- On Covid-19, U.S. Uprisings, and Black LivesA Mandate to Regenerate All Our Relations
One of the reckonings we have had to grapple these past few months is that COVID-19 has shaken our structures in profound ways and for much longer than any of us could have predicted. As the waves of change continue to ebb and flow, the disintegration of entire communities, cities, allegiances to systems unfolds every hour.1 In the United States, we are at the start of a long-term process that is reconfiguring how we understand ourselves, our bonds, and the fragile membrane that holds our lives together. This virus is making us reevaluate our lives, our values, our ways of being, the ways in which we have (not) been present to one another, and how we must take a deep look at all our relationships with each other, with societal institutions, and with the Earth.
What COVID-19 is collapsing into our bodies—as it is proliferates and suffuses communities—is a deep understanding that our lives are inextricable from social, political, and economic forces. The profound inequality that is inflicted by white supremacy, neocolonialism, capitalist extractivism and exploitation, cishet patriarchy is exacerbated today within the nexus of this pandemic zones of terror where Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC), trans, queer, elderly, and disabled folks continue to be the most vulnerable and suffer from insecurities of all tenors. Instead of functioning as an "opportunity" to reevaluate and mend the brokenness these injustices have caused, the virus has unmasked how countries are failing to protect their citizens while further militarizing and closing borders, allowing "entrepreneurs to capitalize on global suffering," exploit [End Page 117] the vulnerable, continue to kill, and "find ways to reproduce and strengthen their powers within a pandemic zone," as Judith Butler put it.2 The discourse and actions embraced by U.S. president Donald Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, for example, demonstrate Butler's point with surgical precision—their acts instantiate what she names as "unethical and criminal self-aggrandizement."3
This should come as no surprise. Julia Rocha, a Brazilian medical doctor, has observed that instead of providing access to clean water, soap, the ability to stay home or to isolate in a room if one is sick, and to receive sound information about the pandemic (which is an immeasurable luxury for most people living in Brazil's favelas), Bolsonaro has authorized the suspension of salaries for up to four months to protect corporations and Brazil's collapsing economy.4 The far-right president has also downplayed the pandemic as a media conspiracy and has refused to follow protocols established by the World Health Organization, urging churches, businesses, and schools to reopen.5 The poorest people in both countries are not only having to carry the burden of being essential workers in the farming industry, stocking supermarkets, and keeping pharmacies and hospitals running but also having to endure increased police brutality, illegal raids from agribusinesses, and mining advancement in protected Indigenous land. The death toll from Rio de Janeiro to Michigan is astounding: Black and Indigenous peoples across the Americas continue disproportionately to die of COVID-19, police brutality, and racial violence.6 In the first half of 2020 alone, both countries saw the count of Black deaths rise. In the United States, protestors against police brutality demanded justice for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, and Riah Milton—all Black lives sordidly ended by the police during this pandemic. Thousands took to the streets across the country to protest Floyd's horrific execution—despite the threat [End Page 118] being in a crowd poses amid a pandemic—to demand justice and work toward defunding the police, acknowledging that such institutions along with the state and the law are profoundly anti-Black.
While Trump and Bolsonaro continue to insist that things go "back to normal," the disproportionate number of deaths among Black and Indigenous communities has revealed the somber truth of whose bodies have the right to live and whose bodies are subject to violence, cruelty, and piling up in mass...