The Covid-19 pandemic reveals a lot about us. It shows us the best and worst of ourselves.
According to New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” The pandemic is showing us the ugly predatory side of American society and American capitalism. Blow described America this way:
“People — mostly white, sometimes armed, occasionally carrying Confederate flags or hoisting placards emblazoned with a Nazi slogan from the Holocaust — have been loudly protesting to push their state governments to reopen business and spaces before enough progress has been made to contain the coronavirus. This is yet another illustration of the race and class divide this pandemic has illuminated in this country.
For some, a reopened economy and recreational landscape will mean the option to run a business, return to work, go to the park or beach, or have a night on the town at a nice restaurant or swanky bar. But for many on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, it will only force them back into compulsory exposure to more people, often in occupations that make it hard to protect oneself and that pay little for the risk.”
Blow sees America as the scene of class warfare .He pointed particularly to Georgia. The first businesses to be allowed to open were businesses like tattoo parlors, and barbershops, nail shops, and hair salons. Are these essential services? Clearly not. Why are they allowed to open? Is it because they are staffed mainly by low-wage earners? Is it because most of those low wage earners are black? Is it because these workers are considered expendable?
Blow opines this way:
“These are the struggling workers who entertain and aestheticize people of means. These businesses were by no means essential, and they put these workers in danger. There is absolutely no way to practice social distancing while inking someone a tattoo. (Also, what are you so desperate to stamp on your body that you would risk it all during a pandemic?)
These workers are “allowed” to be the first to try-out and hence, perhaps, the first to die by the opening out. It makes sense to think the establishment would prefer low-earning blacks take the first chances, giving more important white workers the ability to decline if it turns out unsafe.”
Yet, to be fair, these black people are serving “people of means” as Blow suggests. Are they not taking the same chance as the poor workers? In fact what person of means would be interested in taking an unnecessary risk to add to his armour of tattoos?
As well, as Blow admits, among those taking the biggest risks are medical care workers including Doctors and nurses and other highly paid professionals. How can this be a class war? Yet to make things even more complicated there are others in hospitals who are low-wage earners and they are taking big risks. Finally, as well it must also be admitted that many of these low paid workers want to go back to work. They need to work to pay their mortgages, rent, or groceries. You might say that they are being compelled to work, but what would the workers really say? I don’t know.
Charles Blow made some more important points in his recent New York Times article:
“It has been widely reported that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on black and brown people in America, both in terms of infections and death. But that is only one aspect of the disparities. In a country where race and ethnicity often intersect with wealth and class, there are a cascade of other impacts, particularly economic ones, to remain conscious of.
In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last month, 52 percent of low-income workers said they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of the pandemic. But, when you look at this through a racial lens, another striking reality emerges: 61 percent of Hispanic people agree with the statement, compared to 44 percent of African-Americans and just 38 percent of white people.
And, as Pew pointed out, “lower-income adults are less prepared to withstand a financial shock than those with higher incomes.”
Is it an exaggeration to characterize this as class war? If it is it is a a very complicated one. The fact is that whites, like me, often fail to see the privileges we enjoy at the expense of blacks, browns, or indigenous. That is what systemic racism is all about. Whites are blind to the benefits and detriments the system doles out. As whites we just think that is natural. We don’t see the water in which we swim. That is what racism is all about, and the first step those of us who consider we are not racists have to take, is to acknowledge the advantage exists and acknowledge the injustice of that advantage. There is no good reason that we enjoy that advantage.
Blow also referred to a recent McKinsey and Company report last month that found: “39% of jobs held by black workers, seven million jobs in all, are vulnerable as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, compared with 34% for white workers.” On what basis can we whites successfully argue that this is fair? I wish I had similar statistics for Canada for likely we are not immune to this. That report also showed that 40% of the revenues of black-owned businesses are in the five most vulnerable sectors — including leisure, hospitality and retail — compared with 25% of the revenues of all U.S. businesses.
Of course a systemically racist system like the one we live in, does not stop delivering advantages and disadvantages during the pandemic. Those will inevitably endure well beyond that time. As Blow opines:
“Even when the country starts to recover, the race and class disparities will most likely still be present and working against minorities in low-wage jobs. As the Center for American Progress wrote last month, ‘Evidence demonstrates that while workers of color are often the first to be fired during economic downturns, they are often the last to be rehired during recoveries.’
This pandemic is likely to not only expose inequalities, but also exacerbate them. America has never been comfortable discussing the inequalities that America created, let alone addressing them. America loves a feel-good, forget-the-past-let’s-start-from-here mantra.’
But, this virus is exploiting these man-made inequalities and making them impossible to ignore. It is demonstrating the incalculable callousness of wealth and privilege that would willingly thrust the less well off into the most danger for a few creature comforts.
This crisis is exposing the class savagery of American democracy and the economic carnage that it has always countenanced.”
Yet if this is class war it is a complicated one. What else is new? Things are always complicated.