found some by practicing it.
Last year, the EPA’s Michael Regan, hailed as the first black administrator to hold the role, visited Alabama on the anniversary of the Selma march and claimed that black residents faced water discrimination.
“It’s very sobering to see that in 2022, in the United States of America, there are people who are subjected to situations that I don’t think any of us would want to be subjected to,” Regan fulminated. “These individuals deserve what every American deserves, which is clean water and a safe environment.”
Buttigieg retweeted a video of Regan ranting to the camera and contended that, “it’s a shocking and moving example of what environmental injustice looks like.”
The actual shocking example of environmental injustice was painted by Regan and Buttigieg.
Two weeks after the disaster, Regan finally visited and unconvincingly assured residents of East Palestine that their water was safe to drink and the air safe to breathe. He claimed that he couldn’t have come earlier so as not to “take away resources from the state highway patrol”.
Notably absent from Buttigieg and Regan’s response was any of the passion that they had brought to transportation and water issues that they could blame on systemic racism.
“We know that systemic racism, lack of interest in low-income communities, lack of political representation, have contributed to the disproportionate impact of black and brown in low-income communities being exposed to a lack of access to good quality drinking water,” Regan had falsely claimed before.
The residents of East Palestine are 95% white and so their water must be safe to drink.
White privilege means poisoned water and air, but white people are immune to toxic chemicals.
Had East Palestine been 95% black, we know how the story would have played out. Experts would have been brought on the air to explain that hazardous materials are more likely to travel through black areas. Fake history, like that of Buttigieg’s lie about highways being used to keep black people from visiting New York City beaches, would have been trotted out to claim that this was a systemically racist policy bordering on genocide which had poisoned generations.
East Palestine might have benefited from such attention if its people had not been white.
Buttigieg’s racist infrastructure obsession is a recapitulation of the Douglass Plan that he produced during his presidential campaign in a failed effort to win over black voters.
Under ‘Infrastructure’, his Douglass plan claimed that infrastructure problems “disproportionately affect communities of color” and that “Flint is not alone. A 2017 Reuters study indicated that almost 4,000 communities had levels of lead in water or homes twice as high as Flint’s.”
One of those places was Buttigieg’s own South Bend.
One South Bend neighborhood had lead levels that were six times higher than Flint’s. But South Bend is 58% white while Flint is 56% black. The near racial mirror images are exactly what systemic racism looks like.
“If we can get clean water to a base in Afghanistan, we should be able to get clean water to Flint, Michigan,” Buttigieg had sneered. Or maybe even South Bend and East Palestine.
Meanwhile, East Palestine residents are told to drink tainted water and stop asking questions.
“I trust what the science is saying,” Regan pontificated.
According to the Douglass Plan, the focus would be on dealing with environmental threats in “communities of color”. East Palestine isn’t a community of color and so it’s been left out.
What is the purpose of infrastructure?
According to Buttigieg’s introduction to his department’s unconstitutional equity plan, “transportation has always been inseparable from America’s struggle for racial and economic justice.” From a critical race theory standpoint, the only meaningful way to look at transportation or anything else is through race. And such a perspective systematizes the very racism that it claims to be fighting. Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation, like all agencies in the Biden administration, made racism into the centerpiece of everything. And children were poisoned.
But it was okay because the children came into this world the wrong color.
The pursuit of equity put some people ahead of others. Everything revolved around the search for systemic racism even as a toxic train barreled down on East Palestine.
On Feb 21, nearly three weeks after the disaster, Buttigieg condescended to suggest that, “I am very interested in getting to know the residents of East Palestine, hearing from them about how they’ve been impacted and communicating with them about the steps that we’re taking.”
“But yes, when the time is right, I do plan to visit East Palestine. I don’t have a date for you right now.”
Buttigieg was too busy announcing that the University of Alabama would be getting $8 million to buy electric buses, billions more would be spent on electric car chargers for Tesla owners and that $435 million would be spent on the “next generation of diverse transportation researchers”.
There are a lot of priorities and the people of East Palestine are incredibly privileged already. Like Buttigieg, they’re white, unlike him they’re not members of a sexual minority, which means that they are even more privileged than he is. So why are they complaining? They ought to be grateful that somewhere the “next generation of diverse transportation researchers” is envisioning which racist highways need to be demolished and replaced with bike lanes.
One day, ‘Mayor Pete’ will hop on his bike, ride for a block, then have his staffers load it in the back of a black government SUV, and fly in for a photo op in East Palestine. Like a klansman visiting a black church, it won’t change the systemic racism that is at the heart of his DOT.
The people of East Palestine deserved a Department of Transportation and an EPA that were run without regard to race, instead they got a systemically racist DOT and EPA that left them behind, watched while they and their children were poisoned, and shrugged at the spectacle.
And all Americans, regardless of race, deserve a DOT free of systemic racism.
The only remaining systemically racist parts of America are those that believe in systemic racism. Critical race theory needs to be forced out of not just our schools, but all of our institutions. The polluted water and air of East Palestine are a warning of what happens if we continue to allow a corrupt racist bureaucracy to run our government and endanger our lives.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons