An hub of higher education for black people throughout the South, many see Southern University as a representation of hope for black academia. Like many predominantly black areas in the South and throughout the country however, when it comes to what we can achieve, it’s mostly all about location.
As it so happens, just down the road from our esteemed HBCU is the ExxonMobil Refinery, a silent but diligent bane to the daily existence of black people throughout the area, including the students, faculty, and staff of Southern University. Maintaining operations for 24-hours a day and 7 days a week, this particular refinery is the personification of meaning different things to different people.
For the masses throughout the greater Baton Rouge area, this refinery represents employment, stability, and economic prosperity, but for the minority of black people who live in the homes surrounding this area, it represents poor living conditions and less than favorable air quality. Regardless, this refinery and hundreds like it around the state are staples to the economies of the cities that they inhabit, and as such, the bad that comes with them is ignored.
Between toxic air quality that’s present for multiple days per month, to the never ending exhaust of the refinery chimneys that creates huge clouds of toxic gas on the daily, to the snow-like sand-aluminum composites that rain from the sky onto our campus as a result of refinery waste, there’s no respite for the communities whose homes have been here for decades.
At one time, Cancer Alley was just a plot of land near St. Gabriel that represented how bad plant activity could become if left unchecked. However, now it’s become clear that this trend of plant activity near predominantly black communities is more far reaching than we could have ever before thought. Too many black children with respiratory issues and black elders with preexisting conditions are made to breathe in this toxicity every day or abandon their homes to the industries, and while we are constantly fed propaganda that would make us believe that these plants are necessary evils to our economies and daily lives, the reality is that they are killing us.
Slowly but surely, these refineries and plants have grown in scope all around us, and if we the people don’t take a stand and lobby for regulations on said refineries, there won’t be any more ‘predominantly black’ areas in South Baton Rouge to border our esteemed HBCU; just graveyards and memories of what once was.