By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
We don’t want to think it, but it is very possible that one of the reasons for the push of the president to reopen the government before it is safe to do so is because he is not so concerned about who is actually dying from COVID-19.
In a troubling article in The Atlantic, author Adam Serwer describes how some of the furor over the pandemic began to wane when statistics showed that Black and Brown people were disproportionately dying. These two racial groups make up the vast majority of the so-called “essential” workers, a misleading term because it suggests that they are valued.
They are not. They are needed to keep capitalism going, but they are expendable. Part of the message of Serwer’s article is that the feeling of the administration – and of many state leaders as well – is that it does not really matter so much if these people get sick and maybe die. They are expendable. Necessary, but expendable. If they die, it doesn’t matter. The corporations will merely replace them, and life will go on.
Who are we talking about? Who are these essential workers? Black and Brown people, yes, but also women, many of whom are the “essential” people in the hospitals, people who provide childcare, and people who work in fast food restaurants. The “essential yet expendable” group includes those categories of workers, in addition doctors and nurses, security guards, firefighters, police officers, bus drivers, grocery store clerks, farm workers (those who pick the fruits and vegetables we crave), employees of meat packing plants, those who stand on their feet for hours in warehouses to get products out to us, including employees of Amazon. These are people, for the most part, who cannot stay at home because they live from paycheck to paycheck, or because, in the case of medical personnel, firefighters and law enforcement – they are committed to keeping people safe.
The Trump administration has yet to voice any compassion or concern for these “essential” workers. He has blamed states for not having enough equipment. He has made no mention of the risk health care workers are in as they work wearing plastic garbage bags to protect themselves. He has threatened to make “blue states” pay for what he has called “poor leadership and for having the audacity to challenge his immigration policies by providing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, according to The Vox. This week he arranged for military jets to fly over some hospitals in some cities, but that seemed to be an empty gesture, designed to remind people of his belief in the military might of this country. It is comforting to think of that, if one is so inclined, but military might is not what is needed right now. We need a plan to control this virus in this country.
On top of the angst that many are feeling because of this pandemic, having to go to work and thus expose their entire families to possible infection by the coronavirus, there is also the fear, the frustration, that yet again, it is Black and Brown people who are being most abjectly treated. We are expendable; so what if it is us who are dying. We are needed to make the rich more rich, and that’s it. Black and Brown people are in the untenable position of losing their jobs if they don’t show up, and the government is trying to work it so that if they contract the disease, they cannot sue the company for which they work, NBC News reported. The lives of the essential yet expendable just do not matter.
As if to drive home that point home, the nation this week had to face two more instances of the proof of how white supremacists flaunt their privilege in this society. Two young Black men, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Sean Reed in Indiana were shot and killed unjustly this week. Arbery was shot in February, and Reed just last week. Because of public outrage, police in Georgia finally arrested the two White men accused of Arbery’s murder, but that is small consolation. Many Whites who have been accused of killing Black people have faced grand juries, only to be let go without a trial, and others have had a trial and have been acquitted.
If the virus does not kill us, the unjust justice system will continue to do it. In the midst of the struggle to keep our heads above the grief that comes when one is rejected and cast aside, and is considered to be “nothing,” the only one we can call on is God. The courts will not save us. The employers will not save us. The government will not save us. We call on God because it is by holding onto God that we keep our sanity. We call on God and we call out to God as the grief and anger threaten to choke the last bits of life out of us. We refuse to let that happen, but we refuse at a price.
Right now, Black and Brown people, women and other “essential yet expendable” people are struggling to stay alive while the moneyed class ignores the need for all humans to be treated as humans. Even as over 60,000 people have died and over 3 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, this government ignores their plight and seeks only to make sure their profits return.
We wonder when and if God will intervene and do something to stop the wicked, i.e., those who use other human beings for their own gain. Maybe God won’t. And that’s a problem for many who are struggling to find their way in this time of pain and darkness.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.