Legacies links for May 15, 2023: Petrochemicals, prisons, and psychology

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The industrial stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a region known as “Cancer Alley,” is one of the most highly polluted areas in the country. source: ProPublica via FlowingData

Weekly links:

  • Veronique Greenwood, “Plastic actually isn’t cheap,” The Boston Globe (May 11, 2023): LINK. “Along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, what was once plantation land worked by the enslaved has ended up in the hands of petrochemical companies, including some that make ingredients for plastic. As chemical plants have come to dominate the landscape, the historic, primarily Black communities of the area have seen cancer and other diseases of pollution go up.”
  • Eric Reinhart, “How Community Health Workers Can End Mass Incarceration and Rebuild Public Safety,” Time (May 11, 2023): LINK. “The abysmal state of United States public health and safety—both of which rank last among wealthy nations—are fundamentally intertwined, and neither can be separated from the destructive consequences of mass incarceration.”
  • Steve Dubb, “National Gathering Looks to Address Root Causes of Inequality,” Nonprofit Quarterly (May 10, 2023): LINK. A detailed report on the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s annual conference. The Coalition’s CEO opened the conference with a reminder: “We know that redlining and segregation was not just a phenomenon that has to do with banks…. Institutional racism means that many institutions were implicated in the creation of the system that we have today—governmental, academic, corporate, and medical institutions alike.” 
  • Tina Burnside and Christine Sever, “California governor declines to publicly back recommended reparations payments for Black residents,” CNN via KDRV News (May 10, 2023): LINK. “California’s governor has declined to publicly say whether he’d support reparations payments to some Black state residents recommended by a task force looking at how to mitigate injustices and discrimination stemming from slavery.”
  • Scott Cmiel, “Recovering the Legacy of a Pioneering American Guitarist,” San Francisco Classical Voice (May 8, 2023): LINK. Review of a new album of music by Justin Holland (1819–1887), “the first Black musician to achieve widespread recognition as a guitarist and the most prolific American guitarist/composer and arranger of his era. Holland wrote the first bestselling guitar method in the United States and was also a leading voice in the antislavery movement.”
  • Megan Gray, “Slavery’s legacy getting re-examined through art at Portland [Maine] symposium,” Portland Press Herald (May 7, 2023): LINK. The symposium, “Art in the Wake: Reckoning and Re-membering,” convenes on May 19–20, 2023. Artists, curators, historians, and others will “explore the role of art in grappling with the legacy of slavery, uncovering buried histories and creating new understandings of Blackness. … The central question posed by the organizers is: How can the power of creativity move us toward reconciliation, justice and grace?”

Some recent scholarship:

  • Brennan Klein, et al., “COVID-19 amplified racial disparities in the US criminal legal system,” Nature 617 (May 11, 2023): https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-05980-2 (full text). From the abstract: “[I]ncarcerated white people benefited disproportionately from the decrease in the US prison population [during the pandemic] and that the fraction of incarcerated Black and Latino people sharply increased. This pattern of increased racial disparity exists across prison systems in nearly every state and reverses a decade-long trend before 2020… [T]his study reveals how disruptions caused by COVID-19 exacerbated racial inequalities in the criminal legal system, and highlights key forces that sustain mass incarceration.” Short version: racial inequities in sentencing.
  • Kristin George, “‘Ministering at the Altar of Slavery’: Religious slavery conflict and social movement repression,” Social Science History 47:2 (Summer 2023): https://doi.org/10.1017/ssh.2023.1. From the abstract: “Why did some American Protestant denominations experience slavery-related schism during the nineteenth century, while others appear to have been unaffected by slavery conflict? … [S]lavery-related schism was not a consequence of a particular theological orientation, but instead occurred when denominational leaders lacked the capacity to repress abolitionism. … [This] also demonstrates the critical role of organizational dynamics in shaping religious responses to contentious issues more broadly.” Important background history as many denominations now work to acknowledge and repair their support for slavery.
  • William E. Cross, Jr., “Black Psychology and Black Criminality: Myths and Reality on the Origins of Black Street Life,” Journal of Black Studies 54:1 (January 2023): https://doi.org/10.1177/00219347221134279 (subscription required for full text). From the abstract: “This work interrogates the long-held assumption that captive Africans exited slavery exhibiting psychological damage that blocked their progress as free men, women and families. As a counter narrative to the deficit perspective on Black life, the literature on extreme poverty and fluctuating unemployment patterns are summarized to show how the importance of social class has too often been underestimated, and the assumed negative, psychological effects of slavery, overestimated.” The author is professor emeritus of psychology and education at the University of Denver (a CIC member).