Growing up in Jamaica, Cedric Taylor recalled having a strong desire for explanations.
He witnessed issues around skin color and experienced colorism as a darker-skinned Jamaican. By the time Taylor took his first sociology course, he had started connecting the pieces together.
“By the third week (of class), the professor was talking about things that I had frustrations and thoughts about but couldn’t quite articulate,” Taylor said. “There he was, putting a name to these things I was thinking and feeling. It made me realize and have a deeper understanding of who I was, the society I was living in, where I was coming from.”
Taylor arrived in the U.S. in 2004, not entirely knowing what his future held for him.
While on a road trip around Michigan, a friend “pointed out white neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods so matter-of-fact.” Taylor was struck by how segregated Michigan was and how normal it seemed.
“It didn’t take long for me to try to understand race,” Taylor said. “Experiencing race in the United States has a different meaning. My skin color had a different kind of meaning and the whole structural racism was fascinating to me at the time – I gravitated towards it.”
Taylor is now an associate professor in sociology at Central Michigan University, a researcher and filmmaker focusing on race, racial health disparities, immigrant health and visual media.
As a student, Taylor believed sociology would help him develop the “know-how to change the world” and had the “capacity to answer so many questions about society.” However, over time, he grew concerned that sociology’s insights were often lost in an academic bubble.
This led Taylor to filmmaking, where he could share ideas and reach a broader audience through story-telling.
Taylor’s 2018 documentary Nor Any Drop to Drink focuses on the ongoing water crisis in Flint – more than three years after the state switched the water supply to the polluted Flint River. Although Flint has dropped out of the national spotlight, residents still struggle with access to clean water and lack trust in government institutions. The film explores the themes of inequality and environmental injustice through the personal accounts of affected individuals.
In regards to environmental justice, Taylor attributed the slow response to an “empathy gap.”
“When Flint is going through the water crisis, that is an environmental issue that’s deeper than ‘the water is just contaminated,’” Taylor said. “It’s more than the fact that people have trouble accessing water. Race and class – these things definitely had an impact on the policies that were put into place that ultimately put those people into that position.”
Although Taylor specializes in sociology, he believes that environmental issues have a much larger scope than people might typically assume. The environment is often thought of in terms of climate change, melting ice caps and habitat degradation, Taylor said, but people are also actively part of the environment.
“The environment is everywhere; it’s in urban areas – it’s the city,” Taylor said. “When fiscal decisions were made at the state level, there was a shortsightedness, no thinking of the implications this would have on future generations … The decision to save a few bucks – that shorthandedness – only to have long-term issues result from that speaks to the heart of sustainability.”
Despite the frustrations Taylor encounters, he said his involvement in social justice is not a choice.
“I could tell you that as a sociologist, there’s a fundamental desire to live in a more equitable society, which is true,” he said, “but at the same time I am a Black man, who some days hopes to have a family that will be seen as Black. I will have a daughter or son, and they will be Black.
“As far as race is concerned, this is a life and death thing. I have to be active, and I realize I do have something of a platform,” Taylor said. “This is not an academic thing for me where I can call up a friend and hypothesize, this is a do or die. I’m trying to do those things to be a part of the process to make change.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Taylor and his research or working with him on future projects, you can reach out to him at email@example.com. Taylor also teaches SOC 302 on social inequality and SOC 323 on racism and inequality.