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Racial Injustice Is Its Own Pandemic

By: Michelle Yoon


I wrote the bulk of this article when we were in the thick of protests back in June. As we are heading into August, most of the buzz has died down. However, with only four months of the year left and the US presidential election coming up very soon, I believe I have a responsibility to raise my voice and share my opinion. It is even more important to be conscious of the events that occurred these past few months now that the public conversation is sparse.


When the demand for racial justice erupted in May, I was confused about why there was this desperate need for people to be marching down the street screaming “I can’t breathe!” and “Black lives matter!” in 2020. Racial injustice should have been eliminated decades ago. Instead of risking our lives in crowded protests during a pandemic, we should have been home social distancing. There should have been no need to be doing “all this” in the first place. 

 

Sitting down to write these thoughts has been quite difficult for me. I was afraid my message would be misunderstood or have unintended consequences. I was scared of the proliferation and permanency of my words. However, these fears passed, and I have come to the conclusion that it is crucial for people of political and social privilege — like myself, as an Asian American, — to speak up and stand in solidarity with the Black community. I hope to help my Black friends and their families know what it feels like to have the same social and political privileges I am very grateful to possess. 

 

Thanks to a recommendation from a friend (also Asian American), I came across a podcast called “Seeing White” (available on Spotify). I listened to John Biewen’s soothing and mellow voice talking about how race was “anthropological nonsense” created by Americans of European descent and America’s first laws were built to institutionalize racism. He urged his audience to reflect on the implications and definitions of “Whiteness and Blackness” through the lens of history and politics.


Our society is built on a foundation of injustice; hence, it is fragile. Racism—systemic and institutionalized—is here to stay until we directly address the causes by taking action, including challenging our national security system, questioning the Constitution, and making ignorance unacceptable. I feel like for the first time since Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington D.C., citizens of the world are listening with their hearts. For the first time in a long time, I think we are finally realizing educating ourselves is no longer a silent nor futile act. 

 

Racial injustice is a pandemic that we have been battling for decades. Because it has settled so deeply into our society, it will be hard to uproot. However, if we do not work to correct the damage that has already been done, racial injustice will continue to exacerbate. In her book titled On Anxiety, Salecl (2004) says, “they (viruses) hide again and one never knows how they have multiplied or what mutations they have made after they came under attack” (p. 4).


Racism is a malicious strain that has hurt and killed people whenever it manifests itself. It comes back in strange and twisted ways when our society is most vulnerable. It is so easy to treat the Black Lives Matter Movement as a trend that saturates our feed for a short while, but with the constant resurgence of police brutality against Blacks and viral videos of maliciousness towards people of color, we must face the truth and continue to talk about this issue extensively.

 

Racial injustice is a virus that plagues the heart. How it encourages hatred between communities that distinguish themselves based on the concept of “race” is heartbreaking. The way it nurtures generalizations among individuals and smothers potential is tragic. The anger that it causes is frightening. The negativity bleeding into generations is a testament to the contagiousness of this virus. So far, it has proven to be part of a vicious cycle. 

 

In fact, racial injustice is one of the major driving forces behind the sky-rocketing cases of COVID-19 in the US. According to the APM Research Lab, 1 in 1,625 Black Americans have died in comparison to 1 in 3,800 Asian Americans and White Americans (APM Research Lab Staff 2020). Black mortality rates across America are around twice those of other ethnic groups.


According to a survey in April conducted by the Pew Research Center, 27 percent of Black American adults reported knowing someone affected by the virus in comparison to the 13 White American adults (Lopez et al. 2020). This statistic disproportionality speaks volumes about the working and living environment of a large majority of Black Americans, distancing them from access to healthcare and being informed about the virus. It screams of the systemic disadvantage that makes the Black community more at risk during this pandemic. Inequality is making this pandemic much worse than it should be.

 

Simply feeling for the Black community is only sympathy. But empathy is investing the time and effort to educate ourselves about this matter. It is reaching out to friends and family to have a conversation about flaws in the underpinnings of our society, even if it may lead to discomfort. It is consciously making choices that will uplift those in need. It is about gracefully dealing with opposition and hostility. Sympathy is passive; empathy is active. I believe it is important for us to distinguish between the two. 

 

I will never truly understand what it feels like to live in a society with systemic racism specifically as a Black person, but I am taking the time to learn how to help. I am learning how to form opinions and voice them in a way that is respectful and productive to discussion, and I hope you are too.

 


 

References:


APM Research Lab Staff. (2020, June 24). The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. APM Research Lab. Retrieved from

www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race

 

Bae, P. (Executive Producer). (2017–present). The big loop [Audio podcast]. QRX. Retrieved from

https://www.thebiglooppodcast.com/

 

Lopez, M., Rainie, L., and Budiman, A. (2020, May 5). Financial and Health Impacts of COVID-19 Vary Widely by Race and Ethnicity. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/05/05/financial-and-health-impacts-of-covid-19-vary-widely-by-race-and-ethnicity/

 

Salecl, R. (2004). On Anxiety. Thinking in Action. Routledge, London; New York.

 

 




Haru Sukegawa

a thing about Lisa