Calling All White People, Part 43
(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)
By An Average White Guy
TODAY’S EPISODE: What COVID-19 teaches us is how little we learn
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]
As the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 continues to relentlessly march across the face of the Earth afflicting ever more people with the disease COVID-19, one of the biggest takeaway lessons for me is seeing how little people are willing to learn—from the past, from adversity or from both.
I mean, there’s the part about people still calling it the coronavirus as if it’s the only one out there, and the flu we deal with each and every year hasn’t always been a coronavirus itself that mutates on a regular basis and stays with us. I know “novel” as in “new” isn’t common parlance in the general population—for most people a novel being something to base a movie off of or a thing you read on the beach you shouldn’t be at because you’re supposed to be social distancing—but you’d think by this point people would catch a clue.
But no, too many people are still acting like this is something alien and strange, rather than a worse form of something we’ve seen before and were pretty much on schedule to see soon even if we hadn’t seen it this year.
However, the lesson that is most dismaying to me on a social level—the most disturbing lesson on the logistical and practical levels being how few people have ever washed their hands and still don’t—is how unable we are to make connections and learn from history even when people are on the web and on the news and many other places telling us about it.
As a member of Gen X, I spent my formative youth and young adult years under the specter of AIDS when it was a disease that meant a death sentence. I remember when research turned up that HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection may have begun as SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), people didn’t get want to grasp the simple concept that diseases in animals sometimes jump to people through the power of evolution. Instead, so many decided to create a simplistic narrative that we must have gotten AIDS because some African guy decided to have sex with a monkey that had SIV infection.
Let’s not blame the fact that nature does what nature does—instead let’s concoct a tale that blames “foreigners” for the disease.
It’s something we’re seeing right now. Do we listen to any experts or read a single link on our social media about zoonotic disease (animal to human transmission) and how it can happen through transmission via the air or bites from an animal or even a third party like a mosquito (biting an infected animal and then biting a human)? No. Much like blaming some anonymous fictional guy in Africa for fucking a monkey as to how we ended up with AIDS, we say it’s the “freaky” eating habits of Chinese people (ignoring things in the U.S. like “Rocky Mountain oysters” and pig ears) and their “unsanitary” conditions at public markets (ignoring how little the FDA inspects or regulates U.S. food properly and, again, the fact we don’t even wash our own damn hands).
And so Donald Trump and others can go around calling SARS-CoV-2 the “Chinese virus” or COVID-19 the “Chinese flu” or “WuHu flu” or “Kung flu” and much of America, even the so-called educated and aware segment, simultaneously nod (or even laugh) and then look at Asian people as the cause and the problem. And ignore when people point out that the “Spanish flu” that ravaged the United States not that long ago (historically speaking) almost certainly started in Kansas but blaming another country felt better.
So, we don’t make the connection that we’re racist enough in this country to weaponize naturally occurring viruses into xenophobic tools.
And then we don’t make the connection that as hospitals are overwhelmed and people are told they aren’t sick enough to be there (and die later untreated) or aren’t showing enough symptoms to deserve a test, do we think about how many Black people have talked about being denied care by even their own physicians when they are clearly in need of care because “they don’t need it?” Nope. Heaven forbid we should see that increasingly we as white people are considered disposable by the rich and powerful (the old are too used up to keep around and the young are told to risk their lives to keep the economy going). Increasingly, we’re getting the treatment Black, Indigenous and other non-white people have encountered by healthcare but we don’t take pause to think about how it must have affected them to deal with such things for generations and how it kept them from rising socioeconomically and otherwise. No, we see it as a singular attack on us and still find a way to blame them.
Of course, it helps when the president does things like order the removal of posters detailing how to reduce the contraction and spread of this new coronavirus (and other pathogens) from immigration offices. Because it’s better for America’s ego and its racist institutions to make sure the “foreigners” get sick so that more of them can die and we can blame them later for spreading the illness.
No, we don’t like to learn from history. Which is why we get to repeat it with the latest coronavirus that is something new and special and we can’t deal with yet. And instead of coming together to fight it, we instead revel in pointing the finger—as usual—and learning nothing from the history we can access so easily with modern technology.
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