The coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of more than 428,000 individuals and counting, has impacted the life of nearly every human on the planet. For me, someone privileged enough to be healthy, employed and white, it’s been nothing more than dealing with minor inconveniences. Wearing a mask to the store, social distancing from family and friends and missing out on sporting events I like to watch is quite trivial compared with the pain and loss that so many others have faced. Millions of people worldwide have lost their jobs, seen their businesses suffer major setbacks, and/or are grieving the loss of a loved one.
In mid-March and April I engulfed myself in the news about the spread and impact of the virus. I took in as much information as I could to learn more about “flattening the curve”, the “reproduction rate”, and governmental response (or lack thereof) to managing pandemics. As I learned more, I could not help but realize the outsized impact the virus was having on minorities, specifically black people in America. Despite accounting for just 13% of the population Black Americans represent 34% of the coronavirus cases and 21% of the deaths according to the CDC.
The coronavirus pandemic began to open my eyes to the life and death impact of systemic racism in America. Growing up with white privilege I’ve never had to worry about access to quality healthcare. I’ve never had to worry about getting a good education. I’ve never had trouble finding a well-paying job. I’ve never had trouble voting. I’ve certainly never been scared for my life when being pulled over by a police officer. These are all hurdles black people face that make them more susceptible to the negative health and socio-economic consequences of a global pandemic. Aside from dealing with pandemics – too many of our laws and institutions stack the odds of success way against any person of color in almost every way imaginable.
What I learned in the context of the coronavirus pandemic allowed me to begin to think differently. As George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer set off weeks of nationwide protests, the Black Lives Matter movement has helped solidify my belief that our systems are inherently unfair. It is more obvious to me now than ever before that what I was taught about America being The Land of the Free was true for me as a white male, but not for everyone. Seeing these atrocious acts of injustice and hearing the message from protesters has been a catalyst for me to come to terms with my own biases and blissful ignorance. While I’ll never be able to fully relate to it, I am starting to understand just how white dominant our culture is and how much injustice, inequality and hate is built into the system.
I am moved by the abundant wave of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It has filled me with an urgency to further explore and address my own biases and actively work to be anti-racist. Unfortunately, conversations with some of my own family and friends – who I consider to be good people and who I love very much – remind me of the ignorance, racism and resistance to change so many people still harbor inside them, even if they aren’t fully aware. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” To be silent, to keep a closed mind, or to cling to our history of whiteness is to blind yourself to the reality that everyone is not treated equal. To refuse to raise your voice for change is to put on a mask of ignorance.
P&G released a fantastic ad challenging all of us to respond to the calling with anti-racists actions. Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
There is a long way to go, and I myself am just joining this fight. However, I am not the only privileged white person who has experienced an awakening. As more people who look like me stand up to support people who don’t look the same as us, we can begin to eradicate the virus of systemic racism. When we say Black Lives Matter, we acknowledge that all lives matter. In doing so we can move forward into a world of equality and justice for all, the oppressed minorities finally included.