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Ringwood Mines landfill site is a 500-acre territory (once an iron mining site) in the Borough of Ringwood, New Jersey, that was subjected to severe contamination owing to the disposal of waste by the Ford Motor Plant in 1960s-70s. The Ramapough Mountaing Indian Tribe and other inhabitants of the area sued Ford Motor Company for causing extensive soil pollution, and the plant was closed in 1980 (Dyrud 11). In 1984, the area was placed on the Superfund priority list by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to clean up the contamination; however, several attempts of land recovery made by Ford failed as pockets of paint sludge were later found in 1995, 1998, and 2004, which resulted in placing the site back on the list. In 2011, 47,000 tons of earth contaminated with hazardous wastes had to be removed (Verbos and Humphries 27).
The paper at hand is aimed to investigate why the company decided to dump wastes on this very site as the choice of the place does not seem to be random. The case is going to be investigated from the racism perspective given by the history of the place.
The Ramapough Mountain Indians or Ramapough Lunaape Munsee Delaware Nation consists of app. 5000 people who live in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey and whose villages were recorded as far back as in the seventeenth century. Although the tribe was recognized by the state, all the attempts to win federal recognition failed (Alexander and Alexander 17).
The Ramapough people descend from Lenape, whose bands included the Tappan, Munsee, Hackensack, Rumanchenanck, and Ramapo having Tuscarora, African, and Dutch ancestry (which accounted for the fact that early colonist Europeans thought that these were different peoples) (Van Valen 28).
The racist slurs that the tribe currently has to tolerate are deeply rooted in history: until 1970s, its members were often called “Jackson Whites”. The phrase is a shortened version of “Jacks and Whites” – a derogatory term that was invented to emphasize the multiracial ancestry of people composing the tribe. Because of different backgrounds these people had, the outer community concluded that they were mostly “Jacks” (which in slang meant “runaway slaves”) and poor whites (including the Dutch, Hessian soldiers, and German mercenaries – all quite unwelcome by the dominant population) (Adams et al. 84). There was no document supporting the idea that tribe members belonged to these categories; nevertheless, the pejorative legend remained widely accepted, and the term “Jackson Whites” was even used in one of the publications of The Bergen Democrat in 1880. Earlier, in 1972, Appleton’s Journal called the Ramapough “fugitive slaves” and claimed that they hid in the mountains to bring up children that were going to grow even more savage that their fathers. In 1938, New Yorker continued the tradition of mockery and called the tribe “an enclave of albinos” with Nellie Mann (a circus performer) as a “queen” (Alexander and Alexander 31).
Nowadays, the historians confirm that these legends have nothing to do with actual history; however the prejudice against the tribe continues to impact the attitude of the outside community (Alexander and Alexander 33).
The Present-Day Situation
Unfortunately, 5,000 people living in Ringwood are still subjected to injury and insults: the tribe remains the subject of various unflattering myths that make hostility against it escalate among the members of the neighboring communities. All the attempts of the Ramapough to set the record straight are still made in vain (Verbos and Humphries 42).
One may think that the age of racial equality promoting tolerance and integration would bring about justice together with enlightenment. Yet, the situation remains the same as it was almost a century ago: in 2012, Weird New Jersey article referred to the Ramapough as to “degenerate race” and “motley group of social outcasts inbred to the point of mutation”. The article stated (without any supporting evidence) that the tribe was comprised of renegade Indians, runaway blacks, deserters, and prostitutes that together became known as Jackson Whites. This defamation was further developed by the movie Out of Furnace, which showed tribe members as a gang of drug dealers staging fights. The defamation case was dismissed by the court (Alexander and Alexander 46).
As we can see from the historical account and the present-day attitude of the public to the tribe, there is hardly any moral obligation that the community feels in relation to its members. In this light, the actions of Ford are quite comprehensible. First and foremost, the company still believes that dumping was legal since there was no law banning contamination of the land. Ford found itself in a favorable position: the whole nation has humiliated the tribe for centuries, and a lot of other companies happened to dump their wastes in Ringwood. This allowed Ford claim that the responsibility for contamination is shared (Dyrud 15).
Knowing that the tribe would hardly be protected either by law or by the locals, the company paid people for silence to be able to get rid of the stuff they no longer needed. The decision to dump loads of sludge on the poor was the most cost-saving and logical one. As a result, the tribe was hit by numerous cases of cancer and other terminal diseases. Nevertheless, every action of Ford was performed in accordance with the law. And here, it is not only the company but the community with its relentless racism that is to blame for the immoral and the inhuman consequences of the matter.
Adams, Beatrice J., et al. Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History. Rutgers University Press, 2016.
Alexander, Leonard M., and Peter C. Alexander. It Takes A Village. Page Publishing Inc, 2015.
Dyrud, Marilyn A. “The Case of Ford Motor Company.” Journal of Engineering Technology, vol. 33, no. 1, 2016, pp. 10-21.
Van Valen, Gary. “The Seven Trees and Ramapough Ethnicity.” Voices, vol. 40, no. ½, 2014, pp. 26-30.
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Verbos, Amy Klemm, and Maria Humphries. “Amplifying a Relational Ethic: A Contribution to PRME Praxis.” Business and Society Review, vol. 120, no. 1, 2015, pp. 23-56.