At a Glance
- "It's an inspiring story and a personal account of the moral courage and doggedness of a woman that fought racism and corrupt, indifferent bureaucracy to highlight the issue of the contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to make a positive difference for the city."
1. About Mona Hanna-Attisha
She is a paediatrician, professor, and public health advocate, whose research exposed the Flint water crisis. Hanna-Attisha’s book What the eyes do not see was included among 100 notable books by THE NEW YORK TIMES in 2018.
2. Historical Background Of Racism in Flint
The water problem that engulfed Flint had its historical roots that go back to the era of the Great Migration up north from 1915 to 1960. During this era, millions of African Americans migrated from the south to northern states for freedom and work. The great influx ushered into troubled relations with the white community and systematic persecution by successive governments. Ethnic discrimination worsened the situation in Flint. An overwhelmingly black population with poorly built infrastructure.
All efforts to integrate marginalized African Americans saw counter-campaigns like “keep white communities white.” Areas of Flint and Detroit saw riots in the 1960s due to the influx of people of colour into white communities. This gave rise to mafias in real estate that deliberately scared white people to buy their properties at cheap rates and resell them to blacks.
3. 2014 Drinking Water Crisis:
Political Background of the Water Crisis
In 2011 Governor of Michigan resorted to EM(Emergency Manager) system in Flint to steer through a financial crisis. E.M. is an extraordinary administrative measure. It empowers the emergency manager to cut budget expenditures to relieve financial constraints through different austerity policies.
However, the E.M. system is an unelected body making decisions that don’t care if people will suffer. The crisis started when the water source was changed from Detroit’s lake Huron to the Flint river. The river had been a dumping site for industrial waste of general motors plants for decades.
Lead-Contaminated Water and its Effects
The government took no measures to add anti-corrosive elements to water to prevent corrosion of water pipes. As a result, contaminated water adds another dangerous element called lead. Lead is highly harmful to health. In short black Flint residents were exposed to a health hazard.
It revealed how misguided austerity policies had put them in grave danger of lead poisoning. The devastating effects of lead in the water are well established. Medical research has proved that it causes brain swelling, kidney failure, and anaemia. It also reduces blood oxygen levels and bone calcium absorption reduction.
Children are at Greater Risk
Its effects are particularly fatal for children. Its consumption leads to cognitive impairment that causes emotional instability and behavioural problems. The presence of lead in Flint’s water affected especially the kids. Consuming high amounts of information has disastrous effects on human development. t was a case of an old axiom that goes like this. Eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know.
4. The Struggle of Mona Hana-Attisha:
In 2011, Mona Hanna took over as director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical centre, one of the few remaining public hospitals in America. How she fell in love with the city of Flint, with its negative reputation, tells a lot about her compassion for marginalized communities. Born of Iraqi parents in the U.K., she found the people of Flint resilient in the face of injustice and neglect by the state.
Leaked Document Indicating Dangerous Levels of Lead
Being a paediatrician, she had special concerns for the children of Flint. Mona learned about the Flint water issue and the alarming lead levels in 2015 from Elin. She was one of her old friends who had returned from Washington, D.C., and was part of a think tank. She confided with her about a leaked memo indicating that after the water source change from Detroit water systems.
State officials were not using corrosion control methods to stop lead from leaching into the water in Flint. She also told Mona about the public drinking water crisis in Washington. The government had tried to hush up the issue by showing bureaucratic indifference and even falsifying the test results to demonstrate compliance with minimum requirements. She also warned Mona that highlighting the problem and a tough fight with the government would take a long struggle.
Mona’s Struggle and Her Success
Mona would need support from public health activists, civil society, and pressure from journalists. But instead, she had to battle her government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. The potential health hazard the residents of Flint were exposed to was not even an issue for the corrupt officials.
With the help of one of her friends Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer, she had a real chance to put up a fight. She collected blood sample data of Flint kids from her hospital. It confirmed her worst fears. But it was a small data set, and she needed to broaden it. She enlarged the data set later on by getting access to IRB-approved access to blood-lead data processed by Hurley. Mona and her team have undeniable proof that Flint children were exposed to lead in their tap water for almost two years. Subsequently, after relentless efforts, water from the Flint river was changed to Lake Huron by the government.
Her Inspiration to Fight For Justice
Mona has stressed and claimed that the federal government maintains no such thing as safe levels of lead. She has proved scientifically otherwise, and it is all the more crucial to protect children from it. Knowing that she will not get help from government officials, she and her team will likely get assistance from other quarters like the pediatric world and water experts.
Her findings demonstrate that the Flint water problem is a horrific example of environmental injustice. A spirit inherited from the family’s activism that braved the dictatorship, and unjust rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq inspired her pursuit of justice.
Her Moral Courage
What The Eyes Do not See tells the shocking and unfortunate story of Flint, Michigan’s public drinking water problem. It showed how one woman stood up against government corruption and racism to make a positive difference in the city. The freedom of expression courage award by pen America has recognized her efforts. She maintains that the world should not be comprised of people living passively in boxes but full of people raising their voices against injustice. Instead, people should assert their rights to build a better world for themselves and the next generations.
What The Eyes Don’t See Book Review
Mona’s account of her crusade against the system of exploitation and environmental injustice is a must-read for everyone interested in public welfare, especially for the marginalized sections of the population. Every page of the book brings a human element to her struggle against structural racism and the system of inequality that was putting the black community at the receiving end of industrialization.
The book delves too much into self-congratulation, though. Her story lacks the local’s participation that she could have counted on in her struggle to get them clean water. On the whole, the book is a step forward in fighting environmental injustice with a concrete result of the realization by authorities about the contaminated tap water in Flint, which was causing great damage to the health of thousands of children.
In my opinion, the Flint water problem indicates the injustices of elite capture where poor and persecuted communities are at the receiving end of environmental hazards of industrialization. The same unfairness and apathy are at work on a global level. The global north enjoys the fruits of industrialization while the global south is exposed to environmental degradation.