I care about Flint not because I can relate to it, and especially not because I empathize with the residents, for it is impossible to do so. I care about Flint because of how bad the situation is. Many of these kids will likely develop intellectual disabilities and behavioral problems, and have a much higher rate of ending up in jail. I can only try to imagine what it might be like to live in such a community.
The sad truth is that sometimes it takes the worst of the worst situations to really make me stop what I’m doing, and genuinely think about what it might be like to live in these communities. It takes videos of police shootings to get me upset and angry about institutional racism, not petty crime arrest statistics or unemployment rate numbers. Institutional racism is not something I grew up having to deal with, even though it was all around me.
So I go to these discussions, and I take these SLS courses, to learn how it got to be like this, how the things some of my closest friends have to go through, came about. To learn, hopefully, how to reduce the effects of environmental injustice and build the cities of tomorrow where the majority of waste facilities won’t be located in black neighborhoods, where self-segregation won’t be so prevalent, where the infrastructure of the inner city won’t crumble into the drinking glasses of its residents. This is more than a civic duty for me. It's a challenge I care about and a direction I want to take with my studies here at Tech.
How does institutional racism and environmental injustice affect your life? Do you live with it every day, turn a blind eye to it, or really only come to terms with it when you see the videos your friends share of kids being poisoned and shot at on Facebook?
Yonatan Weinberg is an Israeli-American who grew up in a socio-economically mixed suburb of Atlanta, and developed an interest in social issues and causes by listening to his parents discuss Israeli affairs at the dinner table. He first recognized issues of racial disparity in high school when he realized that although his school was racially diverse, the majority of students in his AP courses were white. Yonatan is currently a student in both SLS Core courses this semester, learning to approach sustainability from both a systems perspective and a community perspective. He plans to incorporate sustainability in his studies at Tech and in his future career.
Resources for Flint, MI and issues involving water quality and environmental justice can be found on our website. Join CSLS for our next Coffee and Conversation event on March 29th, 2016 discussing: Connect Your Research to Serve-Learn-Sustain Through VIP (Vertically Integrated Projects)