Across America, millions of citizens take for granted the ability to rely on and use clean water whenever they need it. Yet for 80 percent of the population in Jackson, Mississippi, the days are filled with worry and distress because all they have running out of their faucets is water that is murky and toxic.
Flint, Michigan, has had a significant unresolved water crises affecting Black Americans since 2014. Now the Jackson water crisis is affecting Black families and causing the most stress on single-parent homes, many run by Black women. The news of the Jackson water crisis has been circling news outlets for most of the month, but there is more to the crisis than the lime-infested pipes.
Causes of the Jackson water crisis
It’s almost tragically poetic that the Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis started from too much water. According to CNN, the Pearl River was flooded after heavy rain, damaging pumps at the main water treatment facility that were previously in poor condition.
For a week after the flooding, the citizens of Jackson couldn’t use their toilets, use the water to cook food, or bathe or brush their teeth because there was no running water in the entire city. During this time people had to use bottled water as a temporary substitute.
After residents uprooted their lives to drive miles from home to purchase water and then came home to ration it to meet their basic needs, water has returned to flowing through the pipes. However, hope is quickly diminishing as the water often comes out brown and smelly. If the water does come out clear, residents are advised to boil it first and shower with their mouths closed because of the high levels of toxicity.
With access to clean water being a basic human right in this developed nation known as the land of the free, it makes one wonder why is this happening.
A water crisis rooted in racism
So why hasn’t the government come to the aid of its people? The simple answer is systematic racism.
According to Zakiya Summers, a Democrat who represents Jackson in the Mississippi state legislature, Republican leaders have only provided $3 million after blocking a $47 million this year designated for water and sewer repairs in Jackson. Summers was further quoted in the Washington Post saying, “We certainly have been a victim of systemic and structural racism in the city of Jackson. And I don’t think it’s unique to Jackson. I think it’s true of majority-minority cities across the South.”
According to Summers, the problem started after the schools were desegregated decades ago. When this happened, many white families left the city, taking away the government incentive to fund the county.
“Wealthier areas tend to get more resources, more state support,” stated Summers. “West Jackson, we haven’t seen that in a while. It’s areas where poor Black people are concentrated where help is slow-moving or it’s none at all.”
The Jackson water crisis and its effect on Black families
Most people work constantly to provide for their children. But what if supporting your children means cutting off your only source of income? What if you had to raise your children differently because you feared they would be poisoned by something in their own home?
This is the case for Brooke Floyd, who raised her kids to only use bottled water to brush their teeth and drink because she was warned by her physician to not use tap water, an advisory she’s followed since she was pregnant with her children.
When she told the Southern Poverty Law Center about her experience visiting relatives who lived two hours away, her children were shocked to see that other people used tap water for everyday things.
“They’ve never used water out of the faucet, period,” she said. “I felt terrible. They thought everyone in America lives like this.”
There have been many days in Floyd’s life in Jackson spent living on high alert, weary of water contamination alerts. And when this happens, she spends her day filling up buckets of water to use to flush the toilet for when water no longer comes out clear but yellow and smelling like bleach.
“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I’m mad,” Floyd said. “They’re choking us off. They’re cutting us off. We’re here. All of us are here and we deserve to live like everyone else in the United States. All of us deserve to thrive.”
Some families have it even harder. Charity Bass and her five children are also struggling to manage life with limited clean water while also supporting charities such as Poor People’s Campaign, which helps distribute water in her neighborhood.
“When you’re passing out the water and you see the looks on the people’s faces, the old people’s faces, they just look at you with tears in their eyes. It does something to you,” Bass said.
Bath time for her children isn’t filled with a tub full of bubbles and rubber ducks. Instead, her children line up to be lathered with soap and then rinsed off with bottles of water while they stand in the bathtub.
“One thing is, I’m a survivor. I have to do what I have to do,” Bass said. “But I got to ask, the water in Jackson, it’s been messed up for a while. I just feel like certain people, like the governor, they let us down.”
How to help the Jackson water crisis
Currently, the boil water notice has been lifted, but it doesn’t mean that all problems are solved. There are many people on the ground continuing to support Black communities.
Lea Campbell, organizer with the Mississippi Rising Coalition, wrote to BGN when asked for more insight into the situation: “The people of Jackson have sounded the alarm about the worsening state of Jackson’s water in recent years and have survived thus far thanks only to collective resilience and self-determination. Jackson residents have been boiling their water to cook and drink. Jackson-based NGOs have been providing bottled or filtered water for residents to the extent they can prior to this most recent crisis. In our assessment, the white power structure in Mississippi has created apartheid conditions in the City of Jackson, denying the basic human right of clean water access, and finally, the world is paying attention.”
Thanks to social media the Jackson water crisis hashtag has over a million views on Tik Tok and is helping to spread the word about this issue. In addition, there are many organizations on the ground that are helping and accepting donations to continue supporting the people.
Cooperation Jackson: An organization supporting economic democracy primarily amongst Black and Latina organizations hosts weekly water distribution.
Mississippi Rising Coalition is a multigenerational non-partisan group that seeks to empower its community members.
The Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity of Mississippi empowers immigrant children and families through political education and community organizing.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.