Book Review, Unit 3

I love reading. It has been a joy of mine since childhood, and so when we decided to read a book for Unit 3, I was thrilled. For this project I came up with the idea to format our project based on Goodreads, the popular (and *cough cough* the best *cough*) reading social media site where you can track the books you are reading, post reviews, browse new books and comment on books and reviews. I loved this project because it really allowed me to see just how many different takeaways one could get from Environmental Racism, It is such a broad topic and with such nuance, and I am so glad we were able to showcase that with our project.

Below you will find our group book review.

Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustainability

Bruce E. Johansen – professor emeritus of communication and Native American studies at the University of Nebraska

Published by ABC-Clio, 2020

Spanning an entire continent and 200 years, Bruce E. Johansen’s Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustainability tackles the near-Sisyphean task of categorizing the modern history of environmental injustices that minority communities have and are battling in the United States and Canada.

Johanesen, professor emeritus of communication and Native American studies at the University of Nebraska, uses over 50 case studies to examine the confluence of climate change, natural resource conflicts, political and corporate corruption, and racism. From the extermination of the buffalo in the American West to the Cold War bombing of several native tribes to the struggle for land rights amidst the hunt for oil in Canada, Johansen strives to provide readers with an improved understanding of how poor and minority communities are affected by a variety of environmental crises.

The book traces the relationship between environmental discrimination, race, and class through a comprehensive case history of environmental injustices, and reflects a regional arrangement to better highlight patterns and types of injustices as well as victims. 

The book is targeted towards undergraduate students studying environmental studies and general readers who care about social justice and environmental issues. 


LilytheWriter says: One of our course learning objectives for this class is to design approaches to reduce negative environmental impacts that can further environmental racism or other types of social or economic injustices. Bruce E. Johansen’s Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustainability accomplishes this goal through its description of environmental racism and specific instances in which minority communities in America and Canada have been affected by this issue. Additionally, as this book is most likely primarily directed towards readers who are interested in environmental concerns, this book may prompt readers to think of methods to educate others about environmental racism and how to address this issue.

Kyrattack says: I am interested in learning more about underlying sexism, racism and overall discrimination built into systems. This book shows on both a micro and macro level how many environmental crises can impact different groups of people in an inequitable way, which drew me to the book.

LilytheWriter says: I believe the audience for this book can be found in readers in fields from anthropology, sociology, to environmental science as this book addresses not only the environmental but also social issue of environmental racism and how it takes place in our society today. As a student who is taking classes in sociology, anthropology, and environmental science, I have been able to see how environmental racism is a concept that can be found across all of these fields. For instance, residential segregation based on race is a social issue that has been discussed in both my sociology and anthropology class. Johansen discusses how residential segregation connects to environmental racism as he explains how many affordable housing options for Black and Latino Americans are found near large industries and factories that may pollute the surrounding area. 

TeacherGal:  Living in America, we get hooked on American culture and politics and what’s happening here. It was interesting to read about case studies in America and Canada and see the similarities within the governmental policies that are systemically racist. 

Kyrattack: Something I found interesting was how often I felt like I was reading a science fiction book while reading the case studies. There were so many instances where, in reading the impact atomic bomb test sites had or the long term side effects of gold mining, I could not wrap my head around the fact that these events actually took place. The government really did test bombs near other human beings, not knowing what the consequences would be. I knew vaguely about many of the case studies, but actually sitting down and reading such in-depth accounts reminded me of the truly devastating impact of environmental racism and inequity. 

Where’sJake says: One of the book’s great strengths is how it’s structured into overarching regions dotted with examples, each of which gets its own    chapter. It makes it much more like reading a collection of short stories, which may also be helpful to readers who would like to take a break in between sections, as some of it can be taxing. 

A downside to this is that Johansen doesn’t ever commit to the synthesis of these ideas, so all the reader is left with are those 50 stories. 

LilytheWriter says: One particular idea that I found fascinating in the text was the racial politics that are involved in garbage dumping particularly in Houston, Texas. According to Johansen, apparently of the ten city-owned incinerators and landfills in Houston, eight are located near predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods. 

TeacherGal says: I wish the book had covered or gone more deeply into the views of the corporations/government entities when dumping toxins and pollutants. It also assumes the reader knows the history of international affairs and governmental relationship between Canada and America.

Where’sJake says: The book presupposes that the readers are familiar with the complicated relationships between indigenous peoples and North American governments. Some of the case studies could have been interrupted — or simply augmented — by providing some of the requisite background. 

TeacherGal says: Reading this book gave me a new understanding of racism and how it exists in different aspects of life, not just what we hear in the news. Everyday people feel the wrath of a changing environment and the truth is minorities, not just in America, are getting hit harder. 

Where’sJake says: Although most people are familiar with racism as we generally understand it, the history of environmental racism isn’t ever really acknowledged. Johansen, for all of the faults with the book, does manage to introduce a nauseating number of examples to compel just about any reader to think more deeply about the issue.

Kyrattack says: This book allowed me to better understand how racism is present in everyday life. Racism is present in government systems, it is present in housing, it’s present simply in the language we use to discuss issues, both environmental and otherwise. There is simply no way to talk about environmental impact without talking about race, and the much more extreme toll many environmental issues take on minoritized populations. 

LilytheWriter says: This book enhanced my knowledge of what environmental racism means to minorities facing this issue and how it can be found in areas across the United States and Canada. The vast amount of examples of environmental racism that Johansen points out in this book has definitely opened my eyes to just how expansive and impactful this issue is in our world today.