Two weeks ago, I was planning to say essentially this as my Editor’s message:
It has now been three months since I sequestered myself in my home in Manhattan. Much of my time has been dreary, but familiar. I am used to working from home, but now it is all I have.
Taking it one day at a time has kept me sane, but even hearing someone suggest that this isolation will go on and on sends me into a spiral. We need to be gentle with each other, but sometimes that is hard. I often bite my tongue before saying something on the phone or typing a response to an email. Perhaps that is why I developed a sore on my tongue that took almost two weeks to clear up. I cannot bear anyone telling me what I should be doing, especially when it would be difficult for me to do it now. Not neighbors. Not sisters. Not friends. Not anyone else.
In many ways, as a woman who is over eighty, I am vulnerable. But I am a white woman who is so privileged: No one I know has died from corona. A few people I know got sick, but with mild cases. I have a house in a quiet neighborhood. I have food and enough income to buy more. When police drive by clots of white people in front of the restaurant on my block, people chatting close together and maskless, they say something, but do not even get out of their car. Notice: I, my, me. On lockdown.
And then the country exploded: A Black man was murdered by the police.
Then the marches, the signs, the cries for justice. And the violent police response. Once again.
This time, will the message that virulent racism, institutional, systemic, and personal, is everywhere – ongoing, omnipresent – lead to real change? Will employment, education, living conditions and locations, health care, and politics change significantly? Will African-American and Latinx people stop being judged as guilty without even trying? Will politicians work harder to pass laws, see that they are enforced, and raise the necessary revenues to make the difference real? Or will there be more rhetoric, more tokenism, more business as usual, with minor reforms?
Racism is a virus more deadly than Covid-19.
Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
We need to say Basta. Suffisant. Genug. Enough. Go out in the streets if you can, give money to groups on the ground, provide bail support, hold politicians at all levels accountable, call out friends and relatives who speak racism – don’t bite your tongue. Use any privilege you have to push back, push forward – and fight.
Let’s step up.