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What is Environmental Racism For? Place-Based Harm and Relational Development

Authors: Danielle Purifoy*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Louise Seamster*, University of Iowa
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Environment, Political Geography
Keywords: racial capitalism, settler colonialism, the city, black geographies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper argues that observed environmental racisms are instrumental to the

development of white places. Rather than limiting the view of environmental harms to

Black communities as spatial violence enacted via white NIMBYism, we argue that

such spoilage is what produces white places. We call this process “creative extraction,”

the taking of resources from Black places to invest in white places. Those resources

range from regressive sales tax revenues to water and sewer infrastructure to land

devalued through waste disposal. Creative extraction involves seemingly unconnected

actors reinforcing mutual interest in white spatial control and placemaking, thus upholding

what Charles Mills calls the “racial contract.” Drawing on our case study of

Montgomery County, Texas, we show how development infrastructure, and environmental harm

are intimately linked through legal and political contestation, and resource redistribution.

We focus on Texas’ mechanism for creating new water infrastructure through

“Municipal Utility Districts” to illustrate how a policy can create literal and symbolic

boundaries to enable overdevelopment and underdevelopment. Our proposed vantage

point on the relationship between communities can improve future research on both

environmental racism and “the city”.

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