“Capitalism and poverty have killed more people,” a friend of mine said, when I told her I was scared by the realities of the coronavirus. I knew what she meant. (I also know her well enough to know she included racism in with capitalism and poverty). So, while it’s certainly true that capitalism, racism, and poverty have killed more people than the coronavirus has or even will, it’s also true that the people who have already been held down by oppressive systems are most likely to suffer the worst of this pandemic.
The response of those of us who have financially benefited most from the systems of oppression bear the greatest responsibility for flattening the curve.
Who do I mean when I talk about who has benefited most from the systems of oppression? I mean white, middle, managerial, and/or ownership class people. Our relatives held people prisoner, brutalized them, and forced them to work for no pay, and/or our relatives stole land from Indigenous people and murdered them by the thousands. Even if our ancestors didn’t directly participate in these actions, the economy of our country was set up using the wealth created by those crimes. Even though it was generations ago, many of us (white people) have at least some generational wealth that has been impossible for most Black people to accumulate, for example.
I’m bringing up this historical aspect of our current situation not to say we white people should “feel guilty,” but because it is worthwhile to notice who has the kind of resources required to do the social distancing that will help slow the spread of the deadly virus. So many people don’t have the luxury of “social distancing” without serious negative consequences. These socioeconomic differences have been built into our racist economic systems from the beginning.
Those of us who can stay home, should be staying home. We do this not for ourselves, but for all of the people who have no choice. And this is where I feel being an anti-racist comes into play. Just like when we white people take directly anti-racist actions, making changes in our lives to stop the speed of the spread of COVID-19 is mostly because it benefits the wider community. When we take anti-racist actions, we do this not only because it “helps” someone else, but because it helps everyone (including white people).
We white people, through our “whiteness,” are too often stuck in the concept of the “individual” and less about the wider community. If we practice seeing the world in solidarity, rather than as individuals who “help” people “in need” then we will recognize that our individual actions are a part of the greater whole. We are all in this together: access to healthcare for everyone (not only those who can afford it) benefits everyone; plenty of paid sick leave for everyone (not only for those who have fancier jobs) benefits everyone; free public universities and trade schools and wiping away college debt benefits everyone; humane treatment for people who want to come to this country from other places across the globe benefits everyone; living wages for everyone benefits everyone!
As we all do our best to create social distance wherever possible, washing our hands, not touching our faces, checking in on our higher-risk neighbors who live alone, following the CDC guidelines for safe and cautious living, the reality that we are all interconnected is vivid. This is a scary time, but I’m also struck by how much we are coming together in this.
As the coronavirus crisis goes on, we are also still in a presidential election cycle. I hope everyone will consider the policies that would best address this crisis when you make your choice at the upcoming primaries. In particular, healthcare without copays, deductibles, or limits on care decided by greedy, profit-driven companies. It’s strikingly clear as we try to flatten the curve of the spread of this virus that healthcare for everyone benefits everyone. We are all in this together.
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