How has Deep Rooted Racism Changed the way our City Handles Pollution?

Jadyn Aling

Racial segregation is the action of extreme separation between races and ethnicities in a geographical unit. A concept that is so prevalent in Chicago, though little action is being taken to combat it. Segregation is not solely constituted by acts like redlining or dissolution of abilities based on location and race, but it is also recognized when governments run an inequitable society, and blatantly value the lives of some over others. In Chicago, the city’s segregation is demonstrated by the way we handle climate safety and promote climate change. Environmental injustice has been an ongoing battle for years, and our current mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is only perpetuating the problem. 

Chicago, compared to all other cities, has an outrageously high asthma rate in children, and African American and Latino members of our community primarily from the South and West sides of the city, are suffering drastically. Asthma is a chronic illness easily developed through long term exposure to high amounts of pollution and substandard air quality. Given the high counts of pollution, most rampant being PM 2.5, contributing to the poor air health in South and West side neighborhoods, it is no surprise that more than 25% of African American children are suffering with asthma. Rates more than 2x any other city in the US. While these numbers are completely outrageous, the municipal government continues to ignore the cries for change, and instead feeds into the deep seated segregation (Chicago Plan).

In the spring of 2021, amidst a global pandemic that caused severe respiratory distress, the demolition and relocation of the Lincoln Park location of General Iron’s scrapyard began (Trinity). The facility was shut down due to constant complaints of pollution, explosions, fires, and harmful fumes, though the scrapyards new owners had no obstacles in finding a new location on the Southeast side of the city, an area already heavily affected by environmental racism. Hence, the question to the city becomes: Why is it okay to pollute and threaten the health of one neighborhood, and not another? The answer is simple, it is not. 

Young adults and other members of the affected Southeast communities have stood up against the actions the city has taken, even carrying out a 30-day hunger strike at George Washington High School, located just under a mile away from where the new scrapyard facility would be located (Trinity). The students and community members dedication to protecting their health has ultimately halted the construction of the new General Mills location for the time being. This is a victory for the citizens and reflects the impact of their activism, nonetheless, the mayor as well as other members of the government need to be held accountable to protect and do what is best for all members of the city.

With ill-treatment of select groups in Chicago, segregation will continue to thrive and those in more vulnerable neighborhoods will remain at risk for environmental discrimination. As members of a community around Latin that doesn’t struggle with environmental safety, we need to look around and recognize those who are being targeted, and promote the need for equal protection throughout the city. 

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