As an ethnic studies student I have been able to learn quite a bit about how racism works. It is not just a phenomenon of the past. Racism involves on-going programs that seek to apply meaning to, among other things, the disbursement of economic resources along racial lines. One of the ways this is made manifest is in the organization of space and the environment.
In an article by Mashable writer Matt Petronzio points to a report by journalist and ecologist Tim DeChant that uses Google Earth to determine the correlation between the wealth of a neighborhood and the number of trees that neighborhood has.
According to De Chant, author of the study, “Our cities haven’t developed according to some natural law of urbanization or according to some invisible hand. They have been shaped by big and small decisions, many of them bad.” This reflects the argument by sociologists Michael Omi & Howard Winant that race and racism is created through projects that apply racial meaning to resource mobilization. In Houston the differences between wealth and poverty, white and non-white, are made very clear.
The Mashable article uses satellite images of Houston, Texas, to show how economic and racial disparities are directly connected to each other. River Oaks, a neighborhood that has a long history of restricting ownership to Anglos only, and the Fourth Ward, a historically black part of town, have well known differences in economic resources. One is an exclusive and über-wealthy neighborhood, and the other is a victim of under-development that has lasted for more than a century.
River Oaks is also known for… its vast number of oak trees. The Fourth Ward… not so much. The report reflects how wealth is directly related to one’s environment, and I argue, how it is directly related to the racist power structures that have made The Fourth Ward what it is today — a quickly disappearing part of Houston’s history.