A study released this week by the University of Minnesota hit two areas of conservative ridicule: air pollution and racial disparities.
The study found that nonwhites are exposed to 38 percent more outdoor nitrogen dioxide from vehicle exhaust and power plants than whites.
Julian Marshall, a civil-engineering associate professor at the University of Minnesota and the lead researcher of the study, told MinnPost that he and his colleagues were “quite surprised to find such a large disparity between whites and nonwhites related to air pollution.”
“Especially the fact that this difference is throughout the U.S., even in cities and states in the Midwest,” he added.
Race is even a bigger factor than income when it comes to air quality, according to the study.
The response to the findings by some on the right could have been seen from a mile away, regardless of smog levels.
“Study claims that air is racist,” read the headline over at The Daily Caller. Michael Bastasch, the author of the story, wrote that the researchers claimed that “air pollution discriminates against minorities.”
“ThinkProgress: Air is totes racist, you guys,” read the headline.
When reached by phone on Friday afternoon, Marshall seemed pretty baffled by the right-wing’s treatment of his research.
“I have to admit, I haven’t followed 100 percent of the news articles that are out there, though maybe I should,” he told TPM while laughing.
Marshall said the body of the The Daily Caller article actually presented the study’s findings accurately. But he made clear — if it wasn’t obvious — that his research doesn’t really suggest that air pollution is “racist.”
“I didn’t use that word. That’s by design. That’s not the point,” he said. “We found on average blacks are more exposed to air pollution than whites. I think to say, ‘Well, you’re claiming air pollution is racist’ is using inflammatory language. Look, I’m an engineer. I’m trying to just say, ‘This is the way it is.'”
Marshall said his study “was about what is and not why it is that way,” but there are explanations for the racial disparity in pollution exposure.
“Air pollution is not uniform. There are areas of high and low concentration and people are not distributed randomly throughout a city,” Marshall said.
The mockery reflects a widely held view on the right that liberals reflexively accuse others of racism. MSNBC’s resident conservative Joe Scarborough complains constantly that he gets branded as a “racist” by liberals on Twitter. Columnist George Will said Sunday that “liberalism has a kind of Tourette’s syndrome these days.”
“Just constantly saying the word ‘racism’ and ‘racist,'” Will said.