Yesterday, I went out cycling for some exercise at a nearby park. Upon finishing and returning to the parking lot, I entered a conversation with a fellow biker unloading his bike. He came over to my car as I racked my bike to continue the conversation. He was an older white guy in his mid-sixties. The conversation quickly shifted from cycling talk to the impact of COVID-19. I listened to him for about 2 minutes and then I realized, in my free loving just talk with anyone ways, this person was rimming over with information he had been gathering from his news sources and the circles he travels in, and I had provided him an opportunity to pour out his opinions. I understand the propensity of older people to share their views to enlighten those who will follow them, so I let him finish expressing his thoughts. When he was done, he had given me his explanation of why the corona virus had been particularly hard on New York. In a nut shell, he stated it was due to the illegal immigrants living ten deep in apartments infecting one another. He made sure to make a distinction from undocumented immigrants to illegal immigrants. He also stated the illegal immigrants were most likely “dogs” from their homeland. I am not exaggerating this or embellishing his words in any way.
This wasn’t provocative to me because after living in America and seeing how the mythology of American history is taught and perpetuated, I understood perfectly how he could have these viewpoints. It is no different from labeling native Americans as savages to justify the profits from taking their land. It is no different from labeling African abductees as incapable monkeys, only two-thirds human to justify profits made through their enslavement. The labeling of humans that seek asylum in America is another way of justifying the profits made from government contracts in privately run prisons and holding facilities.
So, I calmly shared with this older citizen that these were not undocumented immigrants or illegal immigrants, these people were first and foremost humans, just like he and I. As humans, they deserved to have their humanity protected and preserved with the same rights and dignities as every other human. I told him that at a minimum, that is what the law of the land should provide to all humans. I explained to him that they were not just human, they were also individuals and deserved to be treated on the merits of their individual selves and we should care about their individual stories. Well, the tone of the conversation changed after that, and he went on to tell me he was exercising and on meds because he had an ailment that was causing his arteries to harden. I hoped our conversation had at least softened his heart.
I drove away pondering the level of continued blindness in what is now the twenty-first century. I don’t think he stopped for moment to consider that he was speaking to someone who has ancestors, which only a generation ago, had to sit in the back of buses and in the rear of trains and barely could vote in the south, due to them being unjustly stigmatized. I don’t think he is aware that this blight is still impacting the lives of many people of color through the criminal justice system in higher incarceration rates and longer sentencing, as well as the financial sector through higher interest loans and higher insurance premiums and lower property value assessments.
It will probably take months, if not years, to get the facts on who has been most impacted by COVID-19. A lack of thorough testing and no country wide standards enforced on documenting and reporting related deaths during the first weeks of the outbreak, will impact the accuracy of statistics. This pandemic reveals yet how far we are from the ideals of The Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”