badili-jones_web.jpgI do love oysters. I like them raw on the half shell with some horseradish and cocktail sauce. I like them fried. Some oysters are cultivated for their pearls, but I couldn’t care less about that.

Human beings have been eating oysters along with other sea food for thousands of years. I was getting all nostalgic about this as I sat down recently to eat a dish of fried oysters with some  fries, and it painfully dawned on me that this might be the last plate of luscious oysters I ever eat.
British Petroleum (BP) has been letting millions of gallons of oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month now.  Many are calling this a spill. I think of a spill as something that happens in my kitchen, with milk, maybe a gallon of it. But millions of gallons of crude spewing from the belly of the earth into the Gulf, that starts to hit the level of disaster.

In the wake of this disaster, the very existence of millions of fish and wildlife are in the balance. Louisiana produces over 250 million pounds of oysters a year, and tons of oysters are harvested off the coast of Florida. A major hit on the fishing industry would also mean the loss of jobs in the midst of an economy already reeling from high levels of unemployment.

What we know is that the April 20 explosion happened because BP managers were in a hurry to seal off the well so they could move the rig (which BP leased from Transocean for $500,000 per day) to another drilling location.

To speed up the move, BP's managers evidently approved the risky exit procedure that led to the lethal explosion. At one level, then, responsibility can be laid at the feet of the managers involved in that decision as well as of Cameron International, the manufacturer of the rig's blowout preventer, which appears to have been defective. These managers operated in a corporate culture that favored productivity and profit over safety and environmental protection.

The spill has already caused the loss of 11 lives, 17 injuries. The “blow out” is spewing 100,000 barrels or 4,200,000 gallons a day. Some experts estimate the flow as being even much higher than that. BP and even the U.S. government are being very evasive about the extent of damage that this disaster has caused. In fact, BP continues to block scientists and reporters from being able to deeply investigate the damage suffered by the Gulf Coast.

BP stands for British Petroleum, but it should stand for Big Profits. In this past quarter, BP reported $5.6 billion in profits (BP is the tenth-largest corporation in the world, with an economy that rivals some nations).

The cost of repairing the damage may eat a little bit into their profits. But at the rate things are going, the cost of repairing the damage will fall on the backs of citizens as the government moves in to clean up the damage.

This disaster has significance for the black community in a number of ways.  In the Gulf region, many African Americans make their livelihood from fishing and tourism.  In the state of Louisiana, 12 percent of all business are black-owned. In Baton Rouge, 17 percent of all businesses are black-owned. In Mobile, Alabama 14.8 percent of businesses are black-owned, compared to 8 percent for the entire state of Alabama. Many of these small, family-owned businesses are in danger of going under for good.

BP has also been cited for a pattern of discrimination in communities of color. BP is part of a tight-knit network that has generally kept African-American entrepreneurs out of its distribution networks.

Finally, low-income communities of color are the most vulnerable when it comes to the fluctuations of the price of energy. African Americans are also more likely to live in energy-inefficient homes. All of this is hitting African-American households. With everything else being equal, African Americans spend more on fuel and utilities in comparison to other populations.

As is often the case, African Americans may be disproportionately impacted by the disaster in the Gulf. This disaster compounds another disaster in the Gulf (Hurricane Katrina) along with the disaster that is the economic conditions within our communities.

It is time that we consider solutions to the economic disaster. We need targeted relief in our communities. We need to rebuild our communities to be more energy efficient and sustainable to end our dependence on big oil.

We need cheap or even free mass transit to get to work. We need green jobs. We need to use our power and our voice to put an end to systems driven to exploit and destroy our natural resources in favor of systems that prioritize human need and respect for the environment.

Badili Jones is the political and alliance officer at the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots strategy and action center that works for racial and economic justice in Miami and beyond.