Earlier this month, the state of Michigan announced that it will be cutting its assistance program for the citizens of Flint. Since lead was originally discovered in a Flint home’s water supply on February 25, 2015, the people of Flint continue to be left without a clean water source. Instead, they are forced to travel to city centers to receive bottled water or water filters so that they can bathe and drink. And now, the government of Michigan has declared that it will be eliminating the already inadequate compensation program currently in place.
Considering that, besides the initial wave of media coverage in 2015, the people of Flint have largely been ignored, this is not shocking. What is far more shocking and shameful is that the Flint water crisis continues to persist at all. Today, in the richest country in the history of the world, a country with so much privilege for some, there are people living without a clean water supply.
How can such a situation continue to exist in the United States? The answer is simple: The people of Flint are representative of a demographic that is continually oppressed, ignored and discriminated against in the US. They are, largely, people of color and low-income: an invisible community in the United States.
We must ask ourselves a question that US corporate media outlets refuses to ask: “Would an upper-class, white neighborhood be subjected to this same treatment?” How long would government officials force the citizens of the Upper East Side of Manhattan to be forced to live with lead-tainted water? How long would those living in the predominantly white, upper-class Chicago suburb of Evanston be forced to bathe with bottled water? Would politicians and officials turn their backs and ignore these communities in the same way that they have ignored Flint? Would these communities be forced to live with lead poisoned water for two years? The obvious answer is no.
Sadly, the case of Flint and systemic violence against poor, minority-majority communities is nothing new in the US. As Henry A. Giroux of McMaster University has so eloquently and poignantly pointed out, national disasters and crises consistently exemplify the invisibility of low-income and working class people. As Giroux shows, the response to Hurricane Sandy is a sobering example.
In the wake of the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to the East Coast, a resettlement program was launched to assist New Jersey residents who had lost their homes to the storm. While partially effective and beneficial for some, the program was also flawed with apparent discrimination. As the Fair Share Housing Center revealed, Black applicants for assistance through the resettlement program were rejected 40.7 percent of the time. While this staggering amount of denied cases is shocking, it is even more disturbing when compared to the 14.9 percent rejection rate of white residents. It is hard to imagine any other explanation for such statistics than blatant discrimination.
Yet, a potentially even more clear case of discrimination took place in New York City. When Hurricane Sandy struck, much of New York City was devastated. Areas such as Staten Island were particularly affected by Hurricane Sandy and left many stranded without any water, power or even shelter.
In response to Sandy, many assumed that the approaching New York Marathon would certainly be canceled, or at the very least postponed. Yet, city officials thought otherwise. Despite the fact that much of New York City was just recently devastated by a natural disaster and the reality that many were still in desperate need of assistance, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that theNew York City Marathon would still be taking place as planned.
As preparation for the marathon began, massive generators sat idly behind barbed wire fences and thousands of bottles of water were set to be delivered to New York City. Meanwhile, as these resources were delivered, thousands of citizens in the surrounding low-income neighborhoods were left without power or even clean water for days. As these citizens struggled to piece their lives back together in the wake of Sandy, they were forced to look on as much needed resources were directed not to those affected by a natural disaster, but to the marathon.
Ultimately, Bloomberg cancelled the marathon in response to an outpouring of anger, from concerned citizens but despite this ultimate cancellation, the priorities and politics of assistance distribution after a national disaster were already clearly displayed: For those who can pay for it with their social status, help is imminent; for members of the invisible lower-class, good luck.
When viewed in this context, it is relatively easy to see that the Flint water crisis is yet another example of extreme discrimination and systemic violence against lower class, majority-minority communities — particularly in times of crisis. US society is tremendously divided by social class and race and when a crisis strikes, those of low-income, majority-minority communities are almost always overlooked — oftentimes meaning disease, death or homelessness for those affected. While these thousands of disadvantaged citizens are left without homes or clean drinking water, their voices are ignored as they are forced to look on those who have the social wealth to pay for assistance.
In a country where a select few live in penthouse lofts with every possible luxury, there are people living without clean water. This is yet another disturbing display of the United States’ rejection, ignorance and systemic discrimination against the poor, working-class and minority communities. How long will we continue to turn our backs on the people of Flint and sit idly by as the children are left to drink lead-poisoned water?
We cannot stop talking about Flint. We cannot continue to ignore the voices of the people who are forced to live every day without drinking water in a land of such extreme privilege. There is simply no excuse for this lack of assistance. We must demand that the people of Flint are given the help that they need, especially as our officials continue to ignore these communities in tremendous need. We must call upon Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to correct this gross injustice and act against it in any way we can. Whether that means donating time, bottled water or money to the Greater Flint Community Foundation or the Flint Water Fund or donating energy and time, we must refuse to accept and forget this national shame and the systemic discrimination behind it.