Everyone has heard about rampant race relations in America; the constant undercurrents of racial inequality, as well as issues of corruption and hypocrisy that run rampant. But there is another aspect of American racism that is far-reaching, and sometimes, we still don’t see it because it is hidden in plain sight. It’s something we are beginning to address in our public spaces with everything from toxic waste sites to pollution, and now, our colleges and universities as well.
We are approaching the beginning of the decade for Earth Week, an annual event that is similar to Black History Month. And while the concept of celebration, education, awareness, and activism are obviously all necessary pieces to the environmental puzzle, there’s no denying that communities of color remain consistently under-represented at the environmental protection agency.
Last year, Blacks and Latinos were totally underrepresented at EPA. While over 60% of our country is Black and Latino, less than 2% of the EPA is black. I went into administration at the EPA as the acting Chief of Enforcement under the last administration, and believe I could have been a remarkable administrator, but because of the archaic and comical few we had in offices, that doesn’t happen.
All the while, I saw the harm that these systemic failings did to my country, and the planet we share. As a Stanford educated scientist and the President’s appointee to ensure environmental justice at the EPA, I believe that I can be a tremendous asset to this mission. I have been in a perpetual battle to be counted, but it’s worth it.
From the contentious nomination of Scott Pruitt as the head of the EPA, to questions and accusations of corruption against multiple employees and members of his staff, to his ridiculous and hypocritical decision to privatize the agency. Pruitt’s agenda is clear: he is determined to shred the environmental protections that my country and my President has committed to so generously. Pruitt has complained about being a “targeted, if not a victim” for his work to protect public health and the environment.
Thanks to the many protests that have taken place at our schools across the country, the EPA has become an important cultural focal point and place to seek justice for environmental injustices. In my career at the EPA, I was invited to speak at over 55 public events, and at just over 10,000 events all told. I am engaged with my students through panels and breakout sessions, with libraries, police stations, schools, churches, universities, and businesses.
What happens when a young man like me, of color, can be included in these types of discussions, even with those of me whose views are controversial? The answer is that their perceptions of discrimination aren’t the norm—they’re the exception.