The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in many ways, including traditional June Pride events and celebrations. The pandemic has also revealed a lot about humanity, both good and bad—especially as states struggle with reopenings, enforcing social distancing guidelines, and recent spikes in COVID-19 cases…and how to respond to #BlackLivesMatter protests all across the country AND world.
One common refrain is how and when things will “go back to normal.”
As I was thinking about this in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and LGBTQ Pride Month, I realized that it is a problematic sentiment. “Normal” means different things for different people, but at the same time there are some common themes in terms of the nostalgic trip the collective memory of America makes when we say “go back to normal.”
“Normal” is also synonymous with “status quo.”
So I ask my fellow Americans: Do we want to go back to the months and years when we spent our time burying our heads in the sand as it relates to racial inequality and systemic racism? Back to when our newsfeeds and stories were not filled with marches and protests in reaction to the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery? Back to the normalcy when COVID-19 was not present to unearth the racial disparities that existed in our health care and crisis response systems?
“Normal” is also the bedfellow of “nostalgia.”
While often the source of warm, fuzzy feelings and memories of good times, nostalgia in the collective sense of the word, as dictated by the dominant culture, hearkens back to years and decades past. The years before same-sex marriage became the law of the land. The years before we had our first Black president. The years when a good many Americans were in their adolescence; their prime. When American society did not care about being “woke” or “PC” and queer Black and brown people like myself did not shove our rainbow glitter and anti-racism in their faces all the time.
Without a doubt for a small and growing portion of the American population, “normal” means the nostalgic return to before landmark 1960s civil rights legislation and Supreme Court decisions. And for some, “normal” would mean a new Jim Crow era.
So rather than think about when we can “go back to normal,” let’s get back to the future. By that I mean looking forward beyond COVID-19, beyond the moment we are living in, to imagine a better, brighter and more equitable world.
As disruptive as COVID-19 has been, it has illuminated our humanity. With that comes a revelation of our shadows, the darker aspects and features we would rather ignore than address. That includes racism and white supremacy. It includes our broken health care system. It includes inequality, a broken economic system and the failure of the Market to solve all of our problems.
Instead of going “back to normal,” to a time before a majority of Americans came to realize these systemic and structural defects, let us get back to the future and explore the possibilities of a new normal. A future with truth and reconciliation, reparations for centuries suffering caused to Black and Indigenous people, and a more just and equitable society that sees human worth and value beyond dollars.
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