Saturday, May 25, 2019

Book Review: 'A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind' by Harriet A. Washington

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by [Washington, Harriet A.]

Racism is in the air

There is a (perhaps) lesser known aspect of American racism whereby people and institutions assume blacks are dumber than whites, that they are untrainable and don’t deserve as much pay for the same work as whites. Blacks don’t think clearly or fast enough, they don’t process or retain well, and they’re slow to move, think and speak. Harriet Washington shows in no uncertain terms that blacks have been systematically neglected and poisoned into this condition in A Terrible Thing To Waste.

In chapters jam-packed with statistics and scientific findings, Washington shows that blacks get Alzheimer’s at twice the rate of suburban whites who don’t live with the same polluted air, soil and water. Whites don’t breathe the lead paint dust in their homes or drink water from lead pipes.

Lead is the biggest villain the book. It attacks forming brains of infants and even fetuses, ensuring perverse developments later in life. For example, only 56% of lead-exposed students in Baltimore graduate high school. It affects behavior too, as black children grow into violence and crime. She gives the examples of well-meaning people who can’t fill out a form to apply for a job, to the point of not being able to remember their own birthdate. At the other extreme, a highly skilled child starting in a new school was automatically put into a special needs class with illiterates simply because he was black. Until his mother demanded he be tested - against the will of the teachers and officials - and fought their refusal to do so, assuming that all black children were dim.

To lead, add iodine, the lack of which is the single biggest cause of mental retardation, Washington says. Grocery deserts don’t provide the fresh produce that would allow for sufficient iodine. For a hundred years, the US has mandated iodine be added to salt to alleviate the shortage, but it is not enough, and the fashion for iodine-free sea salt exacerbates it. So all of America is dumbing down.

The (white) establishment does little or nothing to remediate the situation, keeping blacks in impoverished slums, moving garbage dumps into their neighborhoods, and allowing factories to spew whatever they want.

The extent of the arrogance can be seen in Anniston, Alabama. There, Monsanto hired a University of Mississippi professor to prove that the waters flowing through the town were not polluted by Monsanto’s dumping of millions of pounds of PCBs. The first test was letting 25 bluegills into the water, to see how they would react. They all died within three and a half minutes. “It was like dunking the fish in battery acid,” according to a team member. Just thirteen years later, Monsanto finally closed the plant. The pollution remains behind for all to enjoy. Kids splash in the streams, vegetable gardens soak it up, the water flows through the taps, and the black community is mentally damaged, generation after generation.

The vicious circle starts with low land prices. Factories move in, cheap housing goes up around them. The factories poison the soil, water and air, keeping the local residents from realizing their full potential in life. The factories close down, leaving a bunch of unemployed and unemployable people in housing completely worthless because no one will buy where the air, soil and water will kill them and their children. People can’t even refinance their mortgages because their homes have no value. The cycle of poverty deepens along with the diseases and conditions as local government refuses to throw resources at a hopeless neighborhood. Of blacks.

Lest anyone be lulled into thinking this pollution is localized, Washington cites figures that apply everywhere and to everyone:
-One in ten samples of organic juices exceeded the level of arsenic permitted by federal law.
-80% of infant formulas test positive for lead and/or arsenic.
-20% of baby foods contain lead.
-All lipsticks contain arsenic.
-DDT does not break down in nature. Lead and arsenic persist in soils for decades.
-Only 32% of US students show proficiency in mathematics, compared to 50% of Canadians and 63% of Singaporeans using standardized international tests.
-Pregnant women should limit their seafood intake to three servings a week due to methylmercury contamination. Even the FDA says no one should eat more than four shrimp – per month. Most saltwater fish are now toxic to humans.
-Amyloid plaques and magnetite, the trademarks of Alzheimer’s, develop from air pollution, as seen in autopsies in Mexico City.

The USA is far more polluted than most understand it to be, and like the Roman Empire collapsing around its lead-addled ruling class, the whole country is being damaged going forward. Washington cites billions upon billions of dollars diverted into to dealing with the mentally handicapped, who should not be and don’t have to be. Education costs, medical costs, welfare costs, and government oversight are all unproductively needed to deal with a polluted, damaged population. And by far the biggest block of victims is the black population. It is not genetic and not race-based. It is manmade toxicity that is fully preventable, and is, when found in white-majority areas.

There is a contradiction throughout A Terrible Thing To Waste. Washington devotes a lot of space to deconstructing and dismissing the notion of IQ. She points out that Alfred Binet invented the Intelligence Quotient or IQ measurement, and from the onset denied that it gave any indication of potential intelligence from birth or race. He said it could only evaluate intelligence for those not already performing adequately. He even refused to rank people using IQ. Washington goes farther, showing how it is an invalid test based on culture and context, such that perfectly intelligent people on other continents show up as morons when given American IQ tests. But then she cites IQ repeatedly throughout the rest of the book, showing that this disease cost 25 million IQ points or that condition cost eight million. That it lowered the average IQ by five points. This makes no sense after her work to dismiss IQ as a valid measure.

There is also a lot of repetition. The book could have been a faster read with even more impact given some more editing. But overall, it is a shocking wakeup call to end the voluntary stupidity that racism foists on the vulnerable.

Poverty remains the most punished crime in America.

Editor's note: Washington's response to part of this review: "The writer errs is stating that  IQ use is illogical. On page 15, I write: 'IQ tests provide limited measure of achievement, not the oft-touted innate ability. In  the context of this book ... it is exactly this testing of achievement that  imparts  meaning to IQ'". 

This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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