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When environmental inequality racialized: Historical evidence from Providence, Rhode Island
Frickel, S. and Tollefson, J.
Abstract The authors use multiple logistic regression techniques to investigate whether individuals’ occupation, nativity, race, and ethnicity predict residential proximity to large-scale energy infrastructure in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1880 and 1930. Results indicate that in 1880, environmental risks associated with urban energy infrastructure fell most heavily on working-class immigrants; by 1930, those risks disproportionately affected the city’s small population of African American and Latinx residents. Across this 50-year span, environmental inequality racialized such that Providence’s gas lines effectively came to describe the city’s sharpening color line. The article concludes with a discussion of how a historical perspective can help clarify the dynamic relationship between environmental risk and urbanization in the (re)production of racial, ethnic, and economic inequality.