Virus, New and Old by Stephen Reno June 1, 2020

Jun 05, 2020
Rally for Justice in Peterborough, photo by Meghan Pierce

Just as a nation, battered by a global pandemic, prepares cautiously to reemerge from its sheltered and shuttered way of life, an older, even more deadly virus reemerges. The term “hot spots,” recently used to identify those places where outbreaks of Covid-19 were acute, now identifies those cities where protests and a painful reckoning are most acute. Fear has been replaced by outrage as our country witnesses yet another instance of brutality directed at a Black man. The name of George Floyd has been added to the tragically long list of victims racism has marked for injustice.

The virus of racism has been in our national bloodstream from the very beginning, ‘though the victims of the disease themselves have not been the carriers. Instead, the carriers have been others across our country — some with clear signs of infection such as white supremacy or outright bigotry, while other can bear the more subtle form of implicit bias.

While efforts have been made historically to fight the virus — the Civil Rights Movement and subsequent legislation — this insidious disease persists, resistant to the most stringent efforts. As with Corona, it is contagious, passed from one to another, quietly infecting until its impact is felt with life-shattering consequences.

And so, we who are white, shelter, each concerned that we not be blamed or harmed. In fact, however, we may be carriers ourselves of those more subtle forms of the virus: silence, inaction, or disregard.

Understandable? Yes, but not excusable.

As media attention is focused on the virus that has taken its toll on a single Black man, we all must face the tragic reality of its horrific impact in less headlines-grabbing ways on the daily lives of so many of our fellow Americans. Consider how brief a time it took for all of us to become knowledgeable about Covid-19 - what it is, how it is transmitted, how to deal with its deadly potential, and even how to possibly find a vaccine. What steps are needed now to address this even more pernicious evil? As before, so now, it begins with clear-eyed recognition of what is happening. Not denial, no conspiracy theories, no seeking to blame others, no dodging responsibility. Awareness, resolve, care for one another as much as for ourselves, and action are our only options.

The signs posted in public places across the US today that read “We are in this together” should be the rallying call for us even more urgently now. As we hope that through collective action we can overcome one virus, we must, at last, directly address this much older threat to our very society.


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