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Climate expert says attack on GOP lawmaker is nothing new: ‘This is the playbook’


Raya Salter recently made headlines when a Republican lawmaker who allies herself with the fossil fuel industry launched an offensive tirade at Salter as a black woman as she testified before Congress on the climate crisis.

Salter, an energy justice lawyer and climate expert, stood firm as Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) launched a mixed racism and misogyny attack on her during a House Oversight Committee hearing on September 15 on the oil industry. lack of responsibility in the climate crisis. As Salter implored the committee that the real solution was to move away from fossil fuels, Higgins shouted questions that supported petrochemicals and used disrespectful language against the expert.

“My good lady, I’m trying to give you the floor, boo,” Higgins shouted above her as she tried to answer her open-ended questions. While “boo” is a casual endearing term in the black community, it can be offensive, racist, and misogynistic when used sarcastically, especially in this case by a white man in a position of power.

Higgins continued to disrespect Salter, calling her a “young woman” who has “a lot of noise”. The congressman then tweeted about the swap, calling the expert a “lopsided climate activist.”

Just over a week after the incident, Salter spoke with HuffPost about the swap and what she wants the public to take away from it. The climate expert said while she expects pointed questions from lawmakers who don’t share the same views and are looking for a soundbite, she didn’t expect the type of lack of respect she received from Higgins.

“We deal with these little microaggressions all the time, so my first instinct was to say, ‘You know what, whatever. I’m doing well. Keep walking, I don’t care,” she said. “So I’m fine ― and it wasn’t fine. And that’s not what women, women, anyone should expect when they’re going to do something, like testify before our elected officials. »

Women―especially women of color―have added pressure to “act strong” and be compliant in the face of harassment and abuse, in order to try to avoid being stereotyped as angry or emotional. Although they are often applauded by people outside the community for their strength, black and brown women wish that wasn’t always the case.

“I think we do a lot of that, where we push down when we could actually be hurt. We brush off disrespect and just act like we don’t mind,” Salter said. “But it’s really part of this larger pattern of people for whom it’s in their playbook to chip away at our confidence and call us incompetent, because they don’t want us to stand in our way and say what we mean in opposition to them.”

Raya Salter, executive director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee on alleged oil industry greenwashing and the impacts of climate change on Capitol Hill September 15, 2022 .

Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP

According to Salter, the House hearing was not the first time she experienced condescending behavior while speaking about climate and environmental racism as a black expert. Out of nearly two dozen people, Salter is the only woman of color on the New York State Climate Action Council and was the only black person until recently.

“We’re just not at the table very often as experts, you know, and so we’re almost always in that position of being the only one or one of the very few,” she said. . “We’re in these spaces where…there’s very little representation and maybe we’re the only ones, and you’re just not traditionally seen as a leader and an expert in this – but people don’t have never seen leaders and experts look like you.”

Although the incident went viral, Salter said she didn’t feel like the exchange eclipsed the important climate issues she was asked to talk about in the first place, such as environmental racism. The expert admitted to having suffered security threats immediately afterwards – particularly after Fox News host Tucker Carlson lambasted her on his show – but the majority of the response to her testimony was very positive.

During Salter’s exchange with Higgins, the climate expert slammed the lawmaker for allying himself with toxic petrochemical facilities that are killing blacks and browns across Louisiana. The state is home to the famous “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile strip of land along the Mississippi River that has more than 150 petrochemical plants.

Climate expert says attack on GOP lawmaker is nothing new: ‘This is the playbook’
Salter speaks at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The fact that Higgins is from Louisiana is very, very important and that [exchange] would never have happened that way if it hadn’t been,” Salter told HuffPost. “That clown…he has no leg to stand on.” And I told him about him being that the fossil fuel industry that owns his state is destroying the earth. He is not an environmentalist. It’s bought and paid for, and that’s exactly what it is.

Salter said the issues plaguing Higgins’ home state also impact black and brown communities in the region, with the latest examples being the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and Hurricane Fiona. destroying already crumbling infrastructure in Puerto Rico, where the fossil fuel industry has succeeded. successful push for a gas pipeline.

“At every point in the chain are women and children,” she said. “Women and children of color, who are most affected and most vulnerable every time.”



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