In the midst of congressional hearings on the Flint, Michigan water crisis, I am reminded of the harsh accusations from presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders—both of whom shamelessly and carelessly inferred that racism was a factor in the Flint catastrophe. Geneseo’s student body recently unabashedly hopped aboard the racism bandwagon by constructing displays in the MacVittie College Union and hosting a forum on environmental racism. This consequently diverted attention away from more likely causes of the crisis.
Environmental racism cannot be blamed in a situation where members of all races are affected equally by a tragedy. The reality is that the tainted water did not spare the white population of Flint—which constitutes a sizable 37 percent of the population. City leaders did not specifically target the homes of black people or other minorities as places to send the water. To say that the entire situation is the product of racism because minorities were affected is utterly juvenile, simplistic and a blatant fallacy.
Ignorant campus demonstrations completely disregarded the role diversity played in the cause of the crisis. Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley—a black man—played a key role in cutting off Flint’s access to safe water. He authored a letter to the city of Detroit in 2014 ending the deal that provided the residents of Flint with safe water.
Similarly, former Flint Director of Public Works Howard Croft was a prominent public supporter of using water from the Flint River. One of his duties as Director of Public Works was to ensure that residents had clean and safe water to drink. Croft is also a black man who resigned from his position because of the crisis. The point is that no single race of people can be blamed for this tragedy when some of the people most directly responsible were minorities themselves and the victims were of multiple races.
Given these facts, the accusations of racism from Geneseo and beyond are a tragedy of their own—and perplexing at best. The formation of misguided panels on racism and displays in the MacVittie College Union only served to distract from making any true progress toward addressing the issue. For example, an emergency manager in Flint had the authority to ignore a City Council vote to return to Detroit’s water in March 2015, but no one held panels about solving that immense imbalance of government power. Instead, the student body found it more productive to fixate on skin color.
Liberal professors and students alike have promoted the notion that the Flint water crisis is somehow more or less tragic based on the color of the skin of the people who were predominantly affected. In reality, a diverse government experienced a severe lapse in good judgment and a diverse population suffered as a result.
Unfortunately, Geneseo’s campus reflects a national obsession with looking at problems through a racially polarized lens instead of rationally breaking down the facts to find the truth. Ultimately, racism will flourish as long as blame is recklessly assigned on a basis of skin color and not behavior.