According to my daughter-in-law’s amazing daily reports on Facebook we are some 123 days into limbo/hibernation, and that is what it still feels like to me because I’m staying pretty much hunkered down. Most days it doesn’t bother me but last night I felt dreadful, full of dread. The president and his minions seem increasingly deranged and so many people have invested their identities in following him. I could say they have drunk the Koolaid if that weren’t so macabre. That is a bit extreme but not much.
The effect of this going on so long and getting so bad is that it has given everyone time to get entrenched in their own views. You find the evidence to support your view and even believe lies rather than change your mind. The same applies to me, in a way. At first when I predicted things were going to get bad I wanted to be proven wrong. Now that things have gotten bad and even worse than I thought I am finding a grim satisfaction, deep down inside, in being proven right. I told you so. Remember when the most pessimistic prediction of deaths was 100,000–200,000? Well, here we are at over 130,000 and climbing so fast that nobody is even putting a ceiling on the projections, not that I have seen, anyhow, but I am not paying quite so close attention as I was at first. Just stewing about the crazies out there, just mad about how we are competing with Brazil to be Worst in the World. Like I was last night so I couldn’t sleep.
Ironically, what jogged me off of total virus-obsession was the murder of George Floyd and the eruption of an anti-racism movement at a level never seen before. The effect, for me, has been a weird kind of hopefulness. Yes, the covers have been ripped off and revealed a great social ill, yes, it has in many ways exposed and exacerbated the divisions in our society, but who could have predicted that the Covid catastrophe would make racism and the dysfunction of policing seem like problems we could actually do something about?
I know, I am viewing this through the lens of someone who has read and talked a lot, who has watched all the movies before they were cool, who has marched once or twice and even moved closer to The Problem, so that I have known Black people to have been killed, by police and others, pretty much in my backyard, but I am white and undeniably privileged (even in comparison to many white people) and it was never really MY problem unless I made it so. The new thing for me is that I realize that it IS my problem and has been all along because of how we all got here and the situation we are all in and what happens next. The best articulation of this is by James Baldwin in the documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.” (Which I watched before it was cool.) Who would have thought that a gay, Black intellectual of the 1960s, long dead, could become the important voice for today?
Things have come to a head and something’s gotta give. Think about that “coming to a head” metaphor. Picture it. Teenage acne. The ones ready to pop, full of pus and scuz and ripe for a cleansing explosion. The feedback loop on the virus is so short that we can actually remember the warnings before July 4, observe people ignoring them, see the case numbers shoot up, and track the rising deaths—all within our national attention span for the news cycle, about a month. Likewise, the cases of police brutality are now so faithfully captured on video that they, too, cluster in a way that we can’t ignore–oh, we can if we really want to, but deniability gets harder and harder.
So what does happen next? We are in a great experiment, a Perfect Storm of truth and consequences that is unprecedented in my lifetime, and I did live through the Sixties as a semi-conscious young adult. I am going into this storm eyes wide open, with a lot of experience of the world stuffed into my being.
I know, for example, that we Americans are not alone in our racism and that we are not the most racist society on earth, by any means. We may be, in fact, the first society to face its racism head-on. And that is not because of white liberals like me (there are plenty like me in Europe and Japan and other places where racism also festers) but because of the Black voices, culture, suffering, protest, faith, persistence, and movements of the last 400 years that have brought us to this point. Black Lives Matter is only the latest articulation, but it is cumulative, it builds on everything, and people like me are groping our way, finally, to becoming true allies.
Black lives do matter, not just along with all other lives but maybe in a very special way, for our nation. In the middle of a badly botched pandemic response can we learn, thanks to Black lives past and present, to be great—not “again,” but in an absolutely unprecedented way? Can we lead the world in overcoming racism? Wouldn’t that be something.