Remember when Republicans claimed infrastructure couldn’t be racist? The notion was quite foolish.
They were wrong in suggesting U.S. infrastructure hadn’t been built or operated in ways that disadvantage Black people, yes. But fundamentally, their claims suggested a disbelief that infrastructure could be built to disadvantage anyone.
If infrastructure can’t exhibit racism, is classism out of the question, too? The train derailment in Ohio earlier this month has some Republicans sounding like progressive environmentalists, claiming they want to investigate how the poor, largely white community of East Palestine, Ohio, was subjected to conditions that effectively transformed the town into a toxic waste dump.
With that in mind, I think it’s fitting to highlight Pulitzer Award-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson with today’s edition of “Black History, Uncensored,” our ongoing project centered on Black authors targeted by right-wing bans.
Wilkerson's 2020 book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which focuses on systemic social inequality in the United States, has been the target of some conservative whitewashers.
"Caste" is just one in a long list of works by Wilkerson that discuss the plight of the “forgotten Americans” — people neglected by U.S. institutions — whom Republicans only claim to care about.
In this post, I’m highlighting her Pulitzer Award-winning coverage of the Midwest's Great Flood of 1993. That year, in a dispatch from Hardin, Missouri, a small town in the largely white Ray County, Wilkerson wrote about the heartbreak residents experienced when a cemetery flooded, carrying caskets away in the rising water, with some never to be seen again:
When the Missouri River barreled through town like white-water rapids this summer, and grain bins and City Hall and the Assembly of God church and houses and barns gave way and there were no telephones or electricity or running water, people in this tiny farm town thought they knew all about the power of nature. Then the unthinkable happened. The river washed away about two-thirds of the graves at the cemetery where just about anybody who ever lived and died here was buried. The river carved out a crater 50 feet deep where the cemetery used to be. It took cottonwood trees and the brick entryway and carried close to 900 caskets and burial vaults downstream toward St. Louis and the Mississippi. The remains of whole families floated away, their two-ton burial vaults coming to rest in tree limbs, on highways, along railroad tracks and in beanfields two and three towns away.
Twenty-five years after the flood, Ray County was still struggling with poor infrastructure that subjected its residents to dangerous flooding. And evidence suggests the problem remains.
Wilkerson’s 1993 dispatch and her following works on the intersection of race and class in America remind us that many of the Black writers targeted by conservative bans speak about systemic problems that often — but not exclusively — harm Black people.
And attempts to hide their work — or mischaracterize their motivations — aren’t just swipes at Black history. They’re assaults on the true teaching of American history through a Black lens, a lens through which the story of racism and classism is often told.