- Scripturalizing the Pandemic
Anti-Blackness is a pandemic.1
Colonialism is a plague, capitalism is pandemic.2
In her analysis of California farmworker antipesticide campaigns in the 1960s, Laura Pulido describes how pesticides came to be “a metaphor for the larger power struggle.”3 Few imagined that farmworkers could band together and challenge how agribusiness functioned. Still, through contract negotiations, legal battles, public campaigns, and coalitions, some pesticides, most famously DDT, were banned. Now, in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a metaphor, or perhaps synecdoche, for the violence of racial capitalism.4 The pandemic has underscored how US racial capitalism as a structure of extraction is a form of collective violence that differentially devalues and fragments certain classes of people (and nonhuman nature) so that some are made more available to risk and exploitation.5 [End Page 625] The logics of racial capitalism also structure cultural norms such that we rarely question whether “value” is an appropriate metaphor for life.
In the United States, African American and Native American communities have disproportionately suffered in the pandemic, with numbers of the sick and the dead far exceeding their portions of the US population, and ethnic Latinx/a/os have been disproportionately diagnosed with the disease.6 Meanwhile, by deporting detained migrants, the United States has helped spread COVID-19 to parts of Latin America.7 Since the early days of the pandemic in the United States, anti-Asian racism has displayed itself in aggressions targeting Asian American individuals and communities, even as Donald J. Trump’s administration has attempted to evade responsibility by labeling COVID-19 “Chinese.”8 Ekaputra Tupamahu dubbed this behavior “the perpetual foreigner virus” that “marginalizes Asian Americans.”9 Ageism and ableism also manifest in the ways that some sought to depict the virus as an irrelevant irritation that mostly harmed the elderly and those vulnerable through “pre-existing conditions,” as if some lives hold more “value” than others based on vulnerability.10
Too many of us who live in the United States know that racism is a preexisting condition.11 The epidemic of state-sanctioned murder and terrorization of Black [End Page 626] lives is not new as anti-Blackness pervades the past and present of the Americas and much of the world.12 The logics of exploitative domination that structure US racial capitalism have also structured the COVID-19 pandemic through hierarchal differentiations of ability, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexuality. With the pandemic ongoing, protesters have taken to the streets to draw attention to the virulence of anti-Black racism.
Since the pandemic has become a metaphor for racial violence, we also must think about how we can heal ourselves from that violence. Steven McDonald argues that protests, though temporarily increasing the risk of COVID-19, are the best “medicine” in the long run.13 More people in the United States than ever before seem to agree. Notably, more Euro-Americans have appeared at protests in support of Black rights than in the many demonstrations since 2014.14 As I finish drafting this reflection in mid-June, cities across the United States are declaring racism a “public health crisis.”15
Biblical scholars are not strangers to the power and perils of metaphors, especially medical metaphors.16 Prominent in this time of pandemic has been a revisioning of the book of Revelation and its imaginative legacies. Alongside some intriguing allusions to the four horsemen (Rev 6), particularly pestilence, a different strain of apocalypticism has risen.17 Instead of fantasies of the end of the world, some public intellectuals turn toward apocalyptic frames as a source for hopeful [End Page 627] revelation and possible transformation.18 Reflections on the current apocalypse respond to a crisis in meaning, where colonizing narratives of domination no longer obscure unjust violence. Many minoritized biblical critics study what we study precisely because we know well the masks of dominant myths and the power that minoritized communities have found in subverting those myths. As David A. Sánchez argued, subverting Rome’s myths plays a central role in shaping the Apocalypse’s intertextual play, and then, as Revelation becomes central to the myths undergirding modern Spanish...