As the coronavirus started to sweep across the United States, I recall going to the grocery store, and there was a somber mood in the atmosphere. It was almost tangible as various shoppers walked through the aisles picking up canned goods, pasta, bleach, and toilet paper, hoping the supplies we purchased would help us get through the unknown. Seeing how the virus was impacting other countries around the world, we knew we were waiting for the inevitable, knowing that many of us would suffer sickness and losses that would be incomprehensible.
As governors across the country started issuing stay at home orders, imploring Americans to stay home to help slow the spread of the virus, a mantra begins to spread almost as quickly as the virus, “We are all in this together.”
I watched countless videos of people staying home in their apartment complexes, throwing open their windows or standing on their balconies singing various songs in unison. I watched entire neighborhoods go outside and sing happy birthday to their neighbor. I watched us come together in ways I had never witnessed in America, and I was proud that who I believed people were at the core was finally shining through. Although it was sad that it took a pandemic to show us what we can be, I was determined to stand strong because we were all in this together, right?
As a resident of Kentucky, I tuned in daily to Governor Andy Beshear’s briefings, and each day he asked us to say along with him, “We will get through this. We will get through this together.” We even learned how to say this with sign language.
And for a minute, I believed that. America was going through something that many of us never had and never would experience again in our lifetime. The coronavirus was not a random event that was selective about who it impacted. It was a virus that would go wherever it wanted to go, not concerned with economic status, race, employment, marital status, sexuality, etc. The virus has one goal to survive by any means necessary. This virus is promiscuous and will go where it wants and infect whoever it desires.
However, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, it became very apparent that we are not all in this together. Indeed, we were all facing the same virus, but we are not all having the same pandemic experience. It has become glaringly apparent that while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. If America was out to sea and a storm set upon the ocean, many White people are on a cruise ship, and Black people are in dinghies.
Black people are fighting two pandemics – coronavirus and racism.
Black people are dealing with the reality that the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting our community. We understand that years of oppression, predatory policies, lack of access to healthcare, and low-wage jobs despite education, all undergirded by systemic racism, impact our health and well-being. You would think that in itself would be enough for Black people to fight.
Yet there is another fight that Black people must take on during this time.
As governors issue orders for people to wear masks to help stop the spread of the virus, reports are surfacing of Black people being profiled for wearing masks. According to James Best, he and his friend were kicked out of Walmart for wearing masks.The officer told them they could not wear masks inside because there is a city ordinance that prohibits people from wearing masks inside businesses. The Police Chief has since said there is no such ordinance.
The same incidents have been seen across America. In New York City, Black people and People of Color arrested for not social distancing while police hand out masks and water to White people in the park.
In another recent incident, a Black woman with her son was stopped by the police, placed on the ground and handcuffed for “not wearing her mask properly.”
The Coronavirus is not an excuse to police Black people. There is no way in hell we are all in this together. https://t.co/JqKYw2zZQg
— Hannah Drake (@HannahDrake628) May 14, 2020
Meanwhile, many White people just are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. However, when White people do not follow the suggested rules, they view it as their constitutional right. They are seen as patriotic. When White people break the law, like salon owner, Shelley Luther did by defying orders and keeping her salon open; Senators stand with them. Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail for contempt of court; however, she only served three days. The Texas Supreme Court granted a motion to release her. The order came soon after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was modifying his recent executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic to eliminate jail time for Texans who violate the restrictions. So let me get this straight- when White people defy the law, Governors will modify executive orders. Also, Senator Ted Cruz went to Salon à la Mode to get a haircut. According to the CBS report, Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also dropped by the salon, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called her sentence “outrageous.” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to pay Luther’s $7,000 fine or even serve out her sentence under house arrest. When the Texas Supreme Court ordered her release, Donald Trump said, “good.”
But please, tell me that feel-good story how we are all in this together. In this, together, is simply an illusion. We are not fighting the same fight and we never have. White people are fighting because they have been inconvenienced and can’t get a haircut. Black people are fighting for their very lives.
As White people protest across the nation, the Blue Lives Matter slogan has flown out of the window. The, “Why don’t they just follow the rules,” clause no longer applies – because now it impacts them. They are fine as long as the rules apply to everyone else. And as this nation continues to battle the coronavirus, it is apparent the so-called rules seem to only apply to Black people. As data comes in about arrests for violating social distancing orders, it shows that Black people are disproportionally arrested. Add on the other layer of many White people feeling it is their job and their right to police Black bodies in spaces to enforce social distancing.
Black people do not have the luxury of merely worrying about surviving a pandemic. Black people must navigate the pandemic and navigate racism.
As much as I wanted to believe, America has shown me once again, we are not in this together, and we never were in this together.
However, one thing is sure; the coronavirus will one day be a thing of the past. A vaccine will be developed. Humans will build immunity. This moment in time will be one that is written about in history books as we pray that other generations won’t have to deal with the impact of a pandemic.
But racism will always be here.
Just like a virus.