Can Infrastructure Be “Racist?”

It’s a strange question to ask. After all, “infrastructure” is a non-living entity. But hey, guess what: humans build infrastructure. We get to decide where to build it, how much to invest in it, and where to allocate the money that is invested. And as long as humans are the ones who decide those aspects of infrastructure, there’s always plenty of room for racial bias to take over the conversation. This is what happened during the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis that you might never have heard about.

Over winter, residents were forced to make do without clean running water. That’s because the infrastructure failed due to inclement weather. Was the failure connected to the city’s predominantly African American population? You be the judge.

Author or Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret Catherine Coleman Flowers said, “I believe that what we will find in a lot of these areas, especially in the South, is the type of benign neglect of these cities…There’s an intentional avoidance of putting the types of dollars in infrastructure — in these Southern communities, it’s not coming from the tax base because the tax base is not there.”

She added, “A lot of it comes from the federal government, but it’s those cities that have lobbyists or political connections that get the money over and over again. We have to change that paradigm.”

Jackson was once predominantly white. Not coincidentally, the pipes haven’t been replaced since then. Flowers also suggested that Jackson will be a city heavily impacted by climate change, and new infrastructure is needed now if we don’t want to end up spending more later. 

Catherine is someone who is accustomed to working with people on both sides of the aisle — such as progressive Bernie Sanders and former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. She said that she actually asked Sessions, who grew up in poverty, how poor communities could obtain grants when richer communities were the ones that paid to match. Sessions didn’t know the answer. And that’s how they decided to work together.

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