Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Cosponsored by: Society for the Anthropology of North America
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Race
Secondary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
This panel is concerned with how the production of unequal, racialized, and racializing environmental conditions grounds the processes of capital accumulation. In so doing it threads together analyses of racial capitalism (Robinson 1983; Marable 1983; Woods 2017) with those of environmental racism (Checker 2011; Pulido 2016). For decades, anthropologists have worked to make apparent the ecological and corporeal effects of global circuits of production, consumption, and disposal. At the same time, race has served as a critical means of analyzing how the benefits and impairments of these circuits are unevenly distributed. Moreover, spatial and embodied configurations of racial categorization are frequently the means through which people articulate claims to inequitable harm, justice, and culpability as they relate to contamination. Despite this longstanding interest, anthropology has paid relatively little attention to how the making of environmental inequality and racial difference is not an ‘externality’ to capitalist modes of production, but integral to them. The papers in this panel collectively contribute to that recentering. Together, they demonstrate how the production of unequal environments generates profit through the devaluation of non-white bodies and places.
This collection of papers uses grounded, ethnographic research to provoke a discussion about how the dynamics of capitalism generate and sustain related logics of racial marginality and supremacy. While drawing from cases in the contemporary United States, the papers share a commitment to theorizing how the conjoined conditions of racial capitalism and environmental racism cut across particular territories, temporalities, and contexts. Myles Lennon traces how community-based efforts to wire New York City's communities of color into renewable energy markets are motivated through the reduction of racialized oppression and environmental injustice into caricatures of racial precarity and uplift. Katie Cox, meanwhile, argues that the production of ‘sustainable’ ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach makes apparent how so-called green economies remain predicated on the displacement, devaluation, and pollution of people of color. Relatedly, Nicholas Caverly follows thousands of housing demolitions in Detroit to highlight how efforts to stimulate property sales by eliminating the physical remains of racialized disinvestment requires subjecting bodies and territories of color to recurring exposure to environmental toxins. This said, the papers on this panel also explores how people of color creatively labor against structural devaluation, producing alternative material, spatial, and temporal politics. Kessie Alexandre, for instance, examines how the aspirations of black residents to live ‘off-the-grid’ in Newark, New Jersey are motivated by the fallout from the privatization and lead-poisoning of the city’s water infrastructures. Likewise, Marisa Solomon contends that by laboring with the material histories laid waste by the demolition of gentrification in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, working-class and homeless black scavengers creatively redirect objects to refuse racialized notions of cleanliness-as-betterment. To this end, while this panel grapples with how processes of racial capitalism unevenly transform land, construct property, become spatialized, and organize ‘the environment’ as a known, lived reality, they also trace how people use their locations to enunciate and bring into question the systemic conditions made by white supremacy and racial hierarchy.