Thank you so much to those of you who “attended” Wednesday’s panel. We witnessed a stupendous set of panelists mine the intersectional implications of COVID-19’s sweep of a nation defined by histories of racism, imperialism, and settler colonialism. You can watch the full show on YouTube (link). In the coming days, we’ll have it posted as a podcast, as well. We’re already toiling away preparing for the fourth installment of “Under The Blacklight,” which will take place this Wednesday (4/15), featuring Barbara Arnwine, Kehinde Andrews, Paul Butler, Jonathan Metzl, and Bree Newsome. You won’t want to miss it. Register here.
Before turning fully to episode four, we do think it’s worth sitting with what we discussed on our most recent episode.
In the opening portion, Rinku Sen, Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes, and Dallas Goldtooth painted a vivid -- and horrifying -- picture of what’s happening on the ground in some of America’s most affected areas. This scene-setting foregrounded the different geographies, races, and classes that compose the at-risk underclass of American society. By capturing their plight, the first set of panelists grounded the subsequent analysis in an unfortunate reality.
Sen, co-president of Women’s March, told us of what she’s been seeing in the epicenter of the virus’ trauma: Queens, NY. Unsurprisingly, Queens’ desecration serves as a prime example of the racial disparities playing out nationally. This reality is exacerbated by the fact that the workers placed on the frontlines -- in health care, sanitation, and transit -- are disproportionately of color. She noted that this is no accident, and scans with New York’s history of formal and informal segregation.
DeVan Ecclesiastes, a community organizer in New Orleans, further developed Sen’s broader points by speaking to Blackness as an underlying condition of COVID-19’s rampage through her hometown. For years, DeVan Ecclesiastes has been ringing the alarm in New Orleans -- a city where the discrepancy between the life expectancy of white and Black people is 25 years. Whether in the current crisis or in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, these gaps are often the product of ever-metastasizing racism, not mere luck. In her words, “[Black people] didn’t choose to move to the places where environmental racism exists. Environmental racism exists because we live here.”
In that same vein, Dallas Goldtooth presented the terrifying reality of the pandemic in “Indian Country.” Indian Health Services, for instance, has just 1,500 ICU beds and 50 ventilators for nearly 2 million Native people. And this is hardly the full picture. In Navajo Nation, there are just two hospitals for 90,000 citizens -- many of whom are two hours from medical assistance. Like DeVan Ecclesiastes, Goldtooth located this invidious reality in histories of settler colonialism and capitalism.
Turning from these on-the-ground snapshots of the virus’ impact, Danny HoSang of Yale University broadened the lens to take up the bigoted response to the virus’ spread not just from President Trump and his cronies, but from the broader public as well. Indeed, across the country, in areas rural and urban, Chinese restaurants were deserted, white parents pulled their children from schools with large numbers of Asian-American students, and Asian-Americans were victimized by emboldened hate. Tellingly, the New York Times referred to COVID as the “Wuhan Virus” until early February. This traces America’s history of scientific and medical racism that often attributes diseases to certain cultures and groups of people. HoSang emphasized that the destructiveness of racism hinders our collective ability to respond to social crises.
One reaction to this manufactured racial splintering, as presented by Andrew Yang in a recent Washington Post op-ed, are arguments for Asian assimilation, modeling Japanese internees who sought to prove their “Americaness” by enlisting in World War II. Mari Matsuda, the acclaimed critical race theorist, spoke from her perspective as the daughter of an internee and World War II veteran. Matsuda flatly reminded listeners of histories that underscore the empty promises of assimilationism. She framed Yang’s advocacy not only as a retreat from confronting America’s white supremacist history, but conceding to, rather than contesting, the perpetual label of foreignness that generations of Asian Americans have faced. Matsuda connected Yang’s concessionism to the long history of constructed ignorance that defines American institutions and systems of education.
Rosa Clemente, connecting this manufacturing of ignorance to the American history of colonialism, underscored the conditions of possibility of COVID-19’s attack on the most vulnerable in Puerto Rico. Much like post-Katrina New Orleans, Puerto Rico is still in the process of addressing the inequities and tragedy produced by Hurricane Maria. Yet the response to tragedy of the masses -- one defined by a hybrid of police-state dogmatism and laissez-faire negligence -- is stunningly punitive. Functionally targeting the poor, Puerto Rico has put in place fines ranging from $500 to $5000. The median income in Puerto Rico is just $21,000/year. Economic nightmare is nigh, and economic violence is already underway.
The rest of the episode -- one we believe is not just interesting, but essential -- can be found in the attached video. We hope, in these bleak times, that it serves as a source of inspiration, illumination, and collaboration. We’ll “see” you again soon.
Over the course of the conversation, several panelists and attendees shared valuable resources for these uncertain times. You can find the full series’ compilation of resources here, and this week’s below.
Resources from Asali DeVan Ecclesiasteas
A collaborative resource fund from several leading community organizations in New Orleans for relief effort to support the region’s greatest natural resource— the artists, performers, writers, and culture bearers that make New Orleans one of the most creative places in the world.
Resources from Dallas Goldtooth