Covid isn’t the only global pandemic we need to fight right now
Opting out of anti-racism isn’t an option
Racism is a lot like a viral pandemic. It spreads everywhere and permeates everyone’s lives. In our own small actions, we personally may have had a hand in spreading it, even though we may not have known it or intended it. Nonetheless, everyone has a responsibility to fight against it.
With Covid, many people will come into direct contact with the virus and still never know it. Many will be infected but suffer no symptoms at all. Others have suffered and will suffer drastically. Others have, and will, die needlessly. This is why it is everyone’s responsibility to respond and act during a pandemic. It’s the same reason everyone is responsible for responding and reacting in the face of institutional racism.
By pure chance, I have been absurdly lucky. You could say I’ve had virus privilege. I don’t personally know anyone who has had coronavirus. I haven’t watched anyone gasping for air or dying on a ventilator. As someone unaffected by the virus itself, it would be easy for me to believe that it doesn’t really exist, or that its harmfulness has been much overstated. That’s why it’s so important to listen to statistics, and the recommendations of scientists and health professionals. That’s why as a White person, it is so important to listen to Black individuals and communities, their experiences and histories, and act based on that information.
It is not enough to just not actively contribute to a pandemic. Everyone needs to take ownership of the fact that how far it spreads, how many people it infects, harms and kills, is down to every one of us. Keeping well-informed and actively working towards prevention is key. When people are criticised for not responding to racism, they usually become defensive. I hear a lot of White people saying ‘I’m not racist! None of this has anything to do with me! Of course I don’t hate Black people, how dare you suggest that!’ If this is your own opinion, you may feel hurt and angry because you truly believe you do not hate others for the colour of their skin, and would never try to actively hurt or harm anyone because of their race. Maybe you have friends and family members who are Black, and who you truly love. This isn’t enough.
We have to treat racism as a viral pandemic. Can you imagine a similar conversation about Covid? ‘I’m not pro-virus! I never asked for this pandemic! Of course I don’t hate the elderly or immunocompromised. It’s not like I’m going around coughing in people’s faces or licking everything at the grocery store. I’m just living my life.’ Many people think this is fair and justifiable. Before you know it, everyone is ignoring guidelines to self-isolate and maintain their distance. Before you know it, the virus has spiked again. Indifference and apathy is as dangerous as outright malice — perhaps even more dangerous, as it is harder to recognise and condemn, and far more people take an active part in it.
I can’t take credit for these ideas. I’m not a scientist or a health professional, and I will never know how it is to be anything other than White. I got some insights from reading Black writers and thinkers online (I find Colorlines and Crunk Feminist Collective great to dip into). I heard the distinction between being passively non-racist and actively anti-racist from Ibram X. Kendi. I got my ideas about indifference being a greater threat than hatred from reading Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’.
I’m no authority on pandemics. But I hope, if you have read this and you happen to be in the same position as me, you will listen to the experts and try to do what you can.