Matt Wuerker’s “Flint Michigan Water Crisis”


The following cartoon was drawn by politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker following the Flint Michigan Water crisis this past year. The picture features two water fountains with one labeled “white” and the other labeled “colored” referencing to the segregation that plagued America until the formation of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The water coming from the “white” water fountain is clean and clear whereas the water coming from the “colored” water fountain is murky and filthy; thereby suggesting the differences in water are designated solely to the races that drink from them.
One of the major themes in class that we discussed was the perpetuated interchangeability between race and disease. In John Duffy’s The Sanitarians: A History of American Public Health, the author examines this idea through observation of the interactions between the medical world and people of color throughout history. He goes into detail on the experiences of immigrants who were forced to be “sterilized” with harsh and demeaning treatments upon entrance to America and how such actions perpetuated this association between people of color and disease.
The Flint Michigan Water Crisis that Matt Wuerker’s cartoon illustrates reminded me of how this idea of interchangeability between race and disease could still be perpetuated today. The Flint Water Crisis poisoned over 100,000 residents in the Flint Michigan community with 57% of these residents being black. Therefore the majority of patients coming in with illnesses as a result of the infected waters were patients of color. With the sudden influx of sick people of color, one might easily have assumed that the illnesses were associated with the race rather than with the community that the people lived in. This might explain why it took Flint Michigan the amount of time that it did to address the water poisoning and even acknowledge the infected water as an issue in the first place.

4 thoughts on “Matt Wuerker’s “Flint Michigan Water Crisis””

  1. Something I found interesting about this Flint case are the numerous institutional factors that went into suppressing this community. In many cases people forget just ow trapped the people in this community were. If they drank or used the water then they would inevitably get sick. If they tried selling or renting out their homes they would be legally punished because it is a crime to sell or rent a house knowing that it doesn’t meet public health standards. If they did not pay their water bills they would have their credit scores ruined and further trapping them, or in some case face legal problems. These people were literally caged in and there was nothing they could do to get out. We see very clearly in this scenario the harmony of numerous different factors that work into holding back and suppressing African Americans.

  2. Nemo, you’re right on point. Your observation about how the residents of Flint, MI were “literally caged in” very much relates to the carceral aspects of living laboratories. Various mechanisms of control are always at play in sites of experimentation. Most obviously, surveillance systems and their technologies (i.e. the violent militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border). What you’re pointing to relates to Katrina and so much more, including the curfews that were enforced in Ferguson, etc.

  3. This cartoon has stood out in my mind since I first saw it when it was released. I think Professor Khanmalek’s and Nemo’s comments, especially Professor Khanmalek’s use of the language “carceral aspects of living laboratories,” is super important because that’s exactly what it is: these individuals are imprisoned in so many different systems of oppression that work in a continuous cycle in order to exacerbate each other. Also, I, too, thought about Hurricane Katrina when learning more about the Flint water crisis and after reading this post and the comments. The way in which bodies of color were hyperpoliced and criminzalized in the media further show the ways in which these “carceral aspects of living laboratories” were further perpetuated.

  4. Your post reminded me of an article that was published last semester by Princeton’s chapter of The Tab. In the article, the writer posed the question of whether or not Princeton could be the “new Flint Michigan” because we scored an 8/10 for lead exposure, while Flint scored a 10/10. I remember how angry the article made me because it completely ignored how race played a huge factor in how the Flint Water Crisis came to be in the first place and how it was handled by authorities when it finally reached national headlines. What happened in Flint Michigan would never ever happen at an institution like Princeton where the majority of the population is white and upper middle class. While most officials don’t agree with this sentiment, I believe that the water crisis in Flint went largely ignored for so long because Flint is a predominantly Black and low income community. To even try to suggest that what happened in Flint could happen at Princeton is just straight up reckless and ignorant on the part of the writer.

    Here is a link to the article I’m referring to if anyone wants to read it:

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