Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and if the good doctor were here to grace us with his presence, he'd no doubt find much to celebrate. America's first African-American president is finishing his inaugural year, and racism is edging closer to its well-deserved place in history's dustbin.
But Dr. King would also recognize that we remain far from the dream about which he so famously spoke. Because despite the temptation to think otherwise, racism is still very much with us in the 21st century.
One of its more odious manifestations is environmental racism, those toxic practices and policies (or lack thereof) that disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. Environmental racism happens when the chemical factory is built in the neighborhood where minorities live. When clean air rules are enforced in the rich suburb but not in its poorer neighbors. When incinerators are built next to public housing.
A look at the Environmental Scorecard shows that such racism occurs more than you may think and in places you might not suspect.
The first step on the journey to rid the land of environmental racism is awareness. To that end, a good way to honor the legacy of Dr. King would be to take some time this week to do a little reading at the Environmental Justice Network and the Environmental Justice Resource Center. They have much to say about the state of things and the many struggles that belong to us all.
It's up to us to fulfill Dr. King's dream. To shirk that responsibility is to give aid and comfort to the very forces we decry. As Dr. King once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Let us honor his wisdom by raising our voices together and being silent no more.