“You know, there is a sign in the middle of Puerto Rico that says, ‘Go To Dunkirk for Food Stamps,’” says the girl behind the cash register at Starbucks as she hands back my state ID. Being of Puerto Rican descent, I have experienced many instances where I had to put ignorant people in their place. The instance in which the Starbucks worker confidently stated her false fact left me speechless. I was speechless not because of the blatant prejudice and her bold assumption on why people from Puerto Rico migrated to Dunkirk, New York, but because of how she maintained her prejudice even on a college campus where, supposedly, the minds of the students are supposed to be enriched and empowered through the magic of education. I wrongly thought that in this day and age assumptions, like the one that all people of color, are in desperate need of federal assistance. I also thought that in this generation, with Occupy Wall Street and other movements around the world, different racial stereotypes would have been diminished. I assumed incorrectly.
Another assumption that I had was that because of the interconnectivity of problems and the control and influence of politics by the deadly energy industry (oil, coal, and gas industries), I thought that the environmental movement would have included people of color in the movement. Of course I had my doubts about the environmental movement’s inclusivity, but I was surprised to see my peers’ reaction to the question on whether or not the environmental movement was doing a good job in including people of color. When Chris Messinger from Boston Mobilization, the facilitator of the Anti-Oppression workshop that took place during Climate Summer’s stay at the Pawtucket Congregational Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, asked the Climate Summer group to move to the left if we felt as if the environmental movement was doing a bad job at including people color or move to the right if we felt as if the movement was doing a good job, everyone moved to the left. One person moved to the middle but that was because she felt as if she knew nothing of the subject.
Chris handed out statistics on the income inequality between men and women, between people of color and white people, the correlation between income levels and SAT scores, and the difference of net worth between people of color and white people. The information was, unfortunately, unsurprising to me. Our facilitator explained that the statistics proved that a system exists, which keeps people of color below poverty levels. The system, our facilitator continued to explain, worked on feedback loops, which began around the 1930s with the way homes were purchased. I would explain each and every way that people of color are destined to always have a lower net worth than their white counterparts but that information won’t even be enough for a book.
In regards to the environmental movement, people of color are less able to invest in renewable energy sources and are coerced to purchase deadly energy, even if those energy companies directly and negatively impact the impoverished.
What I hope is that people of color in the United States would realize that the reason why we are oppressed and kept below poverty is because our system dictates it to be so. I believe that since the deadly energy industry controls most of our government – the very same government that is supposed to give a voice to the impoverished – and since our government has been doing a bad job at making sure everyone in this nation has an equal chance at living a good life, the deadly energy industry must thrive off socio-economic inequalities. Socio-economic inequalities provide a pool of exploitable people for the deadly energy industry, and in our nation, the impoverished are definitely exploited. Recent examples include the coerced selling of “mineral rights” to hydraulic fracking companies, resulting in undrinkable water to the people who needed the small amount of money offered by the fracking companies. Another example are the disposing sites of deadly energy waste, such as coal ash, petrochemicals, and fracking fluids, which are to communities of color because those communities are usually the less financially wealthy. The disposing sites are where the deadly energy industries leave toxic waste, which are never biodegradable, and are usually chosen based on the income level of the communities that they lie around.
Hopefully my fellow people of color, as well as people who live at or below poverty income levels, wake up and realize that our government is not acting like the lifeguard that it pretends to be but is actually out at a ritzy dinner with the deadly energy industry.