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Flint, Environmental Racism, and Racial Capitalism

July 2016

Laura Pulido


This article argues that the poisoning of the city of Flint is due to two factors: racism and capitalism. It asserts that capitalism is meant to devalue “surplus” people, who are almost always those of color. Using the example of Flint, it shows how neoliberalist policies promoted white flight from the city, thus shrinking the tax base and in turn producing massive cuts to social services. When these cuts were still not enough to make up for the difference in the tax base, the State of Michigan used its tyrannical Emergency Manager power to allow an unelected official to force austerity measures on the people of Flint. Overall, the piece is making an intriguing and rather convincing argument that capitalism only values that which - and those who - add capital to an economy, and neoliberal fiscal policies strip people of color of their ability to do this, thus devaluing them to society as a whole.

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Policy Implications

The least this article calls for is the elimination of the Emergency Manager power for the State of Michigan, as it has been used in racialized and despotical ways time and time again. Beyond that, the article recognizes enormous historical problems in housing, contending there’s a reason why the only residents able to leave Flint were white. Although redlining is now illegal, it is still very much in effect (see Related News). Consequently, Pulido’s article implies that more extreme policies must be put in place to truly eliminate the practice, perhaps an Affirmative Action style approach for obtaining a loan (despite how unpopular that would be). On a broader scale, though, it’s calling for something much larger than non-discriminatory housing policies. At its core, this article is anti-capitalist or at the very least pro-government stimulation in times of economic hardship. Thus, its true policy prescriptions include sweeping legislation such as free public college or universal healthcare that could be used as a means to achieve economic equality.

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