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The Unbearable Black Light of Being: COVID-19, Caste and History

You’ve seen the result; take an ultraviolet black light to a surface in a hotel room and all is revealed. Gross. COVID-19 is an ultraviolet black light for the USA. I’m classified as an African American senior citizen and the mask is problematic. I have a Black code, a key to survival. I have to put white people at ease, let them know I’m not a threat. Make no sudden movements, do not speak loudly and by all means, make sure your hands are out of your pockets. With the masks, you can’t see my smile and suddenly in the time of COVID-19, not only am I Black, I’m also seen as one of “those” people with a high transmission rate.

When I stepped off the building elevator in late March, my neighbor saw me and gasped. My cheery “good morning” did nothing to change the terrified look. With the mask and my hair pulled back, all my fellow building resident saw was a lanky Black figure coming toward her. The good thing about a mask: it captures your tears as your soul breaks.

While most people have to remember their mask, I have to think about what I look like when I walk out my door. Do I look like a threat? In 2019, Anjanette Young was handcuffed naked in her home by police who raided the wrong address. In 2019, police on a wellness check killed Atatiana Jefferson. This year, police killed Breonna Taylor; they were at the wrong address. I was stopped by police as I was getting my mail when I owned a home in the suburbs. The odds of a successful encounter with law enforcement are not in my favor; as my parents taught me, approach with caution. The mask leaves me handicapped. So what, I wear it.

In May, the world watched an American policeman with his knee on the throat of a Black man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, with cell phones filming, people screaming and a man pleading, “I can’t breathe”. In June, we masked up, headed out and demonstrated against racial injustice. It was maddening to hear some claims that the murder was a hoax.

Science tells the virus is airborne and data shows an ‘accelerated’ death rate. Yet, there are people who refuse to wear masks and protest. They believe COVID-19 is a hoax and the mandates are an infringement of their rights.

The construct of “us versus them” is literally killing us. There is this illogical push to make everything a sound bite or a catchphrase to the detriment of critical thinking. It is not all black and white, it is nuanced shades of grey.

A friend in frustration commented, “If people could just see the suffering in the hospitals, the rapidly rising death toll, the overwhelmed medical staff, and the deaths, people would take it seriously.” However, we’re a nation that has shown a remarkable ability to ignore logic and selfishly consider our own interests. This is the nation that considered my ancestors 3/5 of a human being, sold us like cattle, branded us like livestock, beat us and meted out all manner of cruelty with a loss of a moral compass that would see humanity in all people. “The first slave ship arrived in 1619, the Civil War ended in 1865. Slavery has gone on for centuries.

During his famous debates with Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln explained to the crowd: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

In the context of Lincoln’s statement, the USA is working as designed. I have the uncomfortable position of interacting with a percentage of people on a daily basis who view me as less than them. Stress. I am extra cautious with regard to COVID-19 because I will be immediately discounted as, “She’s in the high risk group.” Stress. Sadly, the masks and belief in the virus is politicized and that is just what we do. As a country we’ve never settled the Civil War. It was politicized between North and South. Much like the argument that we must get back to work because of the economy. Economy was a factor for the Civil War; we ha