Mass protests in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic: are they foolish gatherings that will only result in spreading the disease?
In an editorial in today’s NY Daily News, the authors make the case that even though protests in response to the execution of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others, are important because “racism is a deadly virus, too”.
I agree with the sentiment: racism is deadly, and we cannot just sit back and ignore it. But it is the analogy to a virus that really bothers me.
Viruses spread without intent. They do not choose their hosts. They are opportunistic: if a virus lands on a cell that it can infect, it does so. If it doesn’t, it dies. It does not have the capacity to choose.
Racism, however, is not randomly spread. Instead, it is actively taught to each generation. Children listen to their parents, and largely follow the values that they are taught.
When my kids were young and in day care, one of the other kids there called another kid a derogatory racial name. The woman who ran the day care handled it calmly, explaining to the boy why he shouldn’t call people those names. I talked with her about it afterwards, and she said that her grandmother had a phrase she used when she heard kids say ignorant things: “Well, he didn’t just lick that up off the floor!”
In other words, it wasn’t an accident; it wasn’t randomly spread. Instead, someone spoon-fed that to the child.
The only way to combat racism is education. For years most white people thought that the reports of police misconduct and brutality towards blacks was probably just “a few bad apples”, but that most were fair and respectful. Since the advent of ubiquitous video recording, though, those same white people are getting educated about the reality that POC have known for far too long.
And I hope that children growing up today see these protests, with people of all colors coming together to demand that things improve, and take away from this at the very least the concept that Black Lives Matter. They will be better equipped to deal with a racist relative, and refuse to be spoon-fed that bigotry.