Words When There Are None
Are you struggling to articulate complex and confusing emotions right now?
Posted Jun 04, 2020
Like us, many of you may be struggling with how to articulate and make sense of recent events. In the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic that has overturned life as we know it and taken hundreds of thousands of lives, we now live in a country grappling with protests that are further dividing our nation and putting lives at risk. This specific confluence of events is testing our very identity as Americans, and as human beings. They also provide us with an opportunity to have a painful discussion about racism in the United States.
Xenophobic references to the “Chinese Virus” and the “Kung Flu” put a target on the backs of Asian Americans when COVID-19 first hit American shores. As the pandemic played out and citizens were infected by the virus itself or its devastating economic consequences, this target was shared with Black, Brown, and Asian citizens, who were disproportionately impacted.
This context serves as a backdrop for an even more insidious disease, one for which there is no hope of a vaccine. The tragic killing of George Floyd (and the countless others before him) is emblematic of the structural and institutional ways in which our society values some groups, and some lives, more than others. As evidenced on streets and in communities across the United States and in many cities all over our globe, we have reached a tipping point. And it is our hope that we can transform this tipping point into an inflection point.
To do this, we must transcend the boundaries that divide us. We can no longer allow the color of one’s skin, where one’s ancestors are from, or what languages one speaks to result in socially constructed boundaries that divide.
This is about basic human rights — the right to be treated the same — the right to be afforded the same opportunities — the right to have everyone’s humanity honored and upheld. As a society, we must value every life, not privilege some groups over others. Every citizen, not only those of color, has a responsibility to do better. We are better.
You don’t have to be Black, or even a person of color, to feel the collective pain and suffering. We can arrive at a shared experience just by virtue of tapping into our humanity. You do not need to be a person of color to speak up or take action to help alleviate this pain and suffering. When we as a society allow one group to suffer, our collective suffers.
Just last week, we began collecting national data on discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic. The data are clear that one does not need to be the target of discrimination to be negatively impacted. Vicarious discrimination — the witnessing of others’ discrimination experiences — is associated with increased depression, anxiety, and difficulty falling and staying asleep. Nearly half of our Asian American and Black respondents reported seeing and hearing an increase in racist incidents targeting their racial group compared to before the pandemic.
It is not the responsibility of our communities of color to bear this burden. Our science shows us the value of partnership and allyship — reaching across group boundaries to defend those who need collective support. Our science tells us about how we all benefit from a more diverse and just society. Finally, our science also tells us about the negative consequences of prejudice and discrimination, and what will continue to happen if we do not take this tipping point as an opportunity to re-direct our nation’s trajectory and inflect change.
In the same way that everyone is responsible for flattening the coronavirus infection curve, we are all similarly responsible for creating a “new normal” — one in which everyone is afforded the same opportunities and rights — with respect to race in the United States.
This blog is co-authored with Kara Chung, Connor Martz, and Dr. David Chae of Auburn University.
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