When some of us (particularly those of us of means) in the United States think of places that lack access to clean drinking water, we think of certain countries on the African continent. And, it is true that parts of Africa struggle to access even the most basic of water services—nine of the ten worst countries in the world in terms of access to clean water are located on that continent.
However, I am concerned that many of us may be blind to issues of water access at home, in the United States of America. Furthermore, I am concerned that many of us may be blind about how this access to water is a racial justice issue.
Sure, a major report on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a few years ago cited systemic racism as being at the core of the problems with the crisis (Flint is a majority-Black city), but the situation in Flint is only a microcosm of widespread problems when it comes to water issues and racial justice. Consider these facts:
- 2 million Americans lack access to running water and basic indoor plumbing as of November 2019. Native Americans are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to be without indoor plumbing, while African American and Latinx people have no indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white people.
- Tap water that violates legal water safety standards in the United States is 40% more likely to serve people of color.
- Rising water bills, which in turn makes it difficult for households to afford their own water, has disproportionately affected Black communities.
Without meaning to belittle the importance of making sure that people in different countries all around the world have access to clean and safe drinking water, maybe we should also look at the issues with water access and safety in our own backyard, too. And we should look at these issues through a racial justice lens because it is clear that there is a connection between race and water access/safety. To that end, water access is not just a human rights issue (because every human on this planet should have the right to clean, safe, affordable drinking water), but also a racial justice issue.
While water may not get the sort of attention issues-wise that certain other elements of racial justice advocacy may be getting right now, it is no less important. After all, if we are given water that leaves us unwell in some way, then we end up unable to advocate for the other racial justice issues at hand. As such, water access and cleanliness, while not getting the attention it often deserves, should get attention in the push for racial justice, and particularly racial justice for Black and Indigenous communities.