When racial discrimination and inadequate education are immediate worries for African Americans, environmental welfare isn’t a priority — or so says the stereotype. But “Dispelling Old Myths: African American Concern for the Environment,” a report published in the June 2003 issue of Environment magazine, disproves many of these assumptions.
According to a study conducted in the Detroit metropolitan area, 23% more blacks than whites cited neighborhood environmental problems as among their most significant concerns. Although whites mentioned global environmental concerns 16% more often than blacks, most of their responses were in regard to ozone depletion, which results in skin cancer, a disease that affects whites disproportionately more than African Americans.
Paul Mohai, the author of the report and an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, says, “There is so much evidence [that blacks] are concerned [about the environment]. Unfortunately, those concerns have been invisible to the majority of Americans and [to] traditional environmentalists.”
African American environmental concerns may be a result of the poorer environmental conditions in which many blacks live. But there is no statistical difference between the way blacks and whites rate the seriousness of nature preservation issues, such as lack of open space, oil spills, and national park preservation. In some cases, when compared with white Americans, substantially higher percentages of African Americans rated rain forest extinction, acid rain, and the greenhouse effect as “very serious.” This negates the assumption that social issues affecting African Americans take precedent over their concerns about the environment. “The results are more than just a fluke,” says Mohai.
The report also explains that African Americans also take an active role in dealing with environmental issues. In 1980, protests by African Americans in Warren County, North Carolina, led campaigns to reduce hazardous pollution in the state inciting congress to pass the Superfund Act.