“It’s going to disappear. One day, like a miracle, it will disappear.”
That didn’t happen. Since the coronavirus pandemic began more than 400,000 people have died worldwide, with more than 25% of those deaths occurring in the United States alone. Wishful thinking and hand washing are not enough to combat a novel coronavirus. That much should be clear. That’s not to say that remaining optimistic doesn’t have health benefits as to the level of stress you put your own body through, nor that practicing good hygiene and wearing a mask in public places doesn’t protect others as much or more than it does you. There are plenty of good reasons to be optimistic and follow CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19, but it would be naive and irresponsible to act like it will vanish “like a miracle.”
There’s another health crisis that has plagued the world for far longer than this current pandemic. It has been in North America since the continent first got that name. Who gave it that name? Europeans. Who purposefully gave the indigenous people living here smallpox when they had no natural immunity to it? Europeans. Who went to the African continent and forcibly removed human beings, sending them to the Caribbean and the Americas to be used as slave labor? I think you know the answer. Have you ever heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act? That law was on the books in the United States from 1882-1943, and even then Chinese nationals were only allowed to emigrate to the U.S. in very small numbers for another decade. Who wrote that law? You already know.
Long before there was “a more perfect Union” there was racism in what came to be called the United States of America. Long after this country shed the shackles of its European oppressors, Europeans who were now “Americans” still found it in their interest to oppress anyone of color. Sadly this is not unique to the United States, nor to the last seven centuries. Even Aristotle managed to justify slavery simply on the basis of whether or not you were born Grecian. Racism is as pervasive as recorded history. It is in fact older than recorded history. It is a most insidious disease because it infects people at their most primal level — the “us vs. them” mentality that instinctively kicks in when you’re afraid. That might have been useful for survival when humanity was limited to tribes of nomadic scavengers who had competing interests and limited resources, but that should hardly be considered a justification for man’s inhumanity to man then or now.
The disease of racism is doubly dangerous because it is both inherited and transmitted. The lingering primal instinct is buried deep into our brains like a “fight or flight” response, but it doesn’t have to be activated nor does it have to be treated as the correct response if it is. The danger of growing up in the world is that it can be taught. Parents can teach their children that fear. Don’t go to that party. Don’t hang out with those friends. Don’t spend time in the “wrong neighborhood.” Those children grow up to become adults who teach those values to their children, and the cycle repeats itself. That’s why racism won’t disappear “like a miracle.” The only way to fight racism is to acknowledge that it exists, it’s real, and it’s not going away. To say things like “I don’t see color” doesn’t suddenly immunize you from racism — it in fact proves you’ve already been infected. To deny someone’s experience with systemic oppression or police brutality is to deny that person’s whole existence. Say “I don’t see color” to a black man, woman, child or other and you are effectively saying “I don’t see YOU.”
The only inoculation to the disease of racism is to listen to those who have suffered, acknowledge any privilege you have whether or not you’re told by someone you have it, and be willing to speak truth to power at all times. Fear of losing your job because of any of these things is a symptom of the disease. Fear of being ostracized by your peers in social groups or on social media is also a symptom. I’ve been silent more than I should be. I’ve been told that people “don’t want to hear about that” when they come here just to read about hip-hop music. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but hip-hop music and culture would not exist were it not for the systemic oppression of black lives in America. It’s a culture of freedom of expression born from the denial of that very freedom.
I acknowledge my privilege because no one has ever taken that freedom from me. I will use this platform to own that and to call out the privilege of anyone who is unwilling to do the same thing. America needs to be better, and not because Melania Trump said so, but because the whole world needs to fight this disease together. It won’t disappear like a miracle. It may not disappear at any point in time ever. That doesn’t mean it’s not a fight worth having now and far beyond when the protests cease. Maybe Trump is hoping they will go away “like a miracle” too.