COVID and its interconnections—racial and more

Living on a barrier island off the coast of Maine serves as a great locale for watching human behavior in the midst of a pandemic. After watching day-trippers and tourists drive around the island in the midst of a steady rain, I have come to conclude that we, the collective, aren’t well at all. 

I am no public health official, though I did study African American Health & Wellness, but I can say with confidence that our country’s approach to tackling COVID feels vaguely reminiscent of how we deal with racism. We sugarcoat reality, are unable to sit with discomfort, and most lack the tenacity to go the distance so we can be better other people. We also focus far too much on the individual rather than the systems and structures that allow racism to thrive or COVID to mutate into more virulent strains. Delta anyone? 

Here in the United States, we are a country that was founded on literal stolen land, built with the labor of stolen and enslaved people. These facts are indisputable and yet a sizable percentage of the U.S. population would prefer that we pretend these truths never happened. So much so that in many areas of the country, the truth is becoming illegal. 

Likewise with COVID, many would rather pretend that the few safety mechanisms that we have to keep ourselves safe from COVID be ignored and would rather deny the truth of this pandemic. Despite the fact that over 4 million people worldwide have died from COVID, 1.5 million children have become orphaned as a result of COVID, and untold numbers are living with long-haul COVID problems. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Arundhait Roy wrote a thought-provoking piece on the early days of COVID that declared: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” 

For many of us at that time, there was a sense that as awful as things were, at least at that time, perhaps COVID would humble us and serve as a springboard for the creation of new ways that could honor our collective humanity. 

Fast-forward over a year later, and it’s safe to say that COVID has become less a portal to a new world and more of a mirror to show us just how broken we are as a society—and in the United States, our brokenness has mutated into the most ugly and extreme form of individualism. Even as I write this, once again our numbers are surging, but millions of citizens and many of our elected officials refuse to take safety precautions to keep us safe. Instead, the general consensus is that we must get on with our lives and not allow COVID to get us down—also known as “we must keep the wheels of capitalism churning at all costs.”

But the thing is, when people have reached a place of truly not being well, it comes out—one way or the other. Since the charade of normal kicked into full gear several months ago, we have been bombarded with stories declaring there is a lack of labor in the service industries. Restaurants literally don’t have enough help and vacation hubs like where I live are operating on shortened hours due to a lack of staffing. Even summer sleepaway camps, according to this piece, have struggled with having enough staffing, since it turns out the usual way of staffing many camps and summer-only establishments is using international seasonal workers, who for myriad reasons are not available this season. 

In other words, for far too many businesses their “success” requires intentionally exploiting others, and in a COVID world many workers have decided that their personal safety matters more than JImbo’s Crab Shack or Break From Our Progeny Summer Camp. 

While many want a rapid return to normal and putting COVID behind us, there are emerging pockets of consciousness in our society. People who are looking at the connection between race, class, and COVID to see how it is all intertwined and recognizing that something has to give. 

In the last year and a half, inequality has increased exponentially, Black folks and other people of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, and by all indicators our life expectancies in 2020 decreased at a greater percentage than white life expectancies. Many communities of color saw the ravages of COVID up close and personal, whereas for far too many white communities COVID and its resulting realities did not strike quite as close to home—though, with the Delta variant, that seems to be changing, seen in such actions as the GOP more eagerly encouraging vaccination as its voters begin to die off more. 

We are currently standing at the crossroads of betwixt and between, one where our racial history, class inequity, and COVID are all demanding more of us. The continued denial of reality among so many of us does not bode well for any of us. We can’t go back to what we called normal, because it no longer exists. Our current attempts at normal are killing us in a multitude of ways, and contributing to the global surge in COVID cases. At some point, we must reckon with reality before reality reckons with us and, in doing so, allow for the acknowledgement that much of what we cling to is no good. 

While I don’t believe all hope is lost, I will say that this pandemic has revealed wounds that are far deeper than I even imagined. We are in need of a collective healing, so that these puss-infected wounds of American culture don’t taint the next phase of American life. However, our healing will require acknowledgment and acceptance of our condition, so that a proper treatment plan for the greater good can be started. 


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Image from freestocks via Unsplash

An adversarial police state isn’t necessary…but it’s by design

My girlfriend and I were in Sweden. She has family there and I have friends there and this was during a time when you could just go visit people in another country. It seems so long ago…

Anyway, we covered a lot of ground driving around Sweden and I discovered a few things. One is that as a people, the Swedes aren’t a very emotive bunch. I’m a big laugher and a loud talker and that behavior drew a lot of attention. To be fair, it seemed like they were reserved not because they were culturally rigid. On the contrary, it seemed like they were sensitive to the idea that such emotional displays presented potential burdens on others. And so, they refrained.

Another thing I noticed about Sweden was the relationship between the government and its citizens. Most of us know about the country’s superior social safety net and it may or may not be surprising that we drove all over that country for a week and never saw even one police officer. But there was something else that was practically impossible for me to imagine.

I would eventually see it all over the country, but I first noticed it as we were driving through Uppsala, a small city near Stockholm. Like so much of Sweden, Uppsala is a picturesque place. The city itself is home to the biggest cathedral in Scandinavia and a sparklingly beautiful river straight out of a fairy tale. But what stuck out the most was a street sign.

In Sweden, if you speed through certain areas, a traffic camera will catch you in the act and mail you a ticket. Pretty normal, nothing surprising, but something they had that I’d never seen before was a warning sign. About a hundred yards before the camera there was a publicly funded, government-installed sign warning all drivers that there was a speed trap ahead. It was like the government warning the citizens about the government. I couldn’t believe it.

After we got home, I remember telling folks about that sign. Everyone had the same question: Is it because the cameras were fake?

No. The cameras weren’t fake. It’s just that the country of Sweden is actually concerned with the safety of its citizens. Slowing down in those places saved lives and that was the point. It wasn’t interested in tricking its citizens or punishing them or financially abusing them for the sake of revenue. The Swedish government is just interested in protecting the lives of its drivers and pedestrians. That’s it.

For many of us in the United States it seems impossible to imagine a relationship with our government that isn’t adversarial. In America, it feels almost natural for our lawmakers to compromise our values, leaders to undermine our interests, police to kill us. But it’s not natural, it’s just a design.

This design resulted in the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, lying about him having a gun, and calling his killer a hero. This design resulted police killing Ma’Khia Bryant just before the verdict came down for George Floyd’s killer. This design results in nearly half of republicans openly saying that Floyd’s killer shouldn’t have been convicted. The fact that six killings by police happened within 24 hours of that conviction is also a result of this design.

It’s a brutal, destructive, unsustainable design, but we are only as committed to it as we choose.

We must choose something else before it’s too late.


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Calling all white people, part 7: Don’t succumb to hurt feelings

Calling All White People, Part 7

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Your feelings *will* get hurt; don’t run away like a punk
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Because I have rather a larger amount of Black people in my Twitter follows and in my Facebook friends list than the average white person (hey, I’m not An Average White Guy in all things in life; just overall), I see all sorts of interactions between them and my fellow whitefolk. And there are quite a number of times that white people say questionable, touchy and/or stupid stuff (even when intending to be nice) and get, as they say in the vernacular, “dragged around the Internet.” Or at least dragged around the social media platform at which the faux pas was committed.

There are also times when a white person will say something truly harmless, neutral or even outright positively supportive and uplifting, and there will be a Black person who says something along the lines of:

  • “I don’t need your validation or approval, white boy.”
  • “You don’t have any business here. Go away.”
  • “This isn’t meant for any of you white people.”

And so on.

If you are a white person who has any kind of semi-regular interaction with Black people online (or other non-white folks, but especially Black people), your feelings will probably get hurt at some point. Or you’ll cringe as some unwitting other white person gets their pride wounded or their ego throat-punched.

Sometimes, it is because a white person put his or her foot firmly between their tongue and the roof of their mouth (let’s face it: many of us don’t handle race topics deftly). Sometimes it’s because there is a misunderstanding. Sometimes it’s because the Black person is in a particularly sensitive point of life or has been having a bad patch. Sometimes it’s because that Black person just doesn’t like white people.

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. Most Black people would love for us all to meet on a fair, loving and socially level playing field and get along and move forward. But there are some who have reached their limit and really don’t give a damn about us and would prefer we just go away, refrain from finding sneaky ways to oppress them anyway, and let them succeed without us showing our beige/pink/cream-colored flesh anywhere near them.

I mention this because there are not an insignificant number of white people who, when they get a “nastygram” online (or in person) from a Black person, then say something to the effect of (either in their heads or literally out loud): “Well, if that’s the way I’m going to be treated, I won’t bother trying to understand race issues or do anything to try to fix racism.”

That, my friends, is what one would call a punk move.

That’s along the same lines as “nice” dudes who crow about how great a friend they are to women and how much they are in favor of feminism and then say “Fuck women” and start posting memes about “ball busting bitches” the moment some gal they are really hung up on declines to date them or have sex.

Racism in this country is a problem, in all its many forms, from systemic racism to institutional bias to white privilege to individual bigotry and everything in the nooks and crannies in between. If you are going to stop educating yourself about where racism exists and how it hurts us a society, and if you are going to abandon the idea of trying to connect with non-white people and just toss away the notion of working to reduce and refute racism…just because of ONE (or even a few…or several) unkind words from Black people, well…

…then you were never about justice or equality anyway, it would seem.

If Black people en masse tell us white people to piss off, we might have a problem and a chasm that has finally become too wide to bridge. But that has never yet happened in the history of our nation. I don’t expect it to happen any time soon, if ever. If a minority of people making you feel bad causes you to assume that the majority or entirety of that population shares the same disregard for you, then you are the one with the real problem. Namely, a really thin skin.

So, if your feelings get hurt, have your little private cry in your own space if you need to, get your shit together and go back to being a decent human being and caring about the elimination of racism and other forms of oppression (including, but not limited to, sexism, homophobia, Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism).

It’s the least you can do if you want to claim to be an actual fully evolved human being. You should do the right things because they actually are right, not for kind treatment by the oppressed parties.
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