Comparison of Documentary “Digital Dumping Ground and Dark Waters”

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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In the story of “Dark Waters,” the author Yusef Komunyakaa states that his hometown was “frozen in time” (115) and he discusses how the African-Americans of his community were treated by the white inhabitants. As the title suggests, the essay presents the dark side of his hometown of Bogalusa, Louisiana as a representation of the global situation at that time. In the story, Komunyakaa talks about all forms of pollution in his city from air and water pollution to deforestation. He further talks about the government’s inactivity towards enacting laws that set guidelines to protect the environment.

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Komunyakaa exposes the reality of matters going on in his is town. Louisiana is a clear example of what the majority of government sectors are doing. The government officials were completely ignoring the struggles of the minority. Although Bogalusa is primarily black, the white minorities took over the best jobs and land. Through his descriptions, it was becoming obvious that the existing environmental and racial conditions needed intervention. Throughout the story, the author introduces a new idea about racism in relation to the environment in America. One can infer that states inhabited by minorities were likely to be home to multiple companies releasing toxic substances. This problem does not only concern America but the rest of the world, especially in developing countries with unstable governments.

Present times clearly reflect Komunyakaa’s perception of environmental racism and shows if no action is taken we can harm not only nature but ourselves. I believe that Komunyakaa’s argument could be applied well to other real world settings such as the issues discussed in the documentary “Digital Dumping Ground”. Where the problem of electronic dumping in developing countries is discussed.By doing so we might learn the true dangers of environmental racism.This disparity connects to the research done by correspondent Peter Klein and his group of graduate journalism students from the University of British Columbia. In their study, the team document the activities of a shadowy industry in the outskirts of Ghana’s biggest city where sits a smoldering wasteland that’s causing big problems here and around the world. In the documentary Klein and his team meet up with their guide, Alex who is a 13-year-old boy. Alex shows them his home, a small room near the dump, and offers to take them across a dead river to a notorious area called Agbogbloshie. The team meets up with a local journalist, Mike Anane who states, “Life is really difficult; they eat here, surrounded by e-waste…They basically are here to earn a living. But you can imagine the health implications.”

The documentary shows the harsh conditions the citizens of Ghana are living in and have to face every day. Similarly, in Bogalusa, the minorities were forced to live in conditions that would be considered as a human rights violation.As discussed in his story, Komunyakaa talks about the inequality that existed in his hometown throughout the time he spent there. He states, “Blacks cannot be doctors, lawyers, postal workers, police officers, firefighter, bank tellers salespeople, machine operators. Those who did go off to college returned as public school teachers to segregated schools.”(Komunyakaa 136). This highlights the barrier that the African American community had, halting their educational and economic growth. Similar in the documentary the lack of government laws in the impoverished countries are making the environment a threat to the citizens. As well as halting them from gaining advancements in life such as education and financial stability as Alex, told the reporters, “this is the kind of place where kids grow up fast.” thus forcing them to leave education behind and pursue labor-intensive jobs to make ends meet. Furthermore, Komunyakaa connects racial inequality amongst black and white people by comparing the quality of their graveyards. He states, ‘Whites lavished monuments of granite and marble on their dead over acres of plush green cemeteries.

The graveyard for African Americans, half hidden near the city dump, was visited by vultures and scavengers that lingered between…’ (Komunyakaa 116). He talks about how there were major barriers that kept minorities from obtaining the same things as whites. Reading this story Komunyakaa does an outstanding job bringing in imagery and painting a clear picture that conveys his message. He does not exaggerate things because the things discussed are part of American history, men of color have been struggling to attain equality for a long time. In the story, Komunyakaa highlights elements of capitalism. He states there is environmental damage due to industrialization. Further explaining, ‘Everything adds up to capital’ (Komunyakaa 119) as well as ‘Hate mongers are still among us; some wield power and make decisions as to where harmful chemicals are stored and toxins dumped’ (Komunyakaa 120). He makes a point that all the decisions are made by the governing body of the town or state which is primarily made up of white men.

Therefore, there is a minimal representation of the other minorities when discussing important matters regarding the environment. Similarly, in the documentary, Jim Puckett who is the Executive Director of Basel Action Network, discusses the alternative with a Chinese broker, he finds that there are no strict laws put into place to prevent waste from coming into the country. For example, as stated in the documentary “If you want to do it environmentally, you have to pay. They have to invest in machinery, labor, everything. It isn’t worth it to pay so much money.” The government of the countries strives to keep the masses poor while lining their own pockets with the profits. Actions taken by established countries set a bad example in terms of waste management.I can relate to this situation, when I was in India we were considered the rich family in my town. We have one of the biggest houses in the town and own many large farms. As a child, I never felt excluded. I had everything money can buy. There wasn’t something we couldn’t afford. But growing up and learning about the social status of the others in my town I soon discovered the slums of my town. The conditions were very bad. I was forbidden to enter because my family was afraid I would catch some illness.

Just as in the story and documentary, the slums of my town were ignored by the government. The corrupt officials pocketed the majority of the money that was supposed to be an aid to the slum. Traces of Komunyakaa’s link between capitalism and environmental racism can be found today, as it shows how slowly the world has progressed. Komunyakaa also further discusses the emotional and physical effects which pollution has on society. He backs up his claim by stating to the politics of pollution and dumping of hazardous waste in the black community, many of us understood it was business as usual- a reflection of the national psyche’ (Komunyakaa 124). This description shows an extreme disparity between the communities, where one is treated with care and another left to rot in others waste. In the “Digital Dumping Ground”, the team focuses mainly on developing countries like Ghana and China where the third class citizens are left to work in dangerous e-waste dumps. They couldn’t find work anywhere else so they were forced to work in these hazardous conditions. Working with hazardous chemicals without proper equipment, children are especially vulnerable to the health risks that may result from e-waste exposure. But the countries do not take actions to ban these types of working conditions.It is very disheartening watching kids that are born into poverty grow up in conditions like these. They will never get to enjoy their lives fully because they will be forced into labor as soon as they are old enough to support their families. The activities that are shown in the documentary still exist today in developing countries and clearly links to the claims made by Yusef Komunyakaa in his story. Komunyakaa does a great job describing the situation of communities of color in his town and their hardships.

More recently, the water crises in Flint, Michigan shows clear traces of environmental racism in America. Clean water is supposed to be a basic necessity available to everyone in the United States, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in Flint. The contaminated water disaster flowing through one of Michigan’s poorest cities is tainted by poverty and racism. According to the United States Census Bureau, Flint is made up of almost 54 percent African Americans most of which live under the poverty line. Just as in Dark Waters, Komunyakaa points out “Bogalusa seethed, a hotbed for racism. Segregation, enforced by a minority, imposed inequality upon the majority of the cities population”(Komunyakaa 115). This connects his ideas of environmental racism to present day because Flint is to Michigan as Bogalusa was to Louisiana. This cities citizen were ignored by their own government, some left to struggle on their own. Since April 2014, residents of Flint have been drinking and bathing in water that contains enough lead to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of “toxic waste.” Another reason citizens believe they have been victims of environmental racism is that when they complained about the odor, taste, and color of the water; they were either reassured that the water was safe or sometimes ignored. It took 5 years for the issue to be solved according to New York Times, The government’s lack of urgency shows that the citizens of Flint were not a priority for them. Similarly in “Dark Waters,” the reader can understand what it means when Komunyakaa says that humans and nature exist in connection.Furthermore, Komunyakaa’s “Dark Waters” can also connect to the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Starting in April 2016, thousands of people, led by Standing Rock Sioux Tribal members, gathered at camps to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protesters, activists and water protectors have worked desperately to delay construction of the pipeline, demanding that it be rerouted away from Native lands. Although the protesters thus far have been nonviolent, law enforcement has not demonstrated the same decency. It has employed tear gas, mace, rubber bullets, stinger grenades, attack dogs and other militarized equipment in its attempts to quell the protest. Many of the protesters, including children, have sustained extreme injuries from both police forces and private mercenary groups alike. Several elders have almost died and had to be resuscitated by emergency services. This is just one of countless, rarely-discussed cases in which profit has been put before human life and the rights of Native people. As Komunyakaa pointed out in “Dark Waters”, The first settlers in Bogalusa were of Scottish and Irish nationality. The foreign settlers brought over diseases that Native Americans were not acclimated to which caused a drastic change in their population. In 1906, the foreign settlers contributions help establish the Great Southern Lumber Company. Later it went on to become the world’s largest sawmill.

Komunyakaa mensions “Native Americans had been suppressed to near extinction” (Komunyakaa 116). This shows that Native Americans have been a group that has been systemic oppressed for centuries.To conclude, Komunyakaa sums it up by saying that “We cannot wound mother Nature without wounding ourselves.” (Komunyakaa 126). All negative effects on the environment eventually affect mankind in some way. The events discussed in “Dark Waters” still have traces in today’s world. It shows how slowly the world has progressed in terms of environmental protection. In the essay, the author expresses his feelings about the conditions and it is obvious that he sees the horror in Bogalusa. Similarly, in the documentary, the researchers saw the hazardous environment that were hurting the population nearby. The fact that most of citizens in Ghana and China had to work at these dumps to make a living speaks loud. My first impression when reading the essay was very much in agreement with Komunyakaa, I think one’s skin color should not define them. It is upsetting that these types of problems still exist in the twenty-first century. When we first watched the documentary I was shocked to see the problem of electronic waste had not changed since 2001. Even with important research being done to reduce waste in the field the countries governments ignored the researchers.Our waste should not end up in developing countries that are economically challenged, hindering their economic growth and perpetuating a destructive environment. This has been a consistent problem in our world for a while and in developed countries as well. More recently in the America, the Flint water crisis and the Dakota Access pipeline protest speaks volume about how environmental racism still exists in America. While technology has revolutionized the way people live, it has not come without a direct environmental cost.


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Comparison of Documentary “Digital Dumping Ground and Dark Waters". (2022, Jun 24). Retrieved from