The past several weeks have been defined by acute uncertainty and omnipresent fear. We at the African American Policy Forum write with alarm, sympathy, and a persistent hope that refuses to wane in the face of dogged tragedy. We stand in solidarity with you in bracing for the unspeakable while we maintain an eye towards the possibilities that extend beyond this menacing moment.
While this virus knows no gender, race, age, or class, it is the structures that predate its arrival that channel the disproportionate distribution of misery and devastation to those made most vulnerable due to societal organization. Many can see already how structural and historical circumstances have impacted health care workers, low-income caregivers, homeless people, the unemployed, the incarcerated, the undocumented, and many other citizens whose lives have time and again been judged to be less valuable. These patterns will almost surely be an afterthought in the media’s breathless coverage and the government’s targeted intervention. We already see evidence of these hierarchies at work in the heart of this storm: the much-lauded coronavirus relief bills make no direct effort to assist most workers, opting instead to prioritize businesses.
In place of shining our attention on the many intersecting forces at play, the focus of mainstream narratives minimizes the particular vulnerabilities that some of us face in favor of an exclusive narrative of a common threat. Yet we’ve learned from past tragedies that universalizing crises does not yield fully inclusive remedies. Only confronting the uncommon dimensions of a common threat will open our consciousness and actions to the kind of intersectional solidarity that we’ve long needed. This is the time to build up our ability to see, think, and act in the face of cumulative vulnerability in a way that enhances our capacity to meet the current crisis.
Part of that building up involves an awareness that while the domestic implications of this pandemic are harrowing, its reach threatens not one country, but all of humanity. Broadening our sense of solidarity to every corner of the world is a stark reminder of the inadequacy of traditional American frameworks for solidarity. We need frameworks that are robust, multiaxial, and intersectional.
In the coming days, AAPF will provide information, resources, and opportunities to galvanize our collective experience into an energy that can propel us into another universe of possibility. Our podcast, Intersectionality Matters!, as well as our annual programming of Her Dream Deferred, will be repurposed into a series of conversations entitled “Under the Blacklight: The Intersectional Pathogens that COVID Lays Bare.” These conversations, featuring a range of essential voices, will be publicly available on Zoom in the coming weeks.
In this series and podcast, we intend to elevate the work being done to protect those on the political frontlines, like Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United; those who are working to historicize the political conditions that have facilitated ongoing devastation like the esteemed scholars Dorothy Roberts (UPenn) and Eddie Glaude Jr. (Princeton); those who remind us of the critical role that able-ism and ageism play in naturalizing vulnerabilities, like the fierce disability rights advocate Dara Baldwin and age equity advocate Ashton Applewhite; those visionary thinkers like Naomi Klein who have long warned about the life-destroying dimensions of disaster capitalism; those critical thinkers who push us towards intersectional understanding of the effects of COVID-19 in caregiving, art, and philanthropy, like Eve Ensler of VDay and Alvin Starks of the Open Society Foundations; and those essential voices in the media, like Laura Flanders, Janine Jackson, and Rosa Clemente, who help us decode how corporate media covers and distorts the realities unfolding before our very eyes. Most importantly, we want to talk about concrete ways of supporting the exploited, the vulnerable, and the heroic. Especially those working tirelessly at jobs deemed “essential” yet treated as disposable.
COVID-19 has broken any illusions of normalcy we clung to even as our institutions, expectations, and basic social norms crumbled around us. For many, the fault lines in our society, the vacuum of leadership, and the unsurprising pervasiveness of selfishness make the current disaster virtually inevitable. To cope with the tragedies of the virus, we must not only confront the intersectional failures that constitute the preexisting conditions of its possibility, but also redouble our commitment to intersectional justice. Join us. From our bunker to yours, AAPF