Toxins and Racism: We Can All Do Better

I have been told that I speak from a place of privilege about choosing a green and non-toxic lifestyle and that it’s not attainable for everyone.   

While it’s true I am speaking from a place of privilege, addressing toxins certainly doesn’t only benefit those with privilege. And we have a responsibility to use our privilege to affect change. 

This is a post I’ve been planning for a while. But I kept hesitating or putting it off for fear of not “getting it right”. For saying the wrong thing. The past couple of months have shone a bright light on the dark reality of systemic racism – specifically in the US but I’m not naive enough to believe it’s not in Canada too. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery lost their lives because of the colour of their skin. It might be too little too late, but I’ve realized that silence is worse so this is my way of speaking up.

There are a thousand things we should be doing differently to combat racism. I will be working privately on those and it’s not my place to attempt to teach others as I am still at the beginning of my own journey. What I do have the ability to teach publicly is what I’ve been teaching all along. Ultimately, I want to shift the conversation around toxins away from “it’s not important to me” to “it’s essential for all of us.”

Environmental Health is a Public Health Issue 

I haven’t talked about it on my platforms, but a big part of my mission in bringing environmental health into mainstream conversation is to support those who don’t have the same access to information and solutions. 

I want toxin-free and green living to be the mainstream. To be attainable for everyone because it is the only way. To be affordable because the demand created for products that don’t harm our health becomes great enough. To be the easy choices for our elected officials because the public demands it.

When it comes to consumer patterns, minorities and disadvantaged people are most affected by the choices those with privilege make. 

From climate change to toxins, the environmental movement serves to help the whole planet – not just those who can afford investing in change. 

It’s no secret that the ones who will feel it most if we don’t act are those who are already struggling the most. 

By making choices that reduce toxins in the supply chain, reducing energy consumption, and supporting fossil fuel alternatives, we can use our privilege to help reduce the impact so many of these environmental health issues have on people of colour in particular. 

Here are some examples – particularly focusing on the racism experienced by Black Americans, given recent events that have brought systemic racism to the forefront:

  • US farm workers are mostly Hispanics, followed by Blacks. Which puts them at increased exposure of pesticides – well beyond the levels we’re experiencing on produce from the grocery store. When you buy organic, you’re supporting a farm that doesn’t expose its workers to daily exposure to high levels of carcinogens and hormone disruptors.
  • After talc was declared a possible carcinogen, Johnson & Johnson identified Black women as the “right place” to focus their sales. Their efforts to offset declining sales in baby powder included distributing free samples in primarily Black and Hispanic churches and beauty salons. Watch The Devil You Know on Netflix and tell me if it doesn’t make your blood boil.
  • A 2017 EPA study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that Black Americans were exposed to significantly more small pollution particles (PM 2.5). These are associated with lung disease, heart disease, and premature death. The study found that Blacks had 1.54 times higher burden than did the overall population – higher than both those in poverty and the non-white population in general.
  • EWG research looked at 1,177 products marketed to Black women, and found that one out of 12 products were rated “highly” hazardous to human health. The most problematic products are hair relaxers, colours, and bleaches. They are linked to hormone disruption, reproductive damage, and cancer.
  • Mould and lead in poorly maintained public and low-income housing also disproportionately affects people of colour. Exposure to these, especially in early childhood contribute to long-term illness and development issues.
  • And the staggering statistic that Black women are 2-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues in the US compared to white women is hard to ignore.
  • Furthermore, research on diseases that disproportionately affect Black people, and their treatments, are lacking in Black study participants. There are several barriers, and this article does a great job of explaining them.

What You Can Do

If you’re anything like me, the events over the past few weeks have left you feeling sad, confused, and heavy-hearted. And if you’re not a BIPOC, you might also be feeling powerless, because “you’re not part of the problem.” 

You and I might not be actively part of the problem, but we can still be more actively part of the solution. 

There are so many ways to do this, and I’m not qualified to speak on most of them. But I know a thing or two about toxins, and the impact our daily choices have on those responsible for making the products and food we consume on a daily basis is one thing we can control. 

This is also why I spend so much time educating you on how to speak to others about toxins, and giving you the why behind the changes I encourage. Because we need to have conversations about toxins with more people. We need the narrative and stigma around toxins to change. We need to provide greater access to information so that more people can make more empowered decisions. 

I am starting more conversations at home about race and racism. I am reading different points of view and learning how to break my own patterns. It’s a process, one that I encourage you to look at as well. It all starts at home. How we teach what we model for our children. How we respond to what others are saying. 

Here are some of my resources to help you have more conversations around environmental health and the urgent need to address it – for everyone’s sake:

“Not enough to be harmful” and other misconceptions about Environmental Toxins

How to Talk to Skeptics

How to Read Labels (and join my mailing list for ongoing trainings)

 

To learn more ways you can stand up against racism, here is a (far from exhaustive) list of resources. Speak up. #blacklivesmatter.

http://www.raceconscious.org/

@theconsciouskid

@rachel.cargle

How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad