The Republican Party has racialized the Ohio derailment disaster. The derailment of a 50-car freight train carrying toxic materials earlier in February shattered daily life in East Palestine, Ohio, and sent a pall of black smoke over the region.
Potentially lethal toxic chemicals spewed into the air, ground, and water.
Three weeks into the disaster, a new set of headlines has started to billow up from right-wing outlets and commentators.
Now the Ohio train tragedy has morphed into an issue about race and “forgotten” people abandoned by the uncaring “woke” Biden administration and Democrats.
Leading the charge is Fox News star Tucker Carlson, who has said on the broadcast that because East Palestine is white and conservative, the people are being “forgotten.”
Then Carlson contrasted such hardship with what he called the “favored poor” who live in “favored cities” such as Detroit and Philadelphia. His language made a clear euphemism for urban areas, often led by Democratic mayors, with large Black populations.
The idea that the rail disaster should be viewed through a racial lens has spread like a toxin from Fox News, through right-wing news sites and social media, into the political realm.
First-term Republican Ohio Sen. JD Vance picked up on the call of “forgotten” Americans.
Charlie Kirk, a rising MAGA star, said even more direct lines, lashing out on his show at Biden’s “crusade on white people.” He claimed Democrats hate “working-class whites.”
Then former president Donald Trump appeared in Ohio. He bolted into the region bearing bottled water and promising that he would ensure justice for the people of East Palestine.
“You are not forgotten,” he said, repeating the mantra that has been a central tenet of his Maga posturing since his first presidential run in 2016.
Where the right-wing pundits come unstuck is the idea that white communities in rural America are getting a far rougher deal at the hands of government and media elites than the Black urban poor.
The argument is misleading, and some environmental justice advocates suggest, actively dangerous.
Experts say that the idea that Black people are advantaged when it comes to environmental justice is a very insidious, divisive narrative. They explain that poor white people have legitimate environmental justice claims. What is dangerous is when conservatives make this appear to be a unique issue, ignoring the reality that this happens to poor Black, brown, and indigenous communities.