It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
The chronicle Oil is the Color of my Skin, started with out of pure curiosity. I wanted to know how much the American consumer knows about oil. Oil is the most valuable resource in the world. Almost everything we use or do can be traced back to it. As a consumer myself, I have long to wonder where oil comes from. My venture outside to a local gas station became one of my last efforts to get answers from ordinary citizens like myself, in what seemed to be the most appropriate place; a gas station.
My journey to finding answers began in a BP gas station on 128th street. I spent the afternoon asking pedestrians the same question over and over again. Do you where oil comes from? I became frustrated when most of them replied “I don’t know” or another common answer was the “Middle East.” My blog Oil is the Color of my Skin intended to address common misconceptions that oil only comes from the Middle East. I understand how the idea of oil coming from places other the Middle East can be quite hard to grasp, as the American media projects the idea that oil only comes this particular region. This blog breaks the barriers between what American consumers may have heard on the news and the other side of the story. Oil is the Color of my Skin, reveals that oil comes from more than just the Middle East, but from places all around the world. Tracing oil back to its origins landed us in two different continents and in seven different countries. We discovered that oil comes from the black markets of Guatemala and Belize, the war zones of Colombia and the Niger Delta, the Amazon in Ecuador, and poverty stricken areas in Angola.
The idea behind following the oil trail and telling the stories of people who have been affected by oil development was to bring consciousness to the American consumer. The problem is that the American culture is one that encourages consumerism. This has blinded Americans about how the way we live our lives affects others around us. We often see the clothes and not the labor that went into making the shirt or Nike sneakers. We see only the oil and not the thousands of indigenous peoples that are displaced each year because oil was found in their communities.
This question about oil became such a profound part of my life. This summer I had the opportunity to witness what oil development is doing to the indigenous Secoya community in the Amazon jungle. My internship with Esperanza International was over two months period and during that time I never saw so much devastation. Oil companies left oil pits that made the land infertile to grow crops and rows of empty houses of people dying off from cancer. The oil companies replaced trees with oil pipes and were not held accountable for the leaks that ran through the nearby river. The same rivers where people washed their clothes, took baths, and went fishing.
For me this was more than just an unfortunate situation for the Secoya, but it highlights one of our greatest faults. American uses more oil than any other place in the world, even China that is twice its size. Yet we do not realize how the way we live our lives affects those around us. The first problem is the way that we perceive people that are in oil rich areas. We consider these people as burdens that are standing in our way of getting what we really want. It is this kind of idea that led to inequalities and has caused oil to be more valuable than people’s lives. Prime examples of this are the Afro-Colombian and Nigerian in the Niger Delta, which proves that the notions of human rights exclude these groups of people. Oil is the color of my skin points out that no one’s life should be valued over any other.
The second problem is that Americans have come to just accept things, as the way they are. Part of the reason behind this that we feel we have no ability to change them, but we do. Oil is the Color of my skin encourages a more conscious lifestyle, by letting people know about information that the media never reports on. Oil towns and the devastation that it causes will probably never be shown the news, but it is up to you to do your own research. I encourage you take steps to find out information that the media might not be telling us because you should know the truth.
The most important thing that I want you take away from this blog is that change is possible and little changes do make a difference. I am not asking you to get rid of anything that requires oil, but to determine what a change might mean for you. I could be riding a bike to a grocery store that is three blocks away instead of taking a car or turning of your lights every time you leave. Because small changes do matter and communities a thousand of miles away depend on it.