AAPF Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw called on contributing panelists to engage in a reckoning with a potentially disastrous “Sisyphean” moment -- in which the politics of pandemics, white power, and racial critiques compete for attention in news cycles dominated by spikes in COVID outbreaks, white supremacist politics from the White House to the State House, and reformist-minded debates crowded out consideration of the epidemiology of race and health disparity.
In mid-June, state governors across the country began relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, opening up bars, restaurants, businesses and hotels in a ill-fated attempt to boost the economy—and, some said, to test the waters to see if COVID spread could be halted through judicious safe distancing practices, mask-wearing, and downsized public gatherings. Protests still raged in many cities more than four weeks after the death of George Floyd under a Minnesotan policeman’s knee--his death march did not pass quietly. Indeed, the numerous protests seemed to spur reform measures and continued calls for “Defund the Police, Re-fund Community Services” seemed to be granted a public hearing.
COVID infections began soaring again, earning the United States the top spot in the grim count of lives lost across the globe. Instead of a great racial reckoning -- a long overdue coming-to-grips with the fact that the US is built directly on ideologies of white supremacy – leaders, politicians, and policy makers began behaving precisely as they did before the precarity of Black life was exposed to international attention. And though two axial moments—pandemic and police violence – provided ample opportunity for deep reflection and simple reforms, the nation’s gaze slipped away from racial justice.
For Episode 12 of Under The Blacklight, AAPF convened a panel to assess how to resurrect conversations begun at the start of the COVID crisis: “How does the health pandemic reflect structural problems—pre-existing racism—that disproportionately affect Blacks, people of color, the poor and socially marginalized groups?” After weeks challenging colorblind coverage of mounting deaths in places like New York, New Orleans, and Milwaukee, the nation’s attention returned to “power-blind” assessments of “what’s going on?” Each panelist presented voices and visions of their take on the movement, the racism and intersectional concerns that have been occluded, and to explore facts and statistics that speak to dimensions beyond the grasp of the news cycle.
In her opening statement, Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones identified inadequate COVID-19 testing practices and the normalized marginalization of communities of color as causes for the largely silenced and disproportionate impact the virus has on the Black community.
Next up, Jonathan Meztl discussed how the desperate protection of whiteness and white supremacy through Trump’s condemnation of the Affordable Care Act and racializing mask usage impacts the landscape through which healthcare reform takes place.
From there, Barbara Arnwine moved toward attributing the sparse attention to white violence against police officers to a lack of structural analysis or acknowledgment of genocidal rhetoric on a mainstream level. She provided historical context to understand white American violence, and explained how ignoring this history further encourages scapegoating of communities of color for societal problems.
Finally, before moving to a truly vivifying roundtable, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor unpacked the police departments’ long-standing role as the keeper of order with abundant resources. She named the convergence of increased camera use and access, visibility of disparities between resources available to healthcare workers versus the police, and the increase in recognition of protests nationally, as factors that have led to the questioning of power entrusted to the police.
Until next time…