Tendaji Talks: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Racial Inequality, and The Flint Water Crisis

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrician and public health advocate, spoke about the systemic and blatant injustices in Flint.

Just 55 years ago in Washington, D.C., a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. and 300,000 others marched to bring an end to racism. Here we are in 2018, and prejudice and racism are both still a daily occurrence, even in ways many people do not expect.

Including the removal of clean water from people because it’s “cheaper,” but it isn’t smarter or safer.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha feels like the city of Flint is due for change.

“Flint is a place that likes to roll their sleeves up and change when it’s needed,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s research showed the dangerous levels of lead in children’s blood, which exposed the water discrepancies in Flint. At Tuesday’s event, she discussed Flint’s infamous past with water.

“Water has always been messed with here, and I believe it is because 60% of the people here are people of color, most are below the poverty line, and why not have the people suffer on a temporary water source?” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha

Environmental injustices occur all over this country, and people like Dr. Hanna-Attisha want to change this and make environmental equity a norm.

“In Michigan, we are blessed to be surrounded by lakes, about 20% of the world’s water right at our fingertips, but they’d rather let the people in Flint try out a water source that is infamous with oil dumping, antiquated pipes, and other bacteria. How is this city smack dab in the middle of the state and can’t get a drip of it?” asked Dr. Hanna-Attisha.

She feels the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to blame for letting lead be tolerated for so long. And although lead has been utilized in the past in even ordinary objects, it is time to realize that there is no acceptable amount of lead for anyone.

“For hundreds of years, people have suffered from lead and we just haven’t listened to the science. Back then you could have a home full of lead products like paint, plumbing, windows, and even gas. The lead industry was as huge as tobacco and you have to remember lead hadn’t stopped being used in plumbing until 1986 and you could still put up lead fixtures in 2014,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha.

When discussing the lackadaisical coverage the government had on the usage of lead, she called out the elephant in the room that has a lot to do with it–prejudice.

“There have been many tests ran saying lead is terrible for you and it hinders brain growth, cognitive skills, and cancer is linked to it, as well, but in our (Flint’s) case it’s not that big of a deal due to the environment. There’s no way this kind of stuff could’ve happened in a city like Flushing where they are over the poverty line and mostly white,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha.

There are many people to blame for this small bump in Flint’s road to efficiency, but along this path for clean water, new infrastructure, and environmental justice, there is a bright future ahead.

“We can fix this problem with time and support for each other. We need to call our city officials and congressmen–tell them what’s going on and change our current situation gradually. I am a pediatrician, I deal with these children with big dreams and I see us going toward a better Flint,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha

Flint is a city full of history and in the most recent years, it has been misconstrued as a terrible place. That, however, is soon to change.

This discussion and many other discussions like this are in a seminar series called Tendaji Talks, made to commemorate the life of Tendaji W. Ganges and initiate conversation in the community. They are held every second and third Tuesday of the month at the Flint Public Library and New McCree Theater at 6 p.m. The next two are on Feburary 13 and 20.