A lot has happened in the news lately. We’ve all seen the headlines, heard clips on the radio while driving. We’ve whispered about it in our homes or taken to the street with fierce voices. I watched a video of a man murdered while begging for his life; by a cop, hands in his pockets.
A lot of what’s happening in America isn’t directly in the same vein I usually mine for what I write on here. I’ve thought a lot about what I should say and have been cautious about saying something wrong. However, I believe we live at a point of tremendous importance in history, now, and I feel compelled to share my own views.
According to John Hopkins, deaths from COVID-19 are a mere 5.4% of those infected in the US. As more data comes and current figures are debunked, this number will change. Very little (if anything) is fixed in science. We do know however, that many of those dying are older and have pre-existing conditions.
I, personally have the tendency to devalue the amount of suffering caused by COVID-19. In general, I feel, Americans have it pretty good as far as disease goes. We Americans eradicated malaria long ago by spraying poisons every which way and draining all the natural wetlands we possibly could.
We have so much access to antibiotics that idiots have the luxury of forgetting how important they are to our health and throw around inane conspiracy theories. Our health care system is far from perfect but I also remember sitting at funerals for young people in Madagascar. Many of those who died had no known cause of death, they simply got sick and eventually stopped breathing. If you can’t pay a medical bill there, you can be imprisoned in the hospital, held ransom until your family pulls together the cash.
Considering the injustice in the world makes me remember our own situation in the US. The thing with COVID-19 deaths, is it reflects a geography of predation. The United States preys on foreign countries all of the time. We think of the fiascos like our attempts to oust Fidel Castro, Vietnam and the Iraq War but we interfere with the politics of other nations for our sole benefit all the time. We’ve spent money supporting massacres in El Salvador and politics in Ecuador. Cuba was once virtually ruled by the US sugar industry. None of this is new; powerful nations have always fought selfishly for their own interest. What the US continues to do now is just a new form of imperialism. Quieter perhaps but no less dirty.
Unfortunately imperialism doesn’t stop at the borders of the 50 states. The internal history of America is of course, one of exploitation, thievery and forced labor. Many of the main perpetrators are deified on our money. George Washington owned slaves, and attempted to hunt one down, even when the law of Philadelphia made her free. Andrew Jackson made war with peaceful Native Americans and stole their land for US farming, creating the Trail of Tears as a consequence. This is our history and it projects from those distant points in the past far into the future, unbroken and for many unquestioned.
This legacy has direct implications with COVID-19. Everything is connected in a web of geography, biology and oppression.
71% of African Americans in the United States of America live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards. Latinos and African Americans are both on average exposed to more air pollution than they create. Whites are exposed to less. When it comes to diseases like COVID-19, this exposure over the years and decades of a lifetime have real consequences.
A disproportionate amount of deaths from COVID-19 fall on people of color. Pollution is partly why. The systematic poverty is another big cause of the problem. It’s harder to go to a doctor when you’re poor. When you live in a poor area, it’s less likely the hospital you visit will be adequately supplied. In this great America, there is plenty of evidence proving that on average, the lives of minorities are undervalued when they are seen by medical professionals.
How could this happen in the USA? The land of the free? The country of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln? The fact is, there isn’t one America. Everything looks fine when as I walk around as a white middle class man, watching people bicycle past wearing masks, people walking dogs in the park. This isn’t the America many live in. For all intents and purposes, there are exploited colonies of people within our borders, people legally allowed to vote but suppressed none-the-less.
Native American reservations are the most obvious examples of these ‘colonies’. There’s lip service paid to Native American sovereignty but by any true measure they fall short. Voter lines have been drawn in places like Utah to dilute native votes as much as possible. Rules in North Dakota forcing voters to supply a physical address suppress the native vote (many reservations don’t have physical addresses). Overall the vote has been suppressed in Native American communities and representation has fallen short of being met.
Masks sold to Navajo hospitals by a former White House official didn’t even meet FDA standards. Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes that set up road checkpoints on their reservation to control traffic during the pandemic were told to remove them by South Dakota’s governor. These are just examples of how self governance in Native American communities is often overridden by the desire from the United States as a whole to exploit them.
The same is true of African American communities. Centuries of redlining, unfair housing practices and openly violent hostility by white supremecists have left many black people segregated in their own neighborhoods. The poverty and violence in some of these communities only serves to reinforce the prejudice that props up the systematic oppression creating these very conditions. Creating these communities by tactics such as ‘block busting’ profited those in the real estate industry. Keeping them segregated from other communities was seen as protecting other investments. In essence, many predominantly black and brown neighborhoods were created for exploitation by the richer white class.
Black men and boys are still more likely to be the victim of murder than any other demographic in America, not only by the ‘typical’ criminal but also by thuggish police officers. What in America happens to some, happens to most in other parts of the world. By our systematic injustices we’ve created and continue to maintain what are essentially under-developed, exploited colonies. Ghettos and reservations remain because they make others rich. Black men are murdered with impunity because it maintains the social order and keeps the rich, rich and in power.
This is why people are angry and taking to the street. They’re tired of paying US taxes while living in an oppressive police state with a depressed economy.
If the US is the land of the free, many of us aren’t living there. As a white man with a host of privileges extended to me, I feel it’s incredibly important to listen to the oppressed wherever they are to be found.