Often illness is complicated: a person doesn’t typically just have heart disease; he likely has comorbidities, or other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure that are present at the same time. Depression often coexists with anxiety; skin rashes often accompany allergies. When someone gets sick, the doctors often first deal with the ‘presenting problem’ or the one that is currently causing the most difficulty. However, in the course of treatment, other underlying issues are often discovered.
Several years ago, I went to the doctor with a presenting problem — actually a few presenting problems — joint pain, fatigue, and inflamed patches of skin. The doctors diagnosed psoriatic arthritis, and I began treatment. In the wake of that diagnosis, other issues surfaced — iritis, scleritis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, a tendency toward overwork, a highly critical spirit, and deep, soul-wrenching, unexpressed grief.
Several weeks ago, we were all sent home because our nation had a presenting problem — a coronavirus pandemic. Now that over 1.7 million of us have been diagnosed with this illness and over 100,000 have died, some comorbidities are starting to surface — broad weaknesses in structures like education, health care, and criminal justice; a struggling economy; and, most notably right now, flaring systemic racism.
We were wearing our masks, staying at home, washing our hands, and applauding our essential workers when we started hearing about the disproportionate impact of this virus on people of color (nearly two times as many as would be expected based on population). And then another series of senseless deaths hit the headlines:
Ahmaud Arbury was shot to death while he was out for a run on February 23.
Breonna Taylor on March 13 was killed by police who shot her eight times in the middle of the night in her own home.
George Floyd died with a police officer’s foot on his neck, begging for air, on May 25.
It wasn’t enough that communities of color were losing fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters every day to Covid — now they (and we) have over and over watched video clips of two of their own (Arbury and Floyd) actually being killed.
Citizens across the country — black, white, Hispanic, male, female, gay, straight — are outraged and are taking to the streets demanding attention for this sickness — this disease — this epidemic.
It’s not new. Racism is part of the very fabric of our country — its threads are dyed with the blood of Native Americans and African slaves who paid the price for straight white males to expand their territory, build their monuments, and amass their riches. For centuries, non-whites have provided manpower in exchange for lower pay, fewer opportunities, and a gaze of suspicion. For centuries, the lives of brown and black people have been deemed expendable — by slave owners, by riot police, by the judicial system, by the educational system, by you, and by me.
We have never had this disease under control, but now that we are weakened by our presenting problem — Covid 19 — and starting to feel the added pressure from the resulting financial crisis, the underlying sickness is starting to flare. In a matter of just a week or two, its strength seems to have dwarfed that of a global pandemic — a pandemic that sent all of us racing to our homes, dragging out our sewing machines to create masks, and washing our produce and surfaces like our lives depended on it.
While just a few weeks ago, most of us were reluctant to leave our homes for fear of catching a life-threatening virus, thousands are taking to the streets to fight a bigger demon — one that questions our humanity.
If we can watch a man die on national television and not be moved to action, who have we become?
If we can stand by while a woman is shot inside her own home — a woman who had not committed a crime or posed a threat to anyone — what else will we tolerate?
If we are not sickened by two white men gunning down an unarmed human in broad daylight, what is the matter with us?
If I’ve learned anything about healing sickness, it’s this — to have any hope of recovery at all, you’ve got to be willing to look the disease straight in the face and see it for all it is, and then you have to be willing to make drastic intentional change.
To recover from what on the surface appeared to be psoriatic arthritis, I had to slowly and carefully examine each underlying issue and then I had to make significant changes to my home, my job, my diet, my exercise, my ways of dealing with emotion, and my attention to self-care. Even then change did not happen overnight. Slowly, over the course of more than seven years so far, I have experienced improved health.
For our nation to have any hope of recovering from a centuries-long battle with racism, we’re going to have to start with taking a long hard look at how deeply this disease has permeated the cells and tissues of our society — and I think we are starting to. We are scratching the surface. We are starting to see the disparities in pay, in health care, in education, in the judicial system, and, you know, I think Covid-19 paved the way for that. When the numbers started showing how hard communities of color were being hit, brave leaders started to talk about why. And now that we are seeing these blatant horrific examples of outright racial hostility, thousands are taking to the streets, demanding that the rest of us take that long hard look, that we see the pus-infected wounds, and that we make sweeping intentional changes — to tear down oppressive policies and practices, to promote reparative measures, to provide spaces in which people can air their grievances and be heard, and to create new systems that provide access for all people regardless of color, or gender, or income, or background.
Sweeping systemic change and recovery won’t happen immediately, but if we are willing to commit to working together to make space for the stories of individuals who have been harmed by broad systemic racism, to interrogate our own conscious and unconscious biases, and to insist on structural changes; if we will commit to stay the course day in and day out, having hard conversations and working through difficulty; slowly, over time, we will begin to see life return to our bodies and restoration spring up in our communities.
When all of us — all of us — are breathing freely, walking safely, and sleeping peacefully, we will enjoy a new kind of freedom, a new way of living, a rich expression of humanity.
I beg you to join me in joining those who have been doing this hard and essential work.
I’ll start by posting some resources. Will you start by checking them out?
75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets
The Next Question with Austin Channing Brown
If you have other resources you would like me to add to this list, please share them in the comments below.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:8
3 thoughts on “Coronavirus Diary #9: Comorbidities –Pandemic and Racism”
Thank you for writing this and sharing this perspective.
Of course! I feel honored that you read this! I read your blog all the time!