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When environmental inequality racialized: Historical evidence from Providence, Rhode Island

Frickel, S. and Tollefson, J.

*Socius 8 | PDF

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.