RSS Feed

COVID-19, THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD AND RACISM

Racism is a grown-up disease and we should stop using our kids to spread it. – Ruby Bridges

We have two evils to fight, capitalism and racism. We must destroy both racism and capitalism. – Huey Newton

Frank A. Pelaschuk

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the world in almost all ways. Millions have become infected, and, as I write this, close to four hundred thousand have died. For Trump, this child in a man’s body, Covid-19 is reducible to a racist election blip, a “China” made disease that took American lives. 

It has made us aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and offered insight into the weaknesses and strengths of our varied health care systems. It has highlighted the virtues and hypocrisies of our politicians who, in daily briefings, express outrage and dismay accompanied by loud promises of swift corrective measures to fix the problems, many seemly insurmountable, while claiming to be as surprised as the public by the state of conditions of long-term care homes in which the elderly are shuttered away and who account for the largest number of dead, dying frightened and without family, neglected in filthy cockroach infested rooms, infected by bedsores exacerbated by the piss and shit they lay in as they wait for assist from harried, over-worked, undertrained and too, far too few, underpaid personal support workers. How can you trust the faux outrage expressed by the likes of Jason Kenney when he likens the pandemic to the flu and the deaths of seniors as a natural progression of the life cycle? You can’t. And how about Doug Ford, winning all kinds of accolades for his sombre, level-headed displays during his briefings. You hear it everywhere: Ford is doing a good job. Yes, he is: a snow job. It’s easy to be outraged when there are reasons, and there are: not just the death of seniors but the deplorable conditions endured by them. 

But Ford raising the finger and pointing to health officials, to their failings, gets to be a bit much when accompanied by a rage that never quite rings true. If he were totally honest, he would accept that a large share of the problems in Ontario’s healthcare is largely of his own making. It is also true that the problems are an accumulation of abuse and neglect by politicians who, for decades, have used education and healthcare as political footballs. The two most important institutions that should and must be supported, enhanced, and maintained have, with each successive regime, both been booted about as if unessential, incidental services. One gets the impression, especially regarding health, that all governments, particularly those of liberal and conservative stripes, are bound and determined to kill it by a million cuts in favour of privatization of health care hoping its slow death will inconvenience the public to the extent that it cries, Enough! and surrenders to the American style of care they neither want nor need. 

Almost from the very first, Ford and his government has gone after healthcare, health programs and health workers as if he and his crew held a personal vendetta. No apology for that. No admission over his role in the current state of affairs. Mournful expressions, faux rage ring hollow as do utterances of surprise when, for years, decades, there have been cries from frontline workers that they were being left behind, the system underfunded, over-burdened, under-staffed, and workers under-paid, and under-appreciated. It was this crisis that made governments take notice and that only when doctors spoke out publicly begging for protective equipment so that they and the healthcare community could be protected without risk to themselves and community. 

What followed should have surprised no one. Shock, cries of anger, loud voices raised in high dudgeon, disgust, promises, more promises, fingerpointing, promises. Cheap politicos doing what they do best: perform, outshouting others and promising money, money, money, in trying to save their asses and convince us they, and only they, can make the fix. 

So, who is responsible? Naturally, those cheap politicians, the Jason Kenneys, the Doug Fords, the Scott Moes and the rest of their ilk. But, bad as they are, the greatest portion of the blame must go to the voter who, with very few exceptions, is always eager to suspend his and her incredulity to buy from sleazy charlatans the cheap, shiny promises of tax cuts, more money in their pockets, less government, without ever, ever, questioning where the cuts will come from or what services will be lost. Well, we have a hint now, don’t we, the roosters, as they say, finally coming home. 

And, while it’s true Covid-19 has highlighted the very worst, it has allowed us to showcase the very, very best among us as well. We have suddenly discovered who the truly important folks are. They are not the founders of Apple or Amazon or Facebook. No, the truly important people are those who actually make this globe function as well and as smoothly as it does. They are the workers who are there when you really need them. That includes all frontline workers in health care systems, naturally, but also, the personal support workers, janitors, maintenance workers and cooking staff who keep the institutions operational. That includes municipal workers, grocery clerks, taxi drivers, pharmacists, personal support workers, police and fire men and women. The debt is immeasurable and the list is endless, but the point is, too many men and women work largely unseen, unrecognized, unappreciated and underpaid while living lives of quiet desperation trying to make ends meet keeping families and sanity functioning often working two or more jobs. We love, love, love them today. But, when it’s over, what then? Back to being forgotten, unappreciated, underpaid, still living lives of quiet desperation. 

With Covid-19, lives have been lost; routines in how we shop, communicate, socialize, work, play, and cope with social distancing have been disrupted. Some, doubtless, will have adjusted to and welcomed the opportunity for introspection while others, perhaps, have squandered the opportunity turning towards anger and resentment taking it out on their families and friends. Anxiety and self-doubt may lead some to succumb to fear, to doubt their own common sense and turn away from mainstream media and fact-based science to embrace something more comforting, that aligns with their own biases and superstitions, junk science and conspiracy hokum by those with agendas that thrive on fanning fear, misinformation, hate, and intolerance with a message that we are all victims of others: Big Governments, Jews, Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, and Papists, communists, etc. Name the thing you don’t understand and fear; it’s easier to play the victim, to blame others; you’re not responsible they are.

Of course, the pandemic is a fake event or, at any event, overblown. That’s the message we get from some. For Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president and denier of global warming and climate change, despoiler of the so-called “lungs of the world”, the Amazon Rainforest, the coronavirus is a minor blip that people should ignore as they carry on business as usual. His cavalier public appearances, unmasked and surrounded by supporters, is apparently an attempt (successful, if that’s possible) to outdo Donald Trump in the area of stupidity in leadership around the world. For Trump, very slow to respond to Covid-19 initially denying it was a real threat, no doubt concentrating on whether he should take insulin, the pandemic is a major irritant affecting the US economy easily solved with a couple of minor fixes: injections of hydroxychloroquine or Lysol. The first, an anti-malarial drug has not been tested for Covid-19 and is deemed unsafe, possibly deadly. In fact, immediately following his first public recommendation of the drug, a couple took up the challenge and died as a result. True believers of Trump, no doubt, and certainly Darwin Award winners. Trump’s recommendation of the disinfectant led to an outcry of ridicule followed by claims from Trump supporters that this was “fake” news disseminated by mainstream media which claim Trump himself inadvertently discredited by saying it was a question asked “sarcastically” to see how the media would respond. Yeah, right. Between Bolsonaro and Trump, narcissistic blowhards who imagine themselves geniuses and god’s invincible gifts to humankind, it’s difficult to imagine any other world leader more dangerous to their own or to the world. In the area of absurdity, neither need fear losing the race. But their words and deeds have consequences that will add to the burden of overstrained systems not only in health, but also in society generally threatening policing, justice, civil behaviour, our vision of democracy, governance and race relations.

Now Trump did not create racism. But he does add elements to it and there are far too many willing to take his lead. He thinks nothing of throwing out muck to see where it lands and what the reaction will be. In 2017, during the Unite the Right rally on Charlottesville, Virginia, when a white supremacist supporter drove a vehicle into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, injuring several and killing a woman, Trump’s response was not of condemnation of the racists and the killing but of soft-peddling what happened claiming the act an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”. In other words, the racist white supremacist movement was as much a victim as those injured and killed! With that, you knew where Trump stood and from whom he sought support.  

His image has not improved since Charlottesville. With the riots following the May 26 arrest and public and painful asphyxiation death of George Floyd, black, compliant and in distress, pleading, “I can’t breathe,” his last words, Trump tweeted an infamous phrase dating to the time of the race riots of the 60s by a notorious Miami lawman, Walter E. Headley, during the race wars of the 60s, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley also boasted, “we don’t mind being accused of police brutality”. That was in 1967. That’s the thug for you and certainly Trump’s kind of man. Fifty-three years. So, what’s changed? 

The riots that followed Floyd’s death are disturbing, often beginning peacefully in many instances but by nightfall transformed into full-fledged acts of violence, rocks and bottles thrown at police and canisters of tear gas and rubber bullets turned on the protesters. It cannot be stated with certainty but, as with past experiences during peace marchers that degraded into violence, the cause of the turn to violence can be guessed. Outsiders, provocateurs from the alt-right with their own vile agenda of racial and religious intolerance, or just plain lowlife opportunistic thieves, thugs and jerks eager to disrupt and destroy, setting fires to cars and businesses that they loot. For those with an agenda, usually that of whipping up anti-black, anti-left, sentiment to more deeply entrench the impression too many are all too willing to embrace: this is what blacks and the left do, exploit a death as excuse to riot, loot, destroy and kill. It doesn’t help when videos appear lending credence to the stereotype showing thugs, many of them black, destroying property and running from burning buildings loaded with stolen goods. But what does, we hope, are those images captured of protesters, black and white, coming to the aid of two cops attacked by thugs and forming a protective circle around them. Racists will remain unmoved by this, consider such images of co-operative action as blacks currying favour from a liberal society and whites having sold out. 

In some quarters, there is justifiable anger over the silence from the White House following Trump comments that summon up more memories of the race riots of the 60s, threatening to set vicious dogs on the protesters whom he labels as anarchists and thugs; some are, but the majority are just decent folks who have had enough of police brutality, of white supremacists crying victimhood, of Donald Trump appealing to the very worst in voters while dismissing the history and pain of blacks, First Nations peoples and every other marginalized member that makes up America. With Trump, there is no attempt to reach out, to understand, to even appreciate what is happening. When he did reach out to the Floyd family, he apparently thought it a good call calling the Floyds “a terrific family”. But how could he know that when victim George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, stated “It was so fast, he didn’t even give me the opportunity to speak”? 

This is a man with so little in the way of intelligence, insight, ability or desire for self-examination and reflection, he pours gasoline on flames rather than considering the pause button. The rioting following the death of George Floyd, likely exacerbated by the heat, by all the anxiety surrounding Covid-19, the loss of jobs, the forced social distancing, the deaths which seems to target the poorest, including blacks, is likely good news for Trump allowing him to feed the fires of hate and intolerance which seems to be the makeup of a large segment of the Republican base. They are all victims. Lest there be any doubts, he avowed he will declare the ANTIFA (anti-facists), a leaderless movement of anti-fascist activists, a terrorist organization. Evidently the extreme-right, made up of thugs, racists, gun loving, government hating morons have a lot to fear and need protection. With Trump at the helm, Neo-Nazis and fascists need not worry. Even when they practice racial and religious hatred with thuggery, evidently, they’re not all that bad.

The rise of racism is extremely troubling, not because it’s a new phenomenon, it’s not, but because folks like Donald Trump and his sycophantic followers have unleashed the dogs giving permission to others to play the role of victim, to lay the blame of one’s own failure at another’s door often accompanied by disclaimers: “But I’m not a racist”. Of course, they’re not. The fat slob who dragged a befuddled senior in his nineties from a Vancouver corner store while hurling racial slurs was not a racist when he threw him on to the sidewalk. Nor was that punk, Vancouver again, when he punched an unsuspecting woman, another elder, in the head. Nor were Stephen Harper, Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander, Andrew Scheer, and the rest of the Conservative gang when they promised to pass the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act in 2015 if re-elected. With that act, Harper and Conservative party targeted Muslims fomenting the flames of ignorance, fear, and intolerance. Harper and gang lost that election. Even so, that didn’t prevent Quebec’s François Legault, from pushing for and passing his own law in 2019 targeting Muslims, banning the wearing of religious symbols by public servants. I am confident he would say he is not a racist, as well. They just play to the victim sentiment who want to see the folks that screwed them punished. Naturally racism doesn’t enter into the picture. For the self-pitying victim, little persuasion is needed but affirmation of his suffering pleases. It’s nice to know one’s victimhood is acknowledged: You’re right, foreigners are taking your jobs, getting special treatment as your debts mount and your pain increases. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to scrub piss from filthy washrooms, don’t want to clean up granny wallowing in feces as she whines and dies, don’t want to work fifteen hours doing farm work, that’s for others; we’ve got your back and just can’t have those swarthy, brown-skinned, foreign-speaking, turban-wearing, barbaric, blood-drinking pagans taking your God-given rights to a job, a decent wage, and our white, righteous way of life! And let’s not talk about our pure, white women which you and I know they all want! 

And, of course, we have another set of losers, the so-called members of the in-cel movement, those self-pitying sad-sack whiners who likely spend their days playing video games and their nights looking at their faces in the mirror and whining about not getting laid. But that’s understandable, it’s not their fault, boo-hoo-hoo. The women today are too picky; they don’t like polite young men who love their mothers (dog, cat, take your pick); they don’t like their own kind, they prefer the exotic, you know, blacks, foreigners, not good-looking white boys like you with your pimply face, whiney lips and snot of self-pity dripping down your shirt. It probably doesn’t occur to these losers that women may, just may, want more than boring, nice, stupid, uninteresting, excuse-making, shy, meek, unambitious, video-playing, self-pitying nerdish victims.   

There is too much time wasted on hate and blame. It’s time we all look at each other, look past the colours of our skins, look towards understanding our roles in this life. Why must we be enemies when friendship can offer so much more including security? What makes you so different from me? Or me you? Of what are we afraid when we look at each other? Why can’t I talk to you or you me without that tightness in the throat telling me I am afraid? And why do you fear me? What holds us back? What can we learn? 

Why should it be so difficult for one of us to say, “Tell me your story and, if you wish, I’ll tell you mine.” 

Who knows, we may have more in common than we believe. But, tell me how others have screwed you all your life? Not interested.

Update: Hours after posting this, Trump appeared on the White House lawn to finally address the interaction between protesters and police. He did not play the role of conciliator seeking a solution or co-operation. Instead, he labelled the protesters as largely ANTIFA, thugs, criminals in the brief statement in which he declared himself the “law and order” president, and that every state would call in the National Guards to impose curfews. Those states refusing to do so would be secured by the military. While this was happening, protesters nearby were forcefully cleared by guardsmen so that Trump could triumphantly walk from the White House to a nearby church where he could engage in a photo-op holding a bible. Not too subtle nor surprising but extraordinary nonetheless. If the black community and supporters hoped for something better, they must surely have been disappointed.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

***

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. —  Benjamin Franklin

About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction, Serpent in the Garden and Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, both available from Amazon as soft cover or e-book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: