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Thinking with Flint: Racial Liberalism and the Roots of an American Water Tragedy

Thinking with Flint: Racial Liberalism and the Roots of an American Water Tragedy The lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water is popularly framed as a case of “environmental racism” given that Flint’s population is mostly black and lower income. In this essay I argue that we see the environmental racism that underlies Flint’s water poisoning not as incidental to our political-economic order, nor even as stemming from racist intent, but as inseparable from liberalism, an organizing logic we take for granted in our modern age. I expand on the idea of “racial liberalism” here. While upholding the promise of individual freedoms and equality for all, racial liberalism—particularly as it was translated into urban renewal and property making in mid-20th-century urban America—drove dispossession. In Flint racialized property dispossession has been one major factor underlying the city’s financial duress, abandonment, and poisoned infrastructure. Yet, through austerity discourse, Flint is disciplined as if it were a financially reckless individual while the structural and historical causes of its duress are masked. Tracing the history of property making and taking in Flint and the effects of austerity urbanism on its water infrastructure, my central argument is that our understanding of Flint’s predicament—the disproportionate poisoning of young African-Americans—can be deepened if we read it as a case of racial liberalism’s illiberal legacies. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Capitalism Nature Socialism Taylor & Francis

Thinking with Flint: Racial Liberalism and the Roots of an American Water Tragedy

Capitalism Nature Socialism , Volume 27 (3): 17 – Jul 2, 2016

Thinking with Flint: Racial Liberalism and the Roots of an American Water Tragedy

Capitalism Nature Socialism , Volume 27 (3): 17 – Jul 2, 2016

Abstract

The lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water is popularly framed as a case of “environmental racism” given that Flint’s population is mostly black and lower income. In this essay I argue that we see the environmental racism that underlies Flint’s water poisoning not as incidental to our political-economic order, nor even as stemming from racist intent, but as inseparable from liberalism, an organizing logic we take for granted in our modern age. I expand on the idea of “racial liberalism” here. While upholding the promise of individual freedoms and equality for all, racial liberalism—particularly as it was translated into urban renewal and property making in mid-20th-century urban America—drove dispossession. In Flint racialized property dispossession has been one major factor underlying the city’s financial duress, abandonment, and poisoned infrastructure. Yet, through austerity discourse, Flint is disciplined as if it were a financially reckless individual while the structural and historical causes of its duress are masked. Tracing the history of property making and taking in Flint and the effects of austerity urbanism on its water infrastructure, my central argument is that our understanding of Flint’s predicament—the disproportionate poisoning of young African-Americans—can be deepened if we read it as a case of racial liberalism’s illiberal legacies.

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References (53)

Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Copyright
© 2016 The Center for Political Ecology
ISSN
1548-3290
eISSN
1045-5752
DOI
10.1080/10455752.2016.1206583
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water is popularly framed as a case of “environmental racism” given that Flint’s population is mostly black and lower income. In this essay I argue that we see the environmental racism that underlies Flint’s water poisoning not as incidental to our political-economic order, nor even as stemming from racist intent, but as inseparable from liberalism, an organizing logic we take for granted in our modern age. I expand on the idea of “racial liberalism” here. While upholding the promise of individual freedoms and equality for all, racial liberalism—particularly as it was translated into urban renewal and property making in mid-20th-century urban America—drove dispossession. In Flint racialized property dispossession has been one major factor underlying the city’s financial duress, abandonment, and poisoned infrastructure. Yet, through austerity discourse, Flint is disciplined as if it were a financially reckless individual while the structural and historical causes of its duress are masked. Tracing the history of property making and taking in Flint and the effects of austerity urbanism on its water infrastructure, my central argument is that our understanding of Flint’s predicament—the disproportionate poisoning of young African-Americans—can be deepened if we read it as a case of racial liberalism’s illiberal legacies.

Journal

Capitalism Nature SocialismTaylor & Francis

Published: Jul 2, 2016

Keywords: Critical race theory; political theory; black radical tradition; housing segregation; abandonment

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