Michigan’s water problems are a story of how a profit seeking and punitive state government poisoned and shut off water in the majority Black cities of Flint and Detroit. But I argue that shut offs and poisoned water are the tip of the proverbial iceberg in what continues to ail and trouble Michigan’s majority Black and urban communities. Poisoned water and water shut offs were followed by government subterfuge and an elaborate blame game. Local residents were characterized as helpless and somehow responsible for their hardship. Celebrity scientists helicoptered in to “save the day.” Massive profits silently trickled to White coffers, as majority Black cities were forced into bankruptcy. And those who had the power and privilege to control the narrative remained in the media spot light. In effect, framing this tragedy about the efforts of heroes and the faults of heretics instead of about risk taking, profit-making, and institutional racism.
Speaker: Michael Mascarenhas is an environmental sociologist who examines the questions what regarding access to water in an era of neoliberal racism. His disciplinary fields include environmental justice and racism, postcolonial theory, and science and technology studies. His first book, Where the Waters Divide (Lexington Books, 2015), examines the market-based policies that produce inequitable water resource access for Canada’s First Nations. His second book, New Humanitarianism and the Crisis of Charity: Good Intentions on the Road to Help (Indiana University Press, 2017), applies a similar methodological approach to investigate the privatization of humanitarian aid following disasters. Mascarenhas holds an MSc degree in forestry from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a PhD in sociology from Michigan State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics at UBC and has held teaching appointments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was an associate professor. His current research and book project examines water access in the cities of Flint and Detroit. Mascarenhas was an expert witness at the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on the Flint Water Crisis, and an invited speaker to the National Academes of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning.