Pandemic Perspective - Part Three
June 22nd, 2020
Executive Director Dr. Bruce Roller shares his thoughts on living during a time of pandemic in this four-part series of short, two minute videos.
Seeing What We Didn’t Want to Admit
When I wrote the preceding two parts of this four-part series seeking to bring new perspectives on this coronavirus pandemic, who would have thought I would interrupt the series last week to proclaim UCOM’s stance that Black lives matter?
That does move us all too graphically to the third perspective on this pandemic. It was multi-billionaire Warren Buffet who said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” For our society, the COVID-19 pandemic represents an ebb tide of historic proportions. This pandemic and all of our varied reactions to it are laying bare the vulnerability and inequity that in usual days have gone unnoticed by those privileged enough to ignore them.
Add to the horror of loss and unpreparedness that the pandemic revealed, the pettiness of some public officials. Mix in the blatant prejudice, abuse and violence against black and brown and poor people, and the callousness of so many of those with whom we coexist. In my lifetime the anxiety level among people in every part of our nation has never been so high.
Then just as the country is opening up (prematurely some of us think) we look on in shock and disbelief as a policeman in Minneapolis kneels for nearly nine minutes on the neck of a man struggling to breathe. Knelt on him until he suffocated. Virtually spontaneous protests brought many thousands of people into the streets of 120 cities, right up to the perimeters of the White House crying out for justice. When I say we looked on in shock I am speaking from a position of white privilege—a place where denial of systemic racism has been an option. Black people have decried this kind of police violence, judicial deliberate blindness, and fear of perverted authority for more than a century. This is everyday reality for a whole block of our fellow human beings.
Suddenly some of us open our eyes for a time and see the modern-day lynching of one man and then we find half-buried memories of others that happened in full view of our apathy.
This brings me to more than 120,000 people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 while many clamor to get back to a “normal” in which this invisible menace can infect others. Some elected officials, some religious leaders have been quick to point out that there are people who are just more vulnerable to this virus than others. A disproportionate number of the dead are African-American. Others who are vulnerable are old people and those with underlying illnesses like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. These “compassionate” leaders have emphasized that this is Darwinian survival of the fittest. This, of course, is another way of saying, “We don’t need these people to build a strong society.”
So it began that a formerly respected segment of the population felt ourselves devalued. One lieutenant governor said that he knew grandparents would give their lives for the economic security of their grandchildren. What a false conundrum! Within a few days, we privileged folk began to glimpse from afar the atrocities Black people have suffered from their kidnapping and life imprisonment to slavery until their present when systemic racism kneels on the necks of all African-Americans.
And so we see because of this pandemic and various responses to it who is swimming naked. Hoods are pulled off. Real racism raises its ugly head. Simple hatred for those perceived as different and therefore inferior, keeps so many Black people bound in poverty, bereft of the best educations, and relegated to poverty-level wages in “essential” jobs.
The tide has ebbed, and many of us don’t like what we see.