LaToya Ruby Frazier: What Is The Human Cost Of Toxic Water And Environmental Racism?


ooh. When I say Flint Michigan, do you think General Motors or do you think bad water the state of Michigan announced more criminal charges today in connection with Flint's lead tainted waters people have flint have died as a result of the decisions made by those responsible to protect the health and safety of Fam-, Flint and water. Those two words are synonymous. Now because flint is the site of probably one of the worst water crises in recent US history in two thousand fourteen. The State Switched Flint's water supply in an effort to save money water from the Flint River came out of people's taps looking brown and smelling like sewage. It left nearly a hundred thousand people without clean water. This is the story of government poisoning, its own citizens, and then lying about it and it brought up a lot of big questions about whether we even have a right to natural resource government officials argue they're not liable because clean water is not a constitutional, right? I want you to imagine you know how you fill mind body and spirit not being able to have comfortable access to water or have a comfortable relationship with drinking water. This is low Toya Ruby Frazier. When we all wake up in the morning, the first thing you're going to do is get in the shower right the second thing to brush your teeth well, imagine what that feels like when you can't do that. The toy is a visual artist and a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Much of her work focuses on the lives of working class families in the rust belt? What I arrived in Flint the summer of two, thousand sixteen there were well over twenty nine thousand homes that were impacted nothing. For me the most which is where shake cobb and her mother Miss Renee and her daughter Zion who were eight years old at the time they were living in the midst of this. Shea is also an artist and a school bus driver and the Toya's spent several years with Shay. Her mother renee and her daughter. Zion documenting their lives in flint. Yeah I remember the first time I met. Shea. It was quite beautiful We met at a diner, her favorite diner called Captain Cody's. where she likes to go get buttermilk pancakes at the end of her school bus route in the mornings and upon meeting each other sitting down in the booth just looking at each other felt like a double portrait in a way you know she's in her early thirties. And really diligent hard working artist. And so I felt that it was my responsibility to document and cover what it's been like you know raising her daughter during this ongoing water crisis. For people who maybe don't quite understand exactly what Shays Day to day life was like without having easy access to to water because it's it's not like you could just boil the water in flint rate will the water quality was so bad that she couldn't inhabit her family home at three three Mary Street. When I arrived, she is living in another apartment with her mother and you know the water contamination was so severe that she couldn't brush her teeth. Take a shower, brush your teeth while with contaminated water you can't do either of those two things we get a bottle of water. We waterfall it. You were Steve Spit out you waterfall your bottle and you brushing were. We, don't ingest water. On any level you know one of the standout images in the photo essay is seeing. Shave. Pouring. Water from a plastic water bottle into signs mouth to Gargle with it and I shoot it with a fast shutter speed so that it freezes the water drop just before it touches signs tongue, and you see the toothbrush at the bottom right hand part of the frame. So brushing her teeth what bottled water a having paid bottled water having to cook or not cook at all. Since the water situation I'm discouraged to cook in my house in use my kitchen, we'll go out to eat it. We'll eat on the outskirts of the city we go to a restaurant bought a west to eat a dinner there, and even there you know they were serving. A glasses of water and Would never drink it and she would forbid Zion to drink it. The fly. River, is toxic has been toxic for years be Gomez in Flint River toxic chemicals in ways dumped in the Flint River we drink out the flint river. Swimming in it. We. Don't mess with it. We don't even like the smell of. Hot outside. Don't you could smell the flint river it stinks. WHY WOULD WE DRINK It is twenty twenty. This started six years ago Flint might not be headline news any longer but the water crisis is still going on. We can't forget about the men, the women and children and the families in Flint. In a minute Latorre Ruby, frazier on why Flint's water crisis felt personal? On the show today restoring our relationship with water. I'm a new Marone and you're listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR. It's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR, I'm a new karate and we were just hearing from artist Luke, Toya Ruby Frazier who spent several years. In the life of a black working class family in Flint Michigan and their relationship to water. How has documenting life in flint spending timely shea, and her daughter changed your relationship would you say to water? Yeah for me it certainly makes me hyper aware of water if it's not necessary for me to take a long shower. I won't do it. I don't leave the water running when I'm brushing my teeth when I go to places I do not drink from the TAP. So. It really has made me hyper aware. But I grew up being worried about the environment. So this wasn't new to me. The Toy Ruby Frazier picks up her story from the Ted Stage. It was natural for me to go to flint because industrial pollution bacteria contaminate water all too familiar from me growing up and my hometown brought up Pennsylvania where my mother and I battled environmental racism healthcare inequity and chemical emissions that were being deregulated and released from the United States Still Corporation. From the Naga he'll river to the flint reverse in the words of W E B do boys. The town the whole valley has turned. It's back upon the river. It is used as a sewer as a drain as a place for throwing their waste. What I saw Shades Zion and Miss Renee going through is exactly what I went through. What my mother and grandmother went through in our hometown in Braddock Pennsylvania, our water was contaminated with bacteria and they never told us I was enraged and I was horrified and traumatized because I was reliving my childhood by looking at what was happening in the flint water crisis. This is personal this political. I'm not about to let it happen again to eight year old girl who is Innocent Zion is innocent. She has yet to begin to dream dreams and aspire to be what she wants. She wants to be an actress. So it became expedient to make these human documents of what her and her mother were going through. So when she becomes an adult when she becomes my age, she can look back at this history and realize not only is she survivor she's a victor. She's a champion and no matter how much this country under it's capitalism it's patriarchy it's hatred of black women no matter what she overcame that and she will continue to move forward and now she'll have a human document archive of how she survived this moment in her life. But you didn't just take photos of Sha-. I should point out that the audio that we've been hearing of. Shea you you recorded that with her two. That's right. I decided in order not to lose her voice. That I needed to take those photographs, print them out, sit down with her at her dining room table and have her speak about what those images mean to her and that's where it turns. The lead a minute video and it opens which shays poem that she wrote called no filter. ooh. Will you think about water you don't consider government. in fact, you don't consider people at all. Even though we built plants in machines to Elkin Nuys in purify when you think about it. You only in your most remote mind if they're all. Think about God something. Nature intended. Think about water you don't. Consider poison. 'cause poison is something you consider for yourself. You don't think about murder. So when you think about water. You never considered self destruction, and even though these considerations are not to be had, it is the reason I am becoming the tin man stiff hollow in heartless because that's the destiny of a dry body clanking tap dances and emotional breakdowns because the tears is the closest to lubrication that you'll get without the oil can would just sitting singin let my people go another Freedom Song the echoes the Oh feels been long gone but we remember room we think about the bags that harvested. Our Future Irrigation and we consider only messes plantations and how keeping them in one place without fair law and fair play just mix for good old fashioned American life and I'm pointing the finger because I read them inconvenience lettuce and I read them notices and before I, even ever paid the bill I was still treated like a bottom feeder like my taxes don't contribute to their vacations in secret sanctions I was treated like I ain't American because when you think about water, you think about. And you line it up the Willie Lich and you place that name Snyder's face to. Face only the WATCHOS self hang. What would I do if I taste God? What would I do? If wasn't served by steel rod what would I do if my baby was going to be safe and sound? What would I do if disease plague in my town? What would I do if I could feel water trickle down my spine drying me out? What would I do if a self destruct in? What would I do if I? Feel. You've always described your work as art. You have been really clear that it is not photo journalism even though you're documenting the lives of people living in a crisis. Yeah. I stay clear of journalism because the method and the approach to how I make my work can't be journalism because it actually is a violation of all the ethics of objective journalism. I am highly influenced by nineteen thirty social documentary work, which we would all know the Margaret Mother which is the most famous portrait during the Great Depression era in the nineteen thirties in the united. States, of the photograph was of a woman in by a woman and both women were silence. So I'm very invested in you know who gets to author the image who gets to offer the story, and who are those images then used for to redistribute power and equity. Why artists play a very important role in American Society It is our job. It is our obligation and duty to hold the mirror up to. Our fellow citizens. Holding a mirror up to the country about its corruption about how it falls short under capitalism and government neglect to provide for community that it clearly has abandoned and I think this is a very important detail because that's what Ralph Ellison and Gordon Parks of did in their series for Allison's book invisible man and so I'm also updating this long legacy and history of black photographers and koets coming together to tell a humane story because outside media doesn't see our humanity enough and we can't trust them to do for us. So we'll do it ourselves. That's Latoya Ruby Frazier. Artist and a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Her Book Flint is family in three acts comes out next year you can hear her full talk at Ted Dot Com.

Coming up next