We’re going rogue with this year’s Think Before You Pink® campaign and connecting the dots between environmental racism, fossil fuel divestment, and the politics of breast cancer. 

This week we’re focused on environmental racism: how it impacts breast cancer, why we must address and end disparities in order to take on the breast cancer crisis, and how aligning our understandings of these concepts will provide the impetus to take ACTION and stop breast cancer before it starts.   

What is environmental racism?

Environmental racism is a type of inequality whereby Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities face a disproportionate burden of toxic exposures and environmental hazards through systematic and structural violence. It includes policies and practices that have disparate impacts (both intended or unintended) on individuals and communities based on race, and unequal access to a clean and healthy environment. 

What does this mean for our risk for breast cancer?

Risk factors for breast cancer include things we can’t control, like aging and our sex assigned at birth, and things we can change, through structural solutions, like economic inequality and racism that impact the environment and our healthcare systems. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the main factors that influence risk for breast cancer include being assigned female sex at birth and getting older. 

Typically, when large governmental agencies like the CDC and the National Cancer Institute address breast cancer risks through factors we can change, they focus on individual lifestyle choices, like eating healthy food and walking more.  

Breast cancer activists know this is a drop in the bucket if we do not address large-scale cancer-causing environmental exposures produced by industries like chemical and fossil fuel production. And the hard truth is these types of environmental exposures impact different communities in disparate ways: BIPOC communities and communities of lower socioeconomic standing are hit first and worst by cancer-causing exposures, the direct result of environmental racism. 

Environmental health researchers have consistently shown that environmental injustices disproportionately impact communities of color. These communities are more likely to live in neighborhoods categorized as low-income, the result of decades of disenfranchisement and exclusion from generational wealth building. And poorer neighborhoods bear the brunt of air, soil, and water pollution, due to decisions made by industry leaders and legislators as to where corporations can do things like dump waste, refine chemicals, and drill for oil and gas.  

Additionally, marginalized communities are the first to experience the consequences of climate change caused by environmental injustices, like extreme weather events, which make toxic exposures more frequent and more pervasive. 

We see the further intersections between race, climate justice, and environmental justice, and class, when we consider that socioeconomic status is an added risk factor for breast cancer, given that people with lower socioeconomic standing have fewer resources to address the environmental and economic inequalities that influence their health.

Because BIPOC and poor communities are on the frontlines of these types of exposures and inequalities, it is no surprise that race is one the most determinative predictors of health in America, and that Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by breast cancer, as well as other health outcomes. When we track race as an indicator of health and health risks, what we are really tracking is the impacts of rac-ism on health and health risks. And according to the latest statistics, Black women with low socioeconomic standings face the highest risk of developing breast cancer.

The disparate rates of breast cancer we see within the breast cancer crisis expose the impacts of environmental injustices and racism — environmental racism for short — on public health. 

Take action!

The good news is, unlike risk factors like sex and age, economic inequality and environmental racism are things we can change by collective action demanding structural change solutions. 

At Breast Cancer Action we’re committed to centering those with the furthest relationships to power, because if we work to address and end breast cancer by stopping this disease before it starts, by eliminating cancer-causing environmental exposures, we will remove disparate burdens faced by communities that are hit first and worst. The impacts will reverberate outwards, producing broad public health benefits for all communities.  

Follow and engage with us on Facebook and Instagram at @bcaction to keep up with this week’s Think Before You Pink Goes Rogue activities, including: 

  • Educational materials  
  • An interactive GIS mapping session on environmental racism and your location 
  • A video story from a featured speaker with lived experience of breast cancer who will speak out against environmental racism 
  • An Instagram Live event, to which you are invited to join in on the conversation as a breast cancer advocate. 

The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act

BCAction is amplifying three ways to take during this year’s Think Before You Pink campaign, and the action accompanying this week’s materials on environmental racism is the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act.

The bill will establish several environmental justice requirements, advisory bodies, and programs to address the disproportionate adverse human health and environmental effects of federal laws and programs on communities of color, as well as low-income, tribal, and Indigenous communities.

Add your name: Join activists nationwide and urge your Representatives to support the  A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act now!

To see all three ways to take action during Think Before You Pink Goes Rogue, visit our Take Action page.

A person’s zip code or skin color should never determine their quality of health. Join us in collective action as we work toward a world in which people and communities thrive because they are healthy, liberated, and free from breast cancer.