The sheer whiteness of the response to COVID

We were supposed to stay home until the number of new COVID-related deaths declined for two weeks. During that two weeks, the federal government was supposed to enact a plan that would keep the people afloat and minimize economic damage. This could be done following one of the myriad plans available from various experts or just by copying what other, similar countries have done. Instead, somehow, two months after declaring a national emergency, the White House still hasn’t released a plan, no state has met the 14-day standard and the country is just gonna go right on ahead and open up anyway.

As with other countries, the choice was not supposed to be stay inside forever or go outside and die. With our current leadership, the eventuality of this choice being forced on us seems inevitable. Realistically, there was never any chance that a man like our president—who has spent his life as a frail, self-indulgent imbecile—was going to suddenly understand leadership or delegation. I am not saying this to call him names, but to point out that he is simply not capable. A thimble cannot hold a gallon, let alone be used to bail us out of the 100-year storm we are currently weathering.

To me, the most frustrating part of this is the whiteness of the entire response. I’m not making fun or being sarcastic. I’m genuinely shocked at the whiteness of the whole thing. Some of it is silly, like Rhode Island protesters’ slogan of “Knock it off, Gina!” Some responses have been such suicidal accidental self-parody, it’s hard to believe I’m not asleep somewhere dreaming this entire thing. For instance, there’s the protesters in Florida (I know) doing push-ups and squats in front of a courthouse in a completely irony-free attempt to get gyms reopened. And there’s a Utah mayor who is defying the state’s stay-at-home order so there can be a country music protest concert in her town.

Again, it’s not just the fatuousness of whiteness that is the problem. COVID didn’t get dropped into a vacuum. On the contrary, it got dropped into a country defined for many of us by its vast and deliberate inequities, which this virus has exacerbated.

Whiteness has truly protected some from COVID-19 for now, but the returns are diminishing.

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When it is decided that a group of people will be allowed only limited participation in a society, an experiential truth is created that only members of that group can know. For example, Black people in America are required to wear our hair in a way that blends in with or is inoffensive to white people. That is to say that we are required to disguise and/or hide the biological nature of our physical bodies for the comfort of white people. If we do not meet this requirement, educational opportunities and employment are often withheld from us. This requirement is not in the form of a law, but it is so commonly understood and widespread that last year New York City and California passed anti-discrimination laws specifically addressing the consequences of our natural hair.

White people cannot know what it is to live with this truth. It is an experience they cannot have. White people are not required to change their physical appearance for the sake of Black comfort. There are no Black power structures that can withhold education and/or employment from white people if they refuse to disguise their specific biological nature.

Imagine a white man with a regular white-man haircut walking into a job interview. Now imagine the interviewer is a Black man with an afro. He takes one look at the white man’s hair and immediately ends the interview, saying something about not fitting in with their corporate culture, but thanks for coming in anyway. As the white man leaves he sees the only white employee has permed his hair into an afro.

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When it is decided that only a specific group of people will have to face a truth, it is also being decided that another group of will be protected from that truth. But truth exists regardless of your relationship to it. You can throw a ball in the air and turn your back before it hits the ground. You can walk away believing that the ball is still floating in the air, but neither the ball nor the ground care what you believe. If that ball rolls under your foot as you are walking down the stairs there isn’t a social structure in the world that can protect you.

Whiteness does not carry a cultural memory of how brutal and deadly a neglectful government can be. Whiteness, amongst other things is a protection from that neglect. Black people are made to understand that our minds, bodies, rights, past, present and futures have not, are not and will not be protected by a government without long-term sustained efforts and sacrifices. Whiteness does not require this and cannot understand this.

Right now there is an attempt to hold onto the seemingly inane frivolity of whiteness in the forms of vacation and nightlife and grooming. It is easy to judge that as better than the anger and fear from whiteness in the forms of conspiracy theorists and armed protesters and feeble-minded leaders. COVID-19 will continue to see no difference at all and it will likely be with us until we collectively understand why.


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