2021 Equity Challenge Day 13: Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice

Environmental justice means that no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens and less environmental benefits than any other.

Majora Carter

Urban revitalization strategist and founder of Sustainable South Bronx

Now that we have developed an understanding of how economic mobility, housing and even health outcomes relate to race, we will look at how race interacts with the environment itself. 

Environmental racism describes how people of color are more exposed than white people to harmful and deadly environmental factors while often not having a voice in the policy creation and decision-making about their own communities. These factors can range from high rates of air pollution and toxic emissions due to nearby factories and freeways to toxic waste dumping and city infrastructure. Exposure to these pollutants has led to higher levels of asthma, nausea, headaches, cancer and heart disease in residents with low incomes and most often people of color. As you dig into today’s resources, remember that environmental racism will look different in the various communities it affects. The history and context of the community matters in how environmental racism shows up today. In order to achieve environmental justice, communities most impacted must be at the center of solutions and leading the movement. Check out the Principles of Environmental Justice, developed at the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which serve as the defining principals of the environmental justice movement.



Read this article, “Chronic health problems linked to pollution fuels environmental justice movement.” Which examines how residents in Michigan’s 5 most polluted zip codes, all of which are in Detroit, have fostered a grass roots environmental justice movement because of the long-term health concerns linked to environmental racism. (5 minutes)

Read this article on how “Environmental Racism Has Left Black Communities Especially Vulnerable to COVID-19.” (4 minutes)

Read this interview with Center for World Indigenous Studies Policy Director and Senior Researcher Dina Gilio-Whitaker, who describes the importance of an indigenous lens to environmental justice. (5 minutes)


Watch this video, “What is Environmental Justice?” on how numerous systemic issues contribute to differences in exposure to harmful environmental conditions. (2 minutes)

Mona Hanna-Attisha is a Detroit-raised pediatrician and the whistleblower on high levels of led in Flint. Watch her TEDMED talk, explaining the environmental racism factors that led to this event. (16 minutes)

Reflect And Share:

  1. What have you learned from today’s material?
  2. How do environmental racism or environmental justice show up in your life?
  3. How do the challenge’s earlier topics relate to environmental justice?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hastag #EquityChallenge or #TakeTheEC21