A year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, after too many protests, hate crimes and unchanged policies, how do we make sense of the year 2020?
Beyond the brute interruption to our society, COVID-19 was a wake-up call to most Americans. It introduced the privileged to a pandemic of systemic racism that has plagued this country since its inception. Centuries later, a cure is not even in the plans.
What makes COVID-19 a more pressing issue than this long-standing racial pandemic? Both have disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Both have tortured, killed, and haunted our communities into isolation. Both are detrimental to the too-predictable futures of our children. But only one of them is considered a world crisis.
The summer of 2020, defined by protests against police brutality (that were met with even more police brutality), seemed to be a turning point. I was hopeful that the attention would inspire solutions to racial profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline, free coerced prison labor, segregation, environmental racism, housing discrimination, or at least one of the many ways racism manifests in American society. But I guess I was wrong to be hopeful. Where are all the crowd-funding posts and GoFundMes? The bodies and bikes that protected Black protestors? The petitions, book recommendations, and sharing of radical ideas?
Social media has assimilated back to selfies and beach pics, and it feels like most of America has moved on too. Those still organizing food and fund redistribution programs likely didn’t need another pandemic and a heated summer to learn about systemic racism. So, what then, will it take for the privileged and powerful to recognize systemic racism as an urgent crisis of public health that affects us all? Apparently, a deathly Coronavirus pandemic wasn’t enough.
Richa Parikh is a Courageous Conversation Global Foundation Intern and part of the Schuler Scholars Program. She is a first-year student at Claremont McKenna College majoring in philosophy and public affairs.