Racism: COVID-19’s Pandemic Twin

Monica Lindsey. Photo: Peter Cane

Until January, the word pandemic was an underutilized vocabulary word. Few would say that they were fully aware of what a pandemic was, or what the word even meant. Only those who studied diseases were aware as well as scholars and historians, tracking patterns of nature and human habits. Now most people, down to the youngest household members have heard this word being used frequently enough to know that it can bring life as we know it to a screeching halt.

Dynamics have changed; small things previously taken for granted are now being upheld for their value and identified as an integral part of life. And we yearn for a time when we can get back to “normal”. But should we be thinking of getting back to normal with this other pandemic uncured?

I would like to submit that we have all been living in a pandemic that has gone unrecognized for hundreds of years. The novel coronavirus has shown us that the other pandemic that flew under the radar for so many, for so long needs to be elevated. A “cure” needs to be found for this insidious disease that sets into the minds of people and changes how they interact. This disease is contagious and spreads from one host to the next through interactions and proximity. Like the coronavirus it is able to mutate and sicken the carrier. It is called racism… And yes, this virus kills.

How do I liken racism to the coronavirus? There are many correlations. The fact that it impacts greatly certain communities over others is one area. The novel coronavirus impacts people of color greatly due to the systemic discriminatory policies in education, housing, transportation, and employment. These are all issues rooted in racism and stem from a system
that still uses redlining and voter suppression and other methods of oppression to maintain a system of superiority and supremacy. Numbers show that this virus targets people in communities of color, just as its twin racism does.

Another similarity is how the coronavirus has so quickly shortened the lives of some of its victims. Healthy, young well people have suddenly been impacted, losing their lives to an unseen enemy. Similarly, racism is behind the deaths of many who were healthy, active and young. For instance, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old killed by 2 men infected with racism. The young man, named Ahmaud Arbery was out for a run when spotted by Gregory McMichaels, a former police officer who called to his son, Travis to hunt down a healthy young man merely taking a run past his house. Being ripped from this earth in the prime of his life by this unseen enemy reflects the same way in which the coronavirus works, without warning, without cause, and without justice. Both of these men were infected, and both passed a byproduct of their infection on to the unsuspecting Mr. Arbery effectively ending his life.

I would be remiss not to mention the case of 26-year-old, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. It seems that race becomes a factor when a person of color attempts to defend their own residence from intruders. In such a case, we see that all of the reasoning used that a person should be able to defend themselves is ignored. What happened to the rights of Ms. Taylor and
Mr. Walker? Self-defense is defined as to prevent suffering force or violence through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting force or violence​. Kenneth Walker, who at the time was sharing the residence of Ms. Taylor, attempted to defend their residence by shooting the intruder in the
leg and is now being charged with the attempted murder of a police officer. The intruders turned out to be police officers who did not announce themselves and entered the residence in plain clothes. Acting on the instinctual desire to protect himself and Breonna Taylor he used a more than the appropriate level of force when confronted by those forcibly seeking entrance into their home. A clear situation in which he exercised the right to protect property. Yet, he becomes subject to investigation and trial for attempted murder.

There is truly something very wrong here. These situations tell of the strange dichotomy of justice in a system that becomes perverted when race is factored in. Before we rush to go back to “normal” let’s consider that back to normal means back to accepting that this other danger of racism still lurks. The many victims of racism speak to the need for change. Let’s remember that not only the victims but the perpetrators are impacted by
this infection. It damages the carriers perception of the world. Can we really afford to go back to “normal” without fully recognizing and addressing this unseen enemy?

Are we prepared to accept and move forward without a solution for these twin pandemics? We must remember the call to action Martin Luther King, Jr. made in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We are tasked to find justice in the midst of this pandemic and how we allow our brothers and sisters in the human race to be treated. If we find our way to a cure for both pandemics then we will be a better species because of it.

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Monica Lindsey is a Teacher, mother and political activist in Anne Arundel County.

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