The closure of McClymonds High School for toxic groundwater is a predictable tragedy. Government policies around redlining and zoning created “ghettos” and put hazardous industries next to and within these communities. Things that would never happen in the Hills happened as matter of policy in the West. As a result Mack has 38 Hazardous Materials sites within a half mile of its campus.
We know the overall odds for Black folks in the West. According to the Alameda County Health Department, if you are Black and born in the West you can expect to live 15 years less than a White person born in the Hills.
Why is the West so Polluted and So Black—It’s by Design
Segregation in Oakland was created under the Color of Law. Take a look at the “redlining” map (below), areas where banks would not provide loans. Places where Black folks were concentrated, where you had to rent and subdivide units, and housing was more costly and lower quality, because there were not other areas where we could live. So, it is crowded and polluted, and the city invests less in sewers, schools, transportation, public safety, and everything else.
Now you have a ghetto.
Meanwhile the City also zones West Oakland for industrial uses, which take place beside, under and in the air of residents. These industries and the known and unknown pollutants they are spewing would never be allowed in White areas of the City. That would violate the zoning rules. But down where the darkies live—that’s all good—and don’t trip on the cleanup.
So that’s how we got here. And Mack is probably just the tip of the iceberg in some ways. The disproportionate asthma rates, lower attendance and achievement, environmental stress and redlining maps can pretty much be used as proxies for each other. Check them out below.
The Geography of Opportunity
But as for now—this rich City owes this community and these kids. Everything that is happening there and to them can be tied back to what the City did or explicitly allowed to happen under color of law.
How do we repair this harm, and what reparations are owed?
I hope we will seriously start these discussions.