Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This Should Not Be (My Flint Lament)

Sometimes you grow so accustomed to something you forget it isn't normal, or at least, shouldn't be normal. Sometimes unhealth and dysfunction become so ingrained in the narrative that you forget certain things should not be.

Welcome to life in Flint. 

Where violent crime has us in the headlines as one of the most dangerous cities. Where sitting in my living room allows us a near nightly game of "gunshots or fireworks?" Where my children regularly ask if they are safe. Where there've been more efforts for mayorial recalls than I can count (here and here and here and here). Where, likewise, the relationship between the mayor (no matter who it is) and city council is one of the most dysfunctional, ineffective I've ever seen. Where residents elect unqualified, law-breaking men as councilman and then they are kept in office. Where the state won't trust us to run ourselves responsibly, and as infuriating as that is, we haven't proven to be capable of competent governance when we've had the chance. 

Yep, welcome to Flint. Just another day in our neighborhood.

And all the while, we are STILL living with water we can't drink but for which we pay exorbitant prices.
This morning was one of those mornings where the ridiculousness of it all hit me. I was pouring bottled water into my crock pot and I felt anger. It's probably a good sign, as feeling anger reminds me that what I live with everyday should not be. 

Most days I feel nothing and think nothing of it. As if contaminated tap water is what we should all expect. As if it's normal to have a filter on your bathroom faucet to brush your teeth. As if it's completely acceptable for your children to be suspicious of every water fountain outside the city limits.
This should not be so. It's now been 38 months since our water source was first changed that started this whole mess. It's been almost three years since those, who should have known better, used their degrees to finally come clean and say the water wasn't. Three years. And I'm still opening water bottles to clean strawberries, prep pot roast, and boil spaghetti. Three years living every single day with this reality, while those in charge shift blame, point fingers, cry foul, and then dare to claim "Flint Fatigue." We've been waiting three years for those with the power and influence to change our reality. You want to talk fatigue? Then talk to a Flint resident who still can't drink the water thats overpriced while the very officials who should be protecting citizens drag their feet debating whether Flint is worth the time or the money to fix the water problem (at least in a humane amount of time).
This should not be so. My city is 57% black and 42% of our citizens live in poverty. Apparently, elected government can't be bothered to leverage their position to get something done here. It's been shown that systemic racism has been a factor. That is completely and utterly unacceptable; and I'm angry that we still have to live as we do. Not to mention the thousands who are suffering more acutely in this city than I am. Many can't pay their water bills, and are now in danger of losing their homes because of it. Many don't have a means of transportation to get bottled water, filters, and the like. Many are suffering from skin rashes and irritations that my family has never had to endure through this crisis.
And to think this might not have been this way for this long if more Flintstones had lighter skin and made more money!?! This should not be so. I'm sick and tired of it all. And because I am white and hold privilege because of the color of my skin, I can not know how my African-American brothers and sisters are really feeling in all this. I am reminded of something I heard Tavis Smiley say last fall (following the election of President Trump) about how blacks are used to set backs; used to the struggle, and the shaft. That blacks are used to the cold shoulder, closed doors, and fighting for every square inch they gain. That's stuck with me as I sit here in Flint, three years after it was known that our water was undrinkable, getting just a smidgen of a glimpse into what Smiley meant. And I'm still white, so I can't ever understand fully. (I digress. This can be another post.) Three years. 
Over one thousand days without clean, useable water. 

This should not be so. Our family sponsors a young man in Kenya through Compassion International. His name is Francis, and we pray for him every night. Over the last 9 years, one of our prayers for him is that he would have access to clean water. Because after all, he lives in Africa; in a poor, underdeveloped, third world village. And now our family prays the same exact prayer for ourselves and our city. This should not be so. This issue isn't even a question of first-world problems versus third-world problems. Although, if that was the only argument, it would still be enough to expect some movement from those who can change this reality. No, this isn't just a first or third world problem. It's a human rights problem. It's a social justice problem. Clean water is a natural right every person should have. 

And, if that ruffles your feathers and you want to play the first-world/third-world game, then who would have imagined that a city in a first world country, considered a world power, would be living my reality in 2017? A reality that says our state and local government agencies made decisions that endangered the health and lives of its citizen; then chose to cover-up the evidence in hopes of not having to publicly disclose the findings. A reality that says those same agencies wasted time bickering and posturing, all while the water entering our homes was poisoned. A reality that has these same agencies burying any possible legislation on this human rights issue under a mountain of bureaucracy while making judgements about whether my city was really worth it anyway. You know, because we're mostly black and poor anyway? This should not be so. Today, I opened bottled water and filled my crock pot and I'm angry. Today is a day I remember that just because I've grown accustomed to something doesn't mean it's the way it should be. Normal doesn't necessarily mean helpful, beneficial, satisfactory, or right. 

Today, in Flint, our reality is normal, but it should not be.

This should not be so.

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