Estrangement and Belonging: Covid-19, Structural Oppression and Social Justice

History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us.

- James Baldwin

When history sleeps, it speaks in dreams.

-Octavio Paz

Among other things, COVID-19 has clearly exposed, as well as exacerbated, the deep racial/ethnic and socio-economic divides of our country. If there was any doubt of the profound, historical sources of those divisions, after May 25 th, we are experiencing, once again, the intense pain that is the direct consequence of structural racism/oppression, marginalization and socio-economic injustice.

Further, as a result of its insidious pervasiveness, structural racism does not simply impact law enforcement concerns, but housing, employment, access to justice, education—in other words, the exact foundation of a fair and viable democratic society. Supporting and strengthening that foundation is what underlines our public education mandate. Consequently, we have to assess how we are addressing those extensive disparities, particularly after COVID-19 and in support of the Black Lives Matter/Listen to Us platform, the latter, Listen to Us, the initiative of our student leadership.

What we know

  •  COVID 19 has impacted Black communities disproportionally on a national scale; and Latinx populations on a Nevada state-level.
  • Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than their share of the population.
  • In Nevada, Latinos make up the greatest share of confirmed cases; with respect to their share of the population, almost three times the percentage.
  • In some states, like New Mexico, Native American communities have accounted for 60% of the cases, whereas they represent only 9% of the population. Strikingly, we do not hear much about those figures, as a reflection of the persistent form of structural racism of silencing suffered by Native American groups, historically.
  • Staying at home, or working from home, is a luxury for many populations, particularly for Latinx, African American and overall poor sectors, given their concentration in low-wage, hourly employment.
  • Of the more than 12 million that have applied for unemployment benefits as a result of the pandemic, more than 60% are women, specifically, women of color.
  • Even though women have been less affected by the virus than men, overall, women have been predominantly impacted in having to assume double/triple burdens of care for children and the elderly, as well as schooling responsibilities. Women have also had to assume greater loss of employment and income, in order to assume those responsibilities—all resulting in further gender inequities, as well as further exposing the lack of an equitable national care-giving system.
  • Forced isolation and increasing financial stress have also increased the exposure of vulnerable populations that experience abuse—domestic violence, child abuse, LGBTQ+ populations that are rejected at home...
  • People with disabilities and/or neurodiverse populations that require individual and/or other forms supports have been enduring additional challenges.
  • Even something as apparently basic as wearing a mask for health reasons, cannot be viewed as having equal implications for everybody. Mandates to wear facemasks are a challenge for people with hearing disabilities. In addition, the use of facemasks may create real discomforts for our Black/Brown students, faculty and staff, who fear the impacts of racial stereotyping.
  • There are particular COVID-19-connected xenophobic forces, principally targeting Asian/Pacific Islander and Muslim communities, as well as immigrant sectors, that have been documented throughout the nation.

We could share other examples, but what we want to emphasize is the need to develop differentiated but integrated action-oriented, strategic plans that demonstrate a clear understanding of the disparity of impacts being suffered by our different communities. Further, mainstream, self-care narratives and techniques are usually premised on generalized, individualistic standpoints that do not really address the needs, nor the more collective experiences of more marginalized communities. A new paradigm of care, and belonging has to be developed that is more explicitly focused on such understandings as social justice and solidarity. The unprecedented global pandemic that knows no borders should be a clear lesson for all of us of how interconnected and interdependent we all are. Now that uncertainty and fear are unfortunate shared experiences, we can also come together through a fuller commitment to newer and more expansive work and pedagogical practices that support diversity, equity and inclusion, which ultimately are the foundations of a democracy.

 

Eloisa Gordon-Mora, Ph.D.

University Diversity and Inclusion Officer, University of Nevada, Reno