Live Stream Notes
Toxic: A Symposium on Exposure, Entanglement, and Endurance
TOXIC: Jody Roberts, Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Elizabeth Hoover
Respondent: Chloe Taft
“The Street as Disease Agent,” Naa Oyo A. Kwate
- I will focus on routine exposures that aren’t as visible as public health crises.
- I will:
1) Show some of the ways in which racism produces toxic exposure on the street.
2) Show some ways to counter that racism.
The Street & Commercial Exposure
- I was interested in the local alcohol environment in central Harlem. How did ads affect alcohol consumption by black women? Alcohol consumption puts women at risk for breast cancer. What are the determinants of the determinants?
- I had a team of students who determined the prevalence of ads in these neighborhoods. We found that 25% of ad space marketed liquor.
- The pervasive marketing of alcohol is a toxic exposure because this product can be toxic to health. The images and messages in the ads also constitute a toxic exposure.
- We didn’t see ads talking about close friendships, foreign travel, tradition, etc. in these neighborhoods. Instead, African Americans are asked to consider intoxication as a means to move across class boundaries. Many ads also promoted the sexual exploitation of black women.
- Women’s exposure to ads was associated with a 13% greater chance of being an alcohol drinker.
- A common interpretation of this phenomenon is that intensity of advertising reflects consumer demand. But a variety of data show that not to be the case. It’s also true that these communities don’t want the advertising on the street (witness a painted-over Heineken ad).
The Street & Interpersonal Exposure
- Interpersonally mediated racism compromises black health.
- LIFE study
- Respondents identify the street as one of the most common settings for experiences of discrimination (this includes the street literally, stores, restaurants, etc.)
- Incivilities (interpersonal interactions characterized by rudeness, inappropriate behavior or treatment of the person as invisible) are more often reported by women.
- Criminal profiling is more often reported by men.
- And yet, the street is also a place of respite.
The Street as Health Intervention
- Can the street be a place to intervene and attenuate racism’s negative impact?
- Hypothesis: publicly acknowledging racism on the street could counter its negative health effects.
- Racism Still Exists (RISE) project. The research question: Could disseminating at street level stark facts about the persistence of racism counter its effects?
- I created an ad campaign that comprised six ads in six months. Harlem was the control; Bed-Stuy was where the campaign ran.
- The ads ran in bus shelters. There were thirty ads across the neighborhood. Each ad ran for a month (six ads in six months). (see visuals)
- I didn’t anticipate how intense the ads would be on street level. You could see them from maybe a block away.
- 144 participants were recruited from a probability sample of two neighborhoods which are spatially disparate (about an hour apart by subway) but are pretty well-matched in terms of population and history.
- We did a baseline interview with participants. Then the RISE campaign ran for six months. We then did a follow-up interview a year post-baseline. What was the change over time in the two neighborhoods?
- I hypothesized ads would benefit health at the individual and community level.
- The results show that psychological distress declined to a greater degree in Bed-Stuy than in Harlem (the control). It turned out that fewer participants than I had thought actually saw the ads. So if the campaign is responsible for the decline, then it must have worked through the community. This is plausible because we saw strong community-level impacts.
- We used the hashtag #racismstillexists to track the reception of the ads. We looked for other related tags and once we found someone who was posting about the ads we kept following them. By inspecting the commentary, we found that many of the people posting pictures were following the campaign.
- Although almost all the commentary we saw was positive, we did observe one negative reaction when an ad was vandalized.
- Right before the campaign ended, Color Lines ran a story on the ads.
- Conclusion: Although I’ve been distinguishing between everyday street-level toxins and larger-scale toxins, the blog posts [for the conference] point to several kinds of convergence between the two toxins. 1) Cities tend to be a locus for both. 2) The state uses zoning and other tools to safeguard some citizens from toxins while leaving black communities over-exposed. 3) In naming these phenomena, there’s a risk of casting communities as an atlas of disorder, so that it becomes not only the case that alcohol ads are replete in the ghetto but that the ghetto is a place replete with alcohol ads.
“Industrial Contamination as Settler Colonialism in a Mohawk Community,” Elizabeth Hoover
- Settler colonialism: an inclusive, land-centered project with a view to eliminating indigenous societies.
- Research question: How does environmental contamination in this Mohawk community further the project of settler colonialism?
- PCBs have settled into the soil, water, fish and therefore bodies of members of Mohawk communities.
- The fight here was never for relocation but over tribal control of the contaminants.
- The community is a complex jurisdictional site – New York considers part of it to be within its boundaries, Quebec and Ontario also consider parts of the territory to be within their boundaries. These jurisdictions are not necessarily recognized by community members.
- In 1981 there were two dormant sludge pits filled with PCBs behind the GM plant.
- The lagoons were found to have flooded into the St. Lawrence, the Raquette River and Turtle Creek several times.
- The 270-acre site was placed on national priorities list as a Super Fund site in 1984.
- A Mohawk Midwife invited testing in 1984.
- 1985 the scientist who conducted the tests began publicly announcing his results, which revealed that the animals had PCB levels higher than what he considered to be safe.
- This set the stage for studies to determine whether PCB contamination was affecting the health of mothers. [Midwife] wanted to know whether she encourage Mohawk mothers to breastfeed?
- Mohawks partnered with the State University of NY to test breast milk. Women who consumed fish had higher levels of PCB in their breast milk than women who didn’t. When they stopped eating fish, these levels went down. They were then instructed to abandon their food practices, but the community rejected that solution. Why should they have to change their food practices?
- They could fingerprint the PCBs from the GM site to the fish to the breast milk.
- At first, the midwife had been concerned with the women at the top of the food chain and the impact on the sacred relationship between mother and child. Breast milk is symbolic of the most basic human connection; when that is contaminated it should be a wake-up call.
- Distinction between risk reduction strategies (risk-producers prevent the contamination) and risk avoidance strategies (the people impacted alter their behavior).
- The midwife came up with the idea of environmental reproductive justice – ensuring that communities’ reproductive abilities are not inhibited by contamination, also considering the impact of contamination on reproduction of knowledge and culturally informed tribal citizens.
- The idea of thinking about environmental reproductive justice came up through the terminology of seven generations and the question, Who are we preserving this environment for?
- That language was cooped in interesting ways by the EPA to defend a clean-up plan that would leave behind contamination.
- Situated knowledge revealed effects of the contamination. Women reported not being able to have as many children as they would have preferred and saw this as a continuation of forced sterilization.
- Women with higher levels of PCBs were found to be less likely to ovulate regularly. Direct connections to the ability to procreate have not yet been proven, but this is theorized to be a possibility.
- The language and culture around tying knots and making nets is lost when there’s no longer any use for those nets. There are similar effects on the practices and language around fishing.
- There are many boundaries intersecting this community – US/Canadian border and two provinces. In thinking about the border around the Super Fund site, the implication is that everything within the borders is contaminated and outside that border is clean.
- The tribe developed its own standard for contamination levels known as ARARs, which are treated consistently with state requirements. The clean-up must meet those standards.
- How did the tribe pick their standard? Why wasn’t the standard “zero parts per million?” Their answer: The standard had to be scientifically and technically achievable. They decided on the numbers based on our community’s reliance on the natural world. The EPA was bound by law to follow their stricter standard with the Mohawk land.
- Part of it was a recognition that Mohawks were not the same as US or Canadian citizens; they needed these stricter standards in order to return to their community lifestyle.
- Discussion of the way in which contaminants become a part of bodies. Midwife: “I began to realize that we’re part of the dump. If this pollution is in the river and the dump, then it is in us.”
- Lactation is one of the only ways of getting rid of PCBs, since it’s a process by which fat leaves the woman’s body.
- PCBs leaving the site through the air evaporate and wind up in other places. Dr. Carpenter (SUNY Albany) described how the PCBs more likely to evaporate were also the ones more likely to cause diabetes.
- GM is also in the Arctic. The colonizing impact has extended to the other end of the globe.
- The GM plant was closed in 2009. In June, GM filed for bankruptcy. When it emerged from bankruptcy, it was free of the responsibility for cleaning up these sites. Now there is a trust that has assumed the responsibility.
- According to EPA 5-year report, “remedial actions, when combined with the existing fish advisories, address the pollution problems.” Local communities still have to alter their food practices to avoid contamination.
- In thinking about Michelle Murphy’s post about moving beyond pathologizing...The community is determined to stay there and is pushing for clean-up. More and more people are getting science degrees and returning to the community to work for the clean-up. They’ve also developed a new, more nuanced fish advisory that informs people about relative risks so that they can make their own decisions about fishing and fish consumption. There are also educational efforts for youth to learn about the environment and food practices. There is also a program that has hired masters and apprentices from the community to train apprentices and expand the number of people in the community with traditional knowledge.
Respondent: Chloe Taft
- How do these papers help us grapple with the term “toxic?”
- We must understand toxicity as an accretive and compounding process defined in relation to human actors, structural inequalities and landscapes.
- It’s been difficult to think about these papers without thinking about Flint. In the classes I’m teaching, Flint has repeatedly come up. A dominant media narrative is that this is a story of government neglect. But negligence implies inaction. The story of Flint is one of long histories of political and structural transformations, which often happened by design.
- Kwate asked: What puts you at risk of risk? In Flint, discriminatory labor practices and federally funded urban renewal projects that cut highways through neighborhoods of color are some of the determinants.
- Toxicity is not just chemicals, but state policies and layers of structural inequality.
- The toxic landscape of urban segregation is a root of the water crisis in Flint. What does it mean for the government to compare this to Katrina, as though it were a natural disaster and not a political one?
- The idea of seven generations is resonant in calling attention to the long histories that produce toxicity.
- Jody’s blog post – this also extends backward in time. How does memory factor in?
- Three sets of questions:
- How to our panelists help us think of “toxic” in active terms? Where is agency located when we do so?
- Jody – “narrating toxins.” Toxicity changes based on positionality.
- Embodiment. In each site, how is toxicity wielded and by whom? How are policies administered and enacted in specific ways?
- What happens when the toxic itself is given agency? How does it take on a life of its own as it infiltrates social, ecological, economic and political life?
- Human actors strive to respond to the toxic, but how are they also acted upon?
- Toxicity, illness, violence and despair are made material in landscapes and bodies, but the panelists also show us that these are places of respite, vitality and activism. How is this multiplicity of toxicity perceived by those who live within the contradiction? Is toxicity always a weapon, or can it become a resource? Is there such a thing as positive contamination?
- This brings me to the question of policy. All three panelists want to transform the contamination into action. How do you negotiate the tension (if there is one) between the structural problems and the need for action? Can you imagine borrowing from each other’s perspectives?
- Kwate: I will respond to the last question. The major funders for health research are NIH and other foundations. To the extent that most funders tend to favor incremental approaches and much of the work that exists is at the individual level, funders are not inclined to see the innovation in trying to work at a structural level. RISE was funded by a particular NIH mechanism which was supposed to be for exceptionally creative research. Maybe that’s why I got it, but I have no idea. Public health in action is oriented around communities and structure but it often times is at odds with the institutional structures that make that work possible, so there’s an ongoing challenge.
- Hoover: Part of the process of conducting research in this community is going through the task force because as a community they decided that I needed to prove to them that this was a useful project to them. They’ve institutionalized the view that research done in that community needs to be useful there. The midwife said, “You’re not going to send white guys in lab coats to collect breast milk. You’re going to train Mohawk women to collect the breast milk.” I’ve tried to have different co-authors – scientists, anthropogists, midwives and Pueblo women. What kind of other people can we involve in the process? We tell funders that this kind of involvement is what’s necessary to work in this community.
- Taft: If toxicity is an ongoing process, is there a tension with mapping it?
- Kwate: I think so. You draw boundaries, but the exposure extends beyond them. I do quantitative research, so it often comes down to how to quantify something, but some of the data can’t be observed and you have to rely on other data sets. For example, if you’re thinking about 311 reports, where people are reporting sources of disorders in their neighborhood. We don’t really think about charm – what’s positive in the neighborhood? Things that can be categorized as disorder might be charm to someone else (e.g. music blasting out of a window). It’s kind of a moving target and not necessarily an objective one.
- Elizabeth: Another part of my book is about the change in food culture. The big arrow is: GM ruined everything and that’s why there’s no local food anymore. People internalize the boundaries and think that they can’t use the land to produce food because nothing within these boundaries can be trusted.
Question: What do you mean when you use the word “exposure?”
- Elizabeth: The way people learned about their “exposure” here was through results from health studies. If you didn’t participate, you had to guess. People were disappointed when they received results and all they could say was however many PPM they had of PCBs in their bloodstream, but didn’t know what it meant. The numbers quantified exposure but didn’t mean anything except how you compared to the average person.
- Kwate: It’s interesting that you said that nobody has zero PCBs because I think it’s the same kind of thing with racism. Exposure depends at the level at which I’m working. If you’re a black American you have exposure to racism, even if it’s not something you can articulate. To call it “exposure” is clearly an underestimate of what is happening. Nancy Cleaver has done work showing health outcomes from racism but she also found that African Americans who denied experiencing racism had worse health than those who reported it. Maybe this gets to the idea of whether toxicity is always a weapon and not also a resource.
Question: Are there other instances where you were listening to narratives and noticed places of silence?
- Hoover: Not so much in people talking to me. There was one survey that women in the community found out about and decided that they didn’t like and demanded that the results be returned. The survey was trying to find out if being culturally attuned was a protective factor. They said they didn’t like the way the scientists were trying to measure being a good Mohawk. There are tricky issues in figuring out who researchers are trying to get information from and what communities exist within the communities.
Question: Naa Oyo, When you were talking about RISE, was one of the phrases you used “confronting the effects of social and political confinement?” Can you expand on how you define and see that in relation to toxicity exposure?
- Kwate: I was drawing on __’s work on slaughterhouses. Denying exposure to racism is actually worse for your health. I am interested in racism as a stressor, and what that means to the group at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. How do people try to confront that as a means to interrupt the pathway between the stressor and those affected?
Question: Can you talk about the process and the decisions you made about positive and negative messaging?
- Kwate: All of the visual was the design firm. But once I had the content, the firm started working on ways to convey it visually. Most of them are the way they originally pitched it. But I knew I wanted to focus on stop and frisk. I ran that last because if there was going to be push-back from the city, it wouldn’t have disrupted the campaign. The smoke ad came from a copy of a memo that forced tobacco companies to make public their internal documents. I took an excerpt and incorporated it into the ad. The process was mostly just thinking of the ideas I wanted to get across and trying to find ways of rendering them visual.
Question: Elizabeth, how are you thinking through the way environmental science focuses on PCBs and not all the other chemicals in the Super Fund sites? PCBs are one of these rare things that are already regulated by the state and consistently monitored, amidst all the other chemicals that are erased in monitoring and regulation. How are the studies you’re looking at wrestling with the toxic erasures that accompany the surfacing of PCBs?
- Hoover: None of the sites has just one chemical in it. What does it mean to be exposed to multiple things at once? PCBs have become the poster child, and this was a concern to the scientists. The gentleman I spoke to about the fish advisory said, “Now I’m interested in thinking about pharmaceuticals – we don’t know about them and can’t afford to test for them.” Now the fish are full of Diabetes medicine from urine. That’s another terrible irony that people are thinking through and aren’t sure what to do with. Moreover, there is this local source of PCBs, but there are also many other sources.
Question: Is there any way in which your work has pushed you to think about what bodies are and how they’re connected? Infants’ bodies are becoming another site of GM’s Super Fund. Racism has the effect of premature aging. What is happening to people’s bodies through violent colonialism and racism?
- Kwate: [Reference to LaToya Frazier’s presentation.] We can think about how racism changes people’s bodies, how they move in space and how they relate to other bodies. In the blog post I wrote I referenced a black woman in Ferguson’s experience of being stopped by the police. We’ve found that in the NYPD’s data set, which includes age, gender, precinct, etc., they also record a subjective categorization of the person’s physique. Black women were more likely than anyone to be described as “heavy.” This is after you control for their BMI. There’s something about how police (and not just police) are unable to see black women correctly. There are a number of ways in which bodily subjectivity is experienced differently by people and how perception gets incorporated into other trajectories. Toxicity as a form of racism is a process that shapes how bodies exist.
- Hoover: In this book I look at bodies completely differently and think about the focus on individual bodies. Community members said at times that we should have met with them in families or other groups rather than individually. They also started group-level health care. There’s starting to be a focus on improving the community’s social body rather than the individual body. Mohawk community member to GM: “Imagine your mother has cancer, do you just leave behind the biggest one because it’s too expensive?” There are ways that the land has been conceptualized as a body. It was also interesting that people didn’t want to talk about their bodies with me because I was a skinny person. Who I was foreclosed certain conversations.
Question: My question is about time. I’d be curious to hear you reflect on the future. For example, the mobilization of the ad form to create a different kind of space on the street. Or the chemical half lives and the projecting of toxicity into the future.
- Kwate: I’m actually working on a paper in which I argue that part of the health trajectory African-Americans face is due to time loss. You have to allocate more time to thinking about certain things. You buy a house, which is supposed to accrue wealth, but if your neighborhood is black you accrue less over time than someone in a white neighborhood. Also, there were constraints on time in this project. It’s possible that one of the health benefits isn’t the effect now, but finding people to be more available to these kinds of ideas at a later time. Consciousness raising takes time; it doesn’t necessarily have a discrete endpoint.
- Hoover: I think that what first comes to mind is the uncertainty of time. Your body is a time bomb because you have contaminants but don’t know what that’s going to mean for your health. Diabetes came up a lot while I was doing this research, but now cancer is arising. A concern people have is what’s down the road. What if something worse happens in the future? What if the money I’m being offered can’t cover things that arise down the road? 100 years from now, is anyone going to remember that the 11-acre landfill is there? The Mohawk people are saying, “We know that we’re going to be here then. Is GM going to be here? Is the federal government going to be here?”
Question: Elizabeth, you mentioned that the community adopted this magic number and the federal government had to observe it?
- Hoover: Only on Mohawk land.
Question: Was this enforced by the EPA?
- Hoover: Presumably. I wasn’t there to witness the testing. You have to trust the people gathering the data, crunching and reporting the numbers. There are people who don’t even trust the environment division of the tribe because it’s federally recognized and gets funding from the government. They trust the individuals within the environment division, but not necessarily the institution.
EXPOSURE: Elizabeth F.S. Roberts, Tiffany Lethabo King, Lindsey Dillon
Respondent: Sara Smith
“Elizabeth Roberts: Soda, Lead, Love: Bio-Ethnography in Mexico City”
- In 1993, Enviro health scientists in Mexico City DF: Started ELEMENT. Talk will trace how different kinds of substances come to be understood as exposures, and different measures to deal with them.
- The difference between sweeteners (hi-fructose, etc) and lead
- What it might mean to treat them symmetrically
- Continuum of elemental/environmental thinking. Could also be called “entangled thinking.”
- Continuum of object stability and object instability: not as dualisms, but 2 entangled entities.
- ELEMENT: Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants.
- Studies the effects of pollution and chemical exposures, particularly lead, on fetal and childhood growth and neurological / development through the analysis of blood urine hair, etc. from over 3,00 mother/child pairs through Seguro Social Clinics in DF.
- Ethnographic data with biological data to ask questions about relationship of environment to health.
- Bio-Ethnography: “Biograthic approach” of both biology, ethnography.
- Key ELEMENT findings: lead exposure has greatest effect on fetus on 1st trimester of pregnancy. If women don’t have enough calcium while breastfeeding, lead leaches out of their bones into milk.
- Study methods: ELEMENT looks at particulate, bounded bodies for traces of particular chemicals. Assumption: bodies are not permeable in continuous way. Compare this to environmental/relational/entangled approach of medical anthropology, Queer theory, etc. Bodies are always in relation to their environments.
- Bio-ethnography seeks to get over this dichotomy.
- Entanglement literature challenges assumption that biological processes are universal. Lead measured in blood in a certain Mexican neighborhood, have an entirely different history than lead levels in Flint, MI.
- 1992: lead banned from gasoline in Mexico. Because houses are not made out of wood in Mexico, there is little lead paint concern. Main concern: trastes de barro: Leaded pots valued in families for their histories / reminder of rural family pasts. Restaurants that specialize in cooking food in trastes (decolonial bent in this): beans cooked in leaded dishes are said to taste better.
- Alma, Dany and Mar
- When Alma’s blood levels came back high during her pregnancy with Dany, ELEMENT took her trastes out of her house and replaced them with metal pots. Lead levels went down for her second pregnancy, Mar.
- Alma cooks food outside elementary schools, sells Avon, etc.
- Mar has asthma and is frequently sick. Alma keeps records of her medication, etc, and uses ELEMENT visits to access medical services she usually can’t get.
- Alma uses bottled water for cooking.
- Mexico is biggest consumer of bottled water in the world.
- Tap water tests show that Mexico’s tap water has less harmful bacteria in it than corporately bottled water.
- Yet who would believe government assurances that this is the case?
- Asking for water instead of soda when visiting is burdensome
- See Alma as a good mom because she gives her daughters soda.
- Mexico’s Obesity Epidemic: soda is a key driver
- Class implications: make a group of “people who give their children soda” and a group who doesn’t.
- World consumption of Coca Cola products is highest in Mexico
- Unlike lead, there are no conversations about getting rid of NAFTA, which has made corporate sugars so ubiquitous
- In last 2 Years, Mexican school children are only allowed to bring agua simple to school, not soda. Mothers fool their children’s teachers with clear soda.
- Alma says that children aren’t allowed to have soda, because of their nerves. Not obesity. Her solution is always to give her children more.
- Thin is an attribute of people who can live as if they were not assisted.
- Food is love in an unstable world
- Yet calling Alma’s world unstable is complicated. Moctezuma, where she lives, has worst reputation in DF. Perceived as dysfunctional, violent, non-policed, etc. No chain stores that blanket the rest of DF.
- While the police don’t/can’t enter the neighborhood, Coke distributors do and can.
- Land-envisioned neighborhood: 5 generations of owning their own homes; neighborhood stability.
- Residents see this new safety as coming from the ability to keep the police out of their neighborhood.
- War on drugs in Mexico has helped Canadian and American extractive agribusinesses gain a toehold in the country.
- War on drugs has stepped in where NAFTA didn’t succeed in dispossessing Mexicans of their land.
- Individualizing war on obesity doesn’t take these systemic histories into account.
- Suggestion: the mala fama of Moctezuma, etc, keeps out the instabilities of Carlos Slim-style gentrification, redevelopment
- BPA and obesity: an ELEMENT causes a bodily state.
- The idea that working class mothers that are obese, will make their children obese, too. Does not acknowledge histories of NAFTA, etc.
- How to look at obesegenic environment?
- “Exposure” prevalent in 18th century, before the word “environment.”
- “exposure” to influences outside of the home
- “environment” always a classed and medicalized relationship to space. Used to describe the poor, etc.
- Side note about the packaging of the soda: advertisements, colors, etc, in
- Alma can only focus on environment inside the home. Giving soda is more stable than tap water.
- Soda is for stabilizing the home. Gives a deep commonality; soda is love. Water, frequently, is not.
- Latin America: a rich site for bio-ethnography. Long history of emphasizing bodies and environments. Race exists, but is malleable here. Long-term understanding of malleability of bodies.
- But nothing inherently liberatory as destabilizing.destabilized/malleable worlds.
- Such conversations usually take place in stable worlds, looking outwards.
- We want destabilizing to remain a voluntary analytic, not a perpetually lived experience.
- We want a relational world where everyone can share in stability of objects. Instability of objects should be taken as a matter of course that then has to be cared for.
Tiffany Lethabo King: Black Porosity: Exposure, Entanglement, and Endurance
- Indigo-stained hands of slaves working in indigo plants: first sustained shot in Dash’s 1992 film, Daughters of the Dust.
- Important to show indigo-handed people to remind viewers that this blueness was the scar of slavery.
- Push past limits of realism; make the unsayable sayable. Way of puncturing conventional frames of depicting slavery, freedom, etc.
- Chemical porosity: indigo is poisonous.
- Gullah tour: Alphonso Brown, tour guide, says that indigo processing was suspending in the early 1800s because of the premature death of the slaves working there.
- Slaves in indigo production would develop what we could now refer to as cancer.
- There are no extant indigo plants.
- More than just a metaphor of exposure, index forms of use, contact, exposure, violence, that.
- The pores of indigo-stained hands are places of boundary breakdown. Breakdown of Enlightenment humanism: bodies as bounded, individual.
- Leeching blue-black hand puncture this.
- Black laboring body: the hold that labor has on the critical imaginary has become almost metaphysic.
- Labor functions as an arm to epistemology that ends up reinforcing violence
- Latent dehumanizing. Marks Black Laboring body becomes a nonhuman tool laboring to make the modern state.
- Sylvia Wynter: Black laborer must exist for the the white laborer to distinguish self as rational, etc
- When we are only orienting Black bodies to their labor—how do we avoid the traps of humanism?
- Pull Blackness into the category of human labor, or destroy that category?
- Black fungibility pulls at the human as a site of Black freedom, but might also tether it to the labor/commodity form
- In contrast: Black porosity: site of exposure and entanglement. Ability to absorb, while keeping convo space open for Black endurance
- Black understood as porous: what moves through Blackness? Body as an open process. Pores as sites of transit. What can porous Black flesh afford? How can porosity as a rubric pose questions that actually matter to Black lives?
- Realm of the speculative: go back to Dash. Trace the seeping of toxics. Dash pushes against the separation of human and nature. In film, human and plant molecules are not independent.
- Flesh becomes more than human
- Porosity as a state: disrupts idea of body as a closed system. Dash’s film: scenes of hands only performing gendered work
- At the level of the pore, gender distinctions collapse. Black bodies are non-gendered at level of the pore.
- New racial and sexual categories: non-normative, nonhuman excess: Black slaves and indigo plants “mating” to produce commodity of indigo dye
- Black pores: does this project tarry in world of objection for too long?
- There are scenes for life, here, too. Not just about plant/nonhuman penetrating of the body.
- How to do ethical reading of Dash’s work?
- Indigo plants as noxious zone of the plantation where enslaved not always in master’s field of vision. Indigo plant as a place of Black solitude and freedom?
- Yet still toxic.
- In making the dye: the maneuvers of actually making the dye: the Black muscles necessary. Read this outside the regime of labor, etc—read it as a site of erotics; enslaved enjoying each other’s muscles, a caring touch, massage of the muscles—other possibilities here besides just labor and subjection.
- Blackness refashions life where life is not supposed to thrive.
- The indigo processing plants: a place to escape one kind of violence of the plantation.
- Read Dash’s indigo stains as Spiller’s “yet-to-be-flesh.”
- Black body as a form of liberated flesh
Lindsey Dillon: Soil Remediation and Sea Level Rise in San Francisco
- Bay View Hunter’s Point: historical industrial zone, with a residential zone with rich history of activism: civil rights, environmental justice, etc.
- Has 1/3 of the city’s contaminated Brownfield sites
- Had a power plant downhill from public housing developments
- Entire area of southeast: this is not the original shoreline. Makes it vulnerable to sea level rise.
- Hunters Point Shipyard: Navy Environmental Remediation site
- Also has yellow flowers, breeze, etc.
- Base closed down in 1974; overgrown now with hopeful plant life.
- Dry docks, football-sized warehouses, underground engineering of cleanup
- On a Navy PR tour, emphasis on the potential of Bay View residents getting jobs in the cleanup process
- And soon, even, a wetlands environment here!!
- Despite this, the site is the most hazardous area in the shipyard. Navy has been capping it with several feet of soil and restricting land use through property deed restrictions.
- Residents say this is substandard remediation. This wouldn’t happen in a whiter, wealthier area of the city.
- Navy dismisses these concerns, and their concerns of the toxic byproducts of cleanup: dump trucks carrying away toxics, incineration, asbestos of the clean-up materials, etc.
- Toxic byproducts of cleanup complicate the Navy’s narrative of biological/ecological restoration
- This is an environmental justice issue: another point in the long history of racial injustice in San Francisco
- The impossibility of cleanup: underneath the weeds here, lay asbestos, cobalt, and other radioactive elements.
- They constitute the subsoil here
- 1946: June and July: Navy exploded Operation Crossroads 2 atomic bomb at Bikini, as the navy prepared for more wars. Exploded them near animals, electrical equipment, food, etc. Evacuated Bikinians beforehand to make an “empty” environment.
- Hunter’s Point became the center of decontamination of the ships and gear after these “experiments”
- Navy Radiation lab is where scientists bring back fallout-contaminated animals, objects, etc to be studied. Nuclear colonialism becomes part of San Fran’s ecology.
- Research facility puts this waste in the ocean often after its tested.
- African American Great Migration: move into Oakland, areas of San Fran including Hunter’s Point.
- A short walk away from the shipyard: Mario Woods was killed by San Francisco police, shot 20 times in 2015. Black Lives Matter protests.
- Remember how pollution is one of multiple forms of violence.
- A “development” company is trying to “revitalize” the area through remediation. The clean-up is happening piecemeal; condominiums come in as sections of the area are deemed clean.
- This kind of project is only possible through a “risk-based” logic. Goal isn’t full removal of underground contaminants, but rather risk-based containment. Just manage the toxins, don’t remove them.
- Involves digging up areas of the landfill and covering up the exposed materials with a synthetic barrier (plastic)
- Land use controls will also restrict future property owners from doing certain things
- Prohibitions on planting vegetables in ground, because their roots will form pathways for exposure
- Notion of cleanup: that everything is stable; that you can monitor these contaminated areas for years and years into the future. Always ongoing and gradual project.
- Another reading of the landscape: Sea-level rise threatens the shipyard and the landfill. Weathering and water rise will threaten to create new exposure by unleashing these “contained” toxins.
- “double exposure” in the racial capitaliscene: how new forms of toxic exposure are produced again and again
- DDT is reintroduced into the ecosystem when glaciers melt.
- Hurricane Sandy disturbed brownfields in New Jersey
- Planetary processes will affect people in very different ways.
- How do we talk about materiality and memory given double exposure?
Sara Smith: comments
- Threads in each presentation: exposure as an epistemic category, embodied experience, conceptual frame, lived reality
- How does this serve as injunction to think about the fact that global conditions have made it such that so many inhabit risk society
- Yet the burden of risk exposure unequally falls on the most marginal; the global south
- Exposure as a way to think about decolonization
- Dillon: what does risk mean? Product of new toxic geographies. Latent risk posed by sea level rise: climate change and other markers of anthropocene inscribe new material futures: temporal dimensions of exposure. Marked by latency. Double exposure: foregrounds latency that dissolves certainty of techoscientific master narrative promising any kind of future.
- Forces to dwell in tenuous boundary between past and future.
- Notion of shelter:
- Roberts: Boundaries are important. Exposure ideas predicated on notion of discrete body. Exposure is transversing of a toxic substance through the fleshy boundary of another. Yet this notion of Cartesian body is foiled by everyday living.
- Notion of “environment” is also a relational formation arising out of boundary work
- Provocation: what does exposure mean and look like outside of the relative luxury of a stable world?
- King: Dash doesn’t merely symbolize Black body under slavery. She instead gestures to the aesthetic regimes that structure that kind of symbolization. She renders the entanglement of chemical violence and other kinds of violence. Multiplicity of exposure; black porosity. How to decolonize writing and aesthetics
ENTANGLEMENT: Catherine Fennell, Mel Y. Chen, Kim Fortun
Respondent: Laura Barraclough
Wasted House, Leaded World: The Ends of Domestic Infrastructure in the Urban Midwest, Catherine Fennell
· Detroit’s Green and Healthy Homes: mitigating hazardous housing conditions.
· Freddie Gray and sister: exposure to peeling paint
· Environmental and public health advocates: lead poisoning hits black children especially hard.
· Hundreds of thousands of houses—how felt and understood as inflictors of abuses with specific racial past.
· The toxic ends of infrastructure
o Infrastructures are things, but also draw others into relations.
o Subsidized housing: welfare state’s premier infrastructure.
o Federal housing policies in 30s: key to expanding wealth.
o Promise of a better life, enough wealth accrued to pass onto one’s children.
§ But restrictive loan practices
§ Promises of ever-expanding wealth, but abandoned properties cannot generate revenue.
o Detroit’s vacant houses are things in their own right, once provided shelter, instantiated rel. between citizens and polities, between children and parents.
o 2014: Mayor of Detroit announced take down of decrepit houses. Today, city is 80% black. Demolitions began in the summer.
o “Toxic assets”: mortgage-backed securities.
§ Removal of “blight”
o Higher occupation rates à public health risks.
o Demolition dust can contain heavy metals, and program coordinators worry about spread. Want to suppress “fugitive dusts,” airborne that could cause health hazard to the public.
o Wet-wet demolition, wet the house and the debris pile. How should we understand attunements to something as ephemeral?
· Leaded entanglements
o Built environments: social order impresses its cosmologies, complex and contingent negotiations in which contest and rework ideals of projects.
o Infrastructural studies: hitch recovery to breakdown.
§ E.g., electric grid: things with unpredictable resonances
§ Entanglements become visible to the analysts of every day life. Good to think with but mobilization can take for granted the figure of the user. The user is a body, capacity to notice entanglements, to recognize this question as relevant to life is important one.
o Process by material form gives way to real implications.
§ Infrastructures draw together but also set of forms separate from purely technical aspect.
§ Aesthetic, semiotic.
§ Impingements: route to awareness, but also alter the bodies themselves.
o Lead: drinking from leaded pipes, sleeping under leaded roofs. House paints. With electrification, people want brighter walls. Leaded paints make easy to clean, most “hygienic” way to coat interior surfaces.
§ Cognitive, developmental, and behavioral developments.
§ “contain” rather than remove lead: metal has become ubiquitous in our lives.
§ Housing always as a cornerstone of the economy.
· Lead’s “sweetness”: ingesting 3 particles the size of a grain of sugar.
· Demolition: you’ll know it when the air turns “sweet.” Suggests a reconfiguration of collective obligation around toxic waste.
· Two public health students: measuring dust from demolition.
o Door hangers: steps to take to stay away from the dust.
o Exposure can’t be prevented through parental vigilance.
o Children could not but ingest the substance as they move about their world.
o Everything becomes a risk in an age of atmospheric toxins.
“Race” and its reinscriptions
· Environmental threat could affect anyone—solidarity? Cooperation? “We are all Flint.”Ubiquity of lead pipes.
· Arguments can’t hold water because “We are not all Flint.” Not any children who are endangered, but those living in marginal, rural, urban spaces.
· Lead poisoning as a “leaded bullet”?
· 1) Lead and impairment—effects mirror the list of the “culture of poverty” constructions.
· 2) Racism has material effects—“racialized” presumes stable framework.
· 3) Power of ritual, discipline, practice to reshape bodies. Move away from seeing bodies as available for endless reshaping, rather than incremental accretions of our life experiences.
Mel Y. Chen, Intoxication in the Making of Race and Disability
· Long history of humans and substances, environmental justice. Two historical cases that get at stories of toxicity that don’t follow narrative of increase of industrialization. How do time and responsibility get understood?
· Reflection on meaning: parties who claim toxicity aren’t necessarily working with the same politics. What is the toxic? What isn’t? Intoxication?
o Does privilege inform intoxication but not toxicity?
o Thinking with fields: gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, critical race
o Disability studies: rejects pathologization, protests disablement. Combination of affirmation and protest. Accepts partiality, states of damage, position of a cripple.
· The possibility that some bodies must endure: duratively intoxicated, mental challenge. What makes bodies toxic beyond biochemical definitions, both metaphorical and toxicity aren’t easily distinguished. Toxicity is a racialized concept.
· Who is imagined to be already toxic? But to become one with toxicity? Making detoxification unthinkable.
o Flint: neglect but also conflation of lead with poverty, blackness, stereotype, historically racialized assumptions. Toxicological theorizations of lead.
· Entanglement of race and disability: both as fictions of colonial imaginaries and also violences that are discursive and material
· Neoliberal structuring and limits on the imagination, make questions of deciding neglect complicated. But instead think of racial ontology. Think transnationally, some bodies, are effectively made constitutionally equivalent, co-participating in same kinds of chemical combination.
· Slow constitution.
· Developmental delay: “mongoloid idiocy” introduced by Down in 1866.
o Hospital administered opium.
o Patients “white,” but “atavistically Asian”
o Opium intoxication not same as impairment but close enough to need to be distinguished. Where did “slowness” come from?
o “Mongol” came to sit in for “developmental delay,” according to this ideology.
· What does it mean to think about developmental time? Co- mingling of race and disability.
o Queensland, 1890s: concern in government that had to do with fear that Chinese immigrants were delivering poor forms of opium to aboriginal communities, leading to addiction or death.
o 1897 law: rationale for instituting first forms of protective control.
o Single strongest legal act on aboriginals in Australia.
o Colonial ministrations: developmental temporalities
o Displacement of aboriginal and mixed race children after this Act.
o Attention to human and “non-human” entities: what about accountability and mutual entanglement?
o What role does this history need to play in the present?
o Degrees and forms of opium. Government claims toxicity on the part of a group, in the name of “protection”
o Aboriginals constituted as subjects of dependency.
· We can think of what is judged normal and non-normal sex, but also the governance of intimacy, context. Much more to say about reproduction than making people through sex.
· Wonders whether one lesson: allow to become intoxicated by the opium, interhuman temporalities, urgent demands. Workings of own cognitive mechanisms.
o How do we constitute our own awareness of a “thing”?
o Iterativity, ungivenness
o Not sensory cosmopolitanism as way of understanding other people, but approximating a method that may converse with people’s methods of survival to affirm. To acknowledge that something akin to the intoxication may already be there.
· Fiona Foley: “Black Opium”
o Approach of juxtaposition, what does it say to the questions of accountability?
o How to understand accountability of Chinese communities in the opium trade?
Kim Fortun, Essentially Late Industrial
· What are we doing as community to engage with this work? Asking “What is globalization” is part of the problem.
· “Late” – the industrial has stayed with us, “postindustrial” doesn’t capture.
· Modes of thought and habits of language.
· Nascent essentialism in our language practices that undercut our ability to make environmental sense.
· Houston—no zoning laws at all. Biggest petrochemical region, but why does it make sense to sight schoolyards to proximity to industrial site?
· Bhopal: American chemical plant on the cusp of being shut down. Most affected community was Muslim.
o Toxins can engender social strife.
o Attempt to make environmental sense has been this project’s main driver
o What would be a critical anthropology of science?
· Set of theories in the mid 80’s: postcolonial, feminist, risk society studies. What’s it look like to refresh that body of theory to meet needs of today?
· Late Industrialism
o What legacies of industrial order shape and delimit contemporary conditions?
o What hazards, harms, etc are produced in late industrialism?
o Why is it so difficult to make environmental sense of contemporary conditions? What cultural formations work against this?
· Late industrialism as produced across scales of systems. Political, discursive, etc. We lac a language to talk about this. Splice out the micro, mezzo, macro, into additional layers.
o Focus on the nano.
o Late industrial history in the present. Entanglement across spatial boundaries, across systems and scale, etc
o Essentialism crops up in…
§ Ads from the American Chemistry Council’s PR movement to counter realization that chemical industry is toxic on so many levels
§ assumption of bounded body. The body in exposure science is this way.
§ products as bounded. The simple glass of clean water. The idea that things end where their edges do.
§ idea of national boundaries. (US Supreme Court case about regulating cross-state pollution shows how slow we are to get anything dealing with cross-border anything)
§ methodologies of toxicology. Language of mechanism.
§ in clean-up. The Kingston, Tennessee coal ash disaster. What counts as clean up is moving debris across the border to Uniontown, Alabama (mostly African American town). Politics and ethics of clean up, when clean up working conditions are incredibly toxic
§ in environmental education: they want an early view of only beautiful nature. Don’t teach climate change until they’re at least in 5th grade. You can’t love nature unless you learn about it as beautiful bounded glory first.
o What are seeing and what are we not?
§ If you want undergrads to understand toxics as cultural problem, not just environmental problem?
§ Corporations of concern are out there working right alongside you. Chemical companies like ExxonMobil have programs to visit gradeschools, etc, to spout their agenda
§ We have high ethos of taking care of our children, yet do this…
· Binaries that have sustained our discourse for decades. We need a practice that allows us to shift frames.
Laura Barraclough, respondent
· Exposure as a process produces identity
· Perceived ability to contain and manage postindustrialism effects: so much undergirding peoples’ beliefs and identity categories (whiteness, masculinity, etc)
o But toxicity moves across boundaries in invisible ways that often can’t be articulated
o Investment among priviledged people in containment, etc. Need to disavow that investment.
§ Politics of solidarity that would disavow containment, etc
§ NOT “We’re All Flint.” But what would it look like?
· Mel Chen’s stories of opium: the productive strain of entanglement that is not universalizing, but is a better politics of solidarity in entanglement across space, time, etc
o The right to appropriate space
o The right to participate in the social production of space
§ First trace out different kinds of kinships. Take into account the constraints of entanglement, but also its productive responsibilities.
o How to get at the question of accountability?
§ Are there ways to think about a strategic fixity? Chen’s “slow constitution” that becomes a resource for some people?
ENDURANCE: Soraya Boudia, Gabrielle Hecht, Michelle Murphy
Respondent: Phoenix Alexander