Just thinking about my experience of this virus these last three months and how it’s everywhere out there, and maybe it will let me pass by unharmed, or maybe it will f me up a little or a lot, or maybe it will f me up a little but cause lasting damage to my heart or lungs, or maybe it will kill me. And I have no idea which it will be and so I have to be constantly on guard and it’s exhausting and terrifying. And no matter what the virus visits on my body it has already terrorized me, stolen my economic stability, and impacted my mental health and that of my children.
Wait, did I say virus, toward me, for three months?
I meant whiteness, toward black folk, for three hundred years…
-Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, in response to the death of George Floyd
Navigating this pandemic is a version of what a lot of Black and Brown people feel navigating daily “normal” life amidst White people. This is the thought I have had while taking in the news about the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Or the white woman calling the police on a Black man when he asked her to leash her dog. Rev. Housh Gordon’s words perfectly articulate my own thoughts. There is an old saying that goes something like “when white folks catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia.” I have heard it used mostly in reference to economic troubles…but in midst of a global pandemic, it actually might be much more literal.
I am writing this shortly after it was announced that the officer that kneeled on George Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder, that ashes are still smoldering from buildings that burned last night in South Minneapolis. And I recall these words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
…it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro [sic] poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
I believe that Unitarian-Universalism unequivocally calls on us to do whatever we can to fight oppression in our midst and in ourselves. What can we do in this moment? One of the most concrete actions I have seen suggested is to commit themselves to NOT calling the police or at least to be super mindful of the consequences it may unleash. In fact, the Unitarian Universalist Association has a guide called “Alternatives to Calling the Police.”
While we are all doing our best to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, let us not forget the pandemic of white supremacy that has been plaguing us for over 500 years.
I encourage you to read these words of UU Minister Rev. Ashley Horan, who lives in the same neighborhood as where George Floyd was killed: https://www.facebook.com/ashley.a.p.horan/posts/10111959455232641
And if you are one of the many UU’s who is White, you can watch this UU lead virtual gathering that happened yesterday evening “In the Name of Love: white folks – deepen anti-racist commitment”