The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Poisoned City by Anna Clark is the best book I’ve read this year. This book is going into my favorites of all time.
This is the first full account of the Flint Water crisis. However, this book far supersedes the Flint Water crisis and what happened with the devastation to the residents of Flint. This book explains how the ENTIRE United States is complicit in the failure of proper infrastructure in all cities, and it all stems from SYSTEMIC RACISM!!
The Poisoned City is a direct account from the people on the ground, reporting, protesting, advocating, screaming and shouting about the quality of Flint’s water. Anna Clark also documents how core cities around the nation have also been disinvested in due to the mere presence of Black and Brown people. The purposeful disrespect and neglect has literally rotted our infrastructure to the core, to the point where it’s endangering our entire society, no matter the race.
The residents of Flint were lied to, repeatedly. They were poisoned by their own water, while the agencies and departments in charge drank bottled water by the gallons. Mismanagement, disinvestment, dismissive, and wanton neglect was at the forefront of the water crisis. Anna Clark goes back to the beginning to when Flint had become the hub of innovation and vehicle creation, and detailed the rich history of the city. She then intricately weaves together the backstory of how all core communities and cities are just like Flint all over the United States. Due to the evils of systemic racism, our infrastructure is basically all the same. No matter your race, we all suffer when systemic racism rules over everything.
If you are non-white, the presence of hazardous waste in your community is almost expected. The dangers of the environment will most likely leach into your house at higher rates than any other community. Because of the sheer presence of non-white skin, the land and property surrounding the community is considered less than, and goes for cheap, in this land of capitalism.
Anna took great care in telling the story of Flint’s disaster from the perspective of the people it actually harmed. The local organizers who didn’t get the credit, she puts their heroic efforts on display. However, she also acknowledges and tells how the Flint crisis didn’t get any traction until a non-black person had to somehow validate that there was a crisis and a need for action. Before then, the City of Flint continued to dismiss their claims and failed to act before it was too late. Due to the negligence, the greed, the long-reaching emergency management authority, and the legal immunity, you see what happens to people who are deemed as worthless. They bear the brunt of all injustices, and it continues for generations. Not only does this happen locally, but state wide and nationwide, to include the federal government.
The powers that be in the City of Flint destroyed the people’s trust, but now, it’s not enough to trust people because we already know what’s going to happen. There is a pattern all too plain; it’s called racism. There needs to be a revamping, and restructuring, and an overhaul on our local government, state government, and federal government levels. The very bones of all of our infrastructure in every core city was saturated by racism from the onset, and so now because of the disinvestment and neglect for hundreds of years (in some places), our infrastructure will turn on us all. It’s more than having good quality water, it’s also about how our basic needs that should be met equally and not disproportionately, as they are right now.
Michigan is also due for a revamping of their laws, and how transparency and authority over certain aspects needs to handled differently. Gross mismanagement and dismissive actions harmed Flint in more ways than just water. The entire city was being poisoned and told that they weren’t, over and over and over. Then when reports started to show the facts of the poisoned water, the people in charge put forth so much time and energy into covering up, delaying, lying, diverting, and kicking-the-can down the road that they created so many layers of corruption, it seemed like everyone was just allowing the poison to continue, as if they were blind, often times just flatly saying it’s not poisoned while drinking filtered or bottled water themselves, all while knowing the water was bad.
Racially restrictive covenants existed in Flint as the standard. These covenants still exist today, even when people say they don’t. Just because we have the Fair Housing Act, and Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act, it doesn’t matter. We continue to see the racism that was built into our infrastructure on a daily basis. The gentrification that happens to historically Black communities is alarming. They are erasing Black/Brown people out of neighborhoods and cities. They are trying to erase the history and very existence of Black/Brown people. Even when they get called out, they still drag their feet to help “those” people they are harming because they have been deemed as worth-less for so many generations. It took 18 months for the city and state of Michigan to correct their poisoned water. 12 people died and many more have been poisoned with deadly toxic levels of lead because of their negligence and lack of action. All while surrounded by the freshest of water in the 5 Great Lakes of the United States.
Unfortunately, this story, although it has received nationwide coverage and attention to help push people into fixing the problems, on top of the issue of failing infrastructures in Black communities, have not been taken on as priority. People in power work harder to protect themselves and their institutions than doing what’s right for the whole public, equally. They divide their priorities and assign importance to whites over Black people every single day. Many non-white people have little to no trust for the government, and they are right in having that feeling. The people in charge have not been fair and they continue to disinvest in communities that don’t serve them. If our strength lies where we are weak at, then we are in terrible shape. Because the “boot-strap mentality” does not work the same for all people. Black people do not have boots to begin with to even pull up, so when people say, “if poor whites or European immigrants can pull themselves up by their boot straps, so can African Americans,” it is a lie. A myth that continues to be perpetuated by ignorance or just plain old lack of care. Many Black people have never even had the means to have boots to be able to pull up, PERIOD. Black people are redlined wherever they go; housing, medical, employment, finances, and legally. They continuously have to fight an uphill battle that has no reprieve, and then are told they are just making up the difficulties. That is how the society is set up for Black people. While white people, or those non-Black people are allowed to accumulate wealth in such a way as to be able to come here and start a life from nothing, while being afforded all the benefits of systemic racism that don’t touch them in any way. Flint is a perfect example of how systemic racism is played out, to the death and detriment of people who are placed at the end of a totem pole of priorities, that constantly keeps being reshuffled to keep them on the bottom.
My hat goes off to Anna Clark for the impeccable research, and thoughtful care she gave to the Flint community. She was able to pinpoint exactly where the problems started, and her detailed account is spot on. For anyone who has followed this story, you should read this book. For those who want to know what happened in Flint, and the gross mismanagement of the crisis, you should read this book. If you want to know how the entire US handles our infrastructure, you should read this book. This book is heavy, but so necessary in calling attention to what the problem is and naming it. Anna, your words will stay with me forever. Thank you for your writing, it is a tremendous blessing to us.
Winner of the 2019 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism
Winner of the 2019 Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award
Winner of the 2019 Gross Award for Literature
Finalist for the 2019 Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Book Journalism
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction (2019)
A Michigan Notable Book (2019)
This book is required reading. 5 stars.
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The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark