Protect Brown Grove
2/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “state-sanctioned and extralegal exposure of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” and environmental racism plays a big role in this premature death.
Black Americans are three times as likely to die of asthma, are exposed to 1.5 times more carcinogenic particulates and have a higher lead exposure rate than white Americans. The race of surrounding communities is the strongest predictor of where toxic waste sites are placed.
Minority communities also are consistently underserved with basic infrastructure like drainage and sidewalks and are less supported after natural disasters, as evinced by hurricanes Katrina and Maria. These facts didn’t happen by chance, but because of inequitable policymaking and deadly apathy.
Environmental racism isn’t just in Flint, Mich., or at Standing Rock in the Dakotas. We have our very own fight in Brown Grove in Hanover County. Wegmans plans to build an enormous industrial site in the backyard of this tight-knit and historic Black community.
Wegmans’ project comes after 50 years of industrial encroachment, including a cement mixing plant, Interstate 95, a landfill and an airport expansion. The main road already regularly floods and will be far worse after Wegmans destroys 15 acres of wetlands.
The community has asked local officials for assistance throughout the years and faced apathy. But now residents feel even more unheard and unprotected, especially because Gov. Ralph S. Northam lobbied intensely for Wegmans to come to this site.
In the face of environmental racism, we turn to environmental justice. We must reconsider our relationship with the natural world, ally with and amplify the needs, desires and dreams of front line communities and build political power in Black neighborhoods. Environmental justice is the shift from being acted upon to acting. It is Black communities choosing their own destinies.
The good news is that Black activists and communities are already doing the hard work. Everyone else must simply do no harm. Wegmans should choose a site that won’t destroy wetlands and unmarked ancestral graves, and the elected officials who have been complicit should instead work to meet the infrastructure needs in Brown Grove.
Brown Grove deserves better. Brown Grove deserves justice.
The writer is co-hub coordinator of Sunrise Richmond, a youth-led movement fighting climate change and advocating for a Green New Deal.