Painting Over Racialized Power Structures: The Environmental Injustice of Lead Poisoning in the City of Baltimore

by Yuka Sugino

Faculty Intro:

“Yuka Sugino’s paper offers an incisive critique of studies that reduce the harms of lead paint exposure to racist claims of poor lifestyle choices. Sugino argues that these discourses fail to account for structural racism and classism that lead to systemic injustices. Drawing on literature surrounding the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, Sugino employs an environmental justice framework to explore disproportionate and unjust exposure to lead paint rooted in histories of Baltimore housing policy. In particular, she explains that an environmental justice framework not only exposes systemic racism and classism, but also demonstrates the way white privilege perpetuates these inequalities. Sugino’s paper constructs a careful, thorough analysis of literature on the statistics of lead paint ingestion in Baltimore, histories of Baltimore housing policy, and environmental justice frameworks to build a timely, well-supported, provocative analysis of structural processes that contribute to unjust outcomes.”

From the Author:

“The death of Freddie Gray, and the Baltimore Uprising that followed, generated strong and differing opinions as to the nature of the death, the intentions behind the Uprising, and the implications of these incidents in the overall societal framework. One particular article that caught my attention traced Gray’s death back to his childhood exposure to lead paint, and how that affected behavioral issues throughout his life. I found this interpretation to be problematic, especially when analyzed through the critical frame of thinking that I practiced in Professor Emily Billo’s course on Environmental Justice, the class for which I wrote this piece. I used the final research paper as an opportunity to delve deeper into this issue of lead paint in Baltimore, and found that this environmental problem was deeply connected to institutionalized discrimination and lay along racial lines. My goal through this piece was to provide a much more intersectional dialogue pertaining to lead paint in Baltimore, and shed light on the complex and intricate connections between negative environmental impacts and social issues overall. I am very thankful to have had Professor Billo’s guidance and insight throughout not only the process of writing this paper, but also the readings and discussions that opened my eyes to more intersectional ways of thinking.”

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