Welcome to Issue 9.1 of Digestable, your daily mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
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Today’s news, fermented:
Right after the 2016 election, everyone was in the street, all the time. Thousands of people flocked to airports, dropped errands and cancelled plans when a march or a rally was spontaneously scheduled in response to a new horrifying development.
Did it change the outcomes of whatever new news we were responding to? There’s nearly no way to know, but presumably, because we kept doing it, those massive gatherings on the steps of courthouses after dark and on bridges at sunrise fed us in some way. Gave us a way to process some of that rage.
It also felt, at that time, like protesting was finally cool—everyone who hadn’t needed to get angry before, people who were protected from the front lines of injustice and indignity and chosen to look away, realized that they too should be angry.
Whoever you are, you should be angry now. Now that we cannot gather in the streets, now that we cannot lock arms with strangers.
We all know someone, or someone’s someone, even if it’s just from the news, who has been affected by this virus. This virus is new, we have no idea what its future will hold, we have no idea how bad it will get.
And we all know someone, even if only from headlines, who has been murdered for existing while Black. This is not new, and the constellation of reasons why this country has largely chosen to excuse modern-day lynching is nearly the same set of reasons why this virus takes Black lives first.
When we grieve, we often console ourselves that ‘someone is in a better place now’ or ‘they didn’t die in vain.’ Or worse, when people die in numbers, we mourn the number, and not all the people who make up that number. When we cannot reason through our grief, we get angry, because injustice has occurred.
Black families, mourning the loss of family members, sometimes many at a time, cannot reason through their grief, especially when their loved ones received lesser care for this virus that can, but doesn’t have to be, deadly. It doesn’t help that Black Americans experience serious disparities in access to quality health care, and are more likely to have preexisting conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. (Both of which result, often, from lack of access to fresh/healthy/affordable food and targeted advertising by the fast food industry.)
This grief cannot be reasoned through because there is a clear cause and effect here; systemic racism and the poverty and lack of access that come along with it are at the root. There is no question.
There is one (1) task force in Michigan that is taking on the project of addressing race-based health disparities amid this virus. At this juncture, it’s unclear if they’ll be able to address decades (centuries) of worsening conditions for Black communities (and we’re going to need to see real results for Michigan’s centrist governor to get points in my book).
And Black people who are doing the best any of us can to slow the spread of this virus are being targeted by police for wearing masks and disproportionately arrested and harassed by law enforcement for violating social distancing or stay-at-home orders.
It is one thing to recognize that systemic problems, especially ones as old and persistent as this country’s commitment to making life difficult or impossible for Black people, are hard to address. But it’s another entirely to continue infusing this country’s response to the virus with the injustice that is already so prevalent.
Choices were made. Interestingly, Ahmaud Arbery’s hometown, Brunswick, was once lauded as a ‘model Southern city,’ in which desegregation was taken on with intention, consultation of Black leaders, and support from the authorities. It was a violence-free transition to what could have been a new day in American history—one in which Black people, who have survived the most obscene and cruel treatment throughout this country’s history, could run, could exist, could move through life without harassment from police or a lifetime of obstacles assembled by old impenetrable systems.
But what happens in America is this: when Black liberation, and respect for Black people’s agency, starts to become an expected standard, systems (managed and profited off of by white people) adjust. First, it was Reconstruction and Jim Crow, then it was the Civil Rights movement and mass incarceration.
Shocked by this? Read The New Jim Crow, now is as good a time as ever. I read it while the NYC Department of Education was paying me to be a substitute teacher; you too can read it in exchange for that hefty government check you probably got. Poetic justice can be the precursor to the urgent real justice we all must demand.
Also, it is with sadness I send you an issue without an animal. I couldn’t find any today—if you’ve got some, send em along.
Back tomorrow from the superb Latifah Azlan.