It’s essential to begin today’s piece by acknowledging the privilege it is to think and write. Last week this time, typing up a day-ending Medium blog was not on my list of aspirations. Last week this time I didn’t even know how to post on Medium. I decided to do this to keep my mind from racing aimlessly around questions large and small, and to mentally free myself from the physical confines of isolating in place.
I’m fully aware that this is a luxury, and that things could be much, much worse for me and my family. We are extremely fortunate to not be losing sleep over job security and bill payments, or a loved one’s pending test results, or trying to figure out how and where to get someone tested, or suffering through our own escalating symptoms. Each news story, each new name and face of a life lost is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s also, sadly, not an unfamiliar feeling.
I remember the horror that hit me one morning in the shower when I thought about how much damage Flint’s water had caused so many families, and how their lives were forever changed through no fault of their own. I remember town hall after town hall, and rallies, and marches holding up the hashtagged name of another Black person senselessly lost after an encounter with law enforcement. I feel chills through my body each time I read the words “stray bullet” in the newspaper, wondering how we idly justify the non-strays.
I have taught courses on education for decades, and now teach about financial inequity. The two are, in many ways, one in the same. I have studied redlining and gentrification. I am versed on convict leasing and mass incarceration. I understand the ways in which slavery built the United States. I know that it is woefully inadequate to talk about slavery in purely economic terms, and doing so plays into the dehumanizing project that allowed this horror to persist. Rape. Murder. Dismemberment. Tearing apart families. Terrorism. These are all parts of the capitalistic math.
We could continue — indigenous genocide, internment camps, religious persecution, homophobia, sexual violence, child trafficking, gender discrimination, rampant poverty, homelessness. Why do women get paid less than men? Why should anyone who works full time hours not be able to afford to live? Why aren’t the health and education of every person prioritized in how we frame our society and governance?
Why do we imagine some people in our nation to be “American” and other people to be others (read: less)? These, and many more, are pre-COVID-19 questions. How much longer will we allow ourselves to ask them?
The world has stopped in tragic ways over these past few months — and for us, in the U.S., most significantly over the last couple of weeks. I have read quite a few pieces that call for all sorts of overhauls — healthcare, pay and wealth distribution, caring for the environment (which includes preempting future pandemics), and more. It’s not going to be enough for any of us to get back to “normal” on the other side of this.
Our normals have been inhumane, and we’ve been too busy to notice, or we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re too powerless to do anything about it.
Now, all of us who are able (i.e., those not on the many front lines that include healthcare staffs, grocery checkout clerks, warehouse and delivery teams, cleaning crews, and more) are leveraging our collective power by pausing our lives and staying at home. So while we’re all here, doing our parts, let’s imagine what our best version of the world looks like. Let’s share those thoughts with each other and get busy building something better. It’s absolutely possible.
Dr Peterson’s original blog was published on Medium.