OPINION: Covid-19 Behavior Isn’t New For Marginalized Communities

by Jasmine Pulido

The virus might not yet have colonized our bodies, but the fear of it has.

The truth is that we can’t fully eradicate fear though. Not entirely. Like the viruses that co-exist among us, fear threatens to consume us when gone unchecked. But when recognized early, our body can build an immunity against it even as it courses through our veins.

What inoculates a population against fear?

Because when fear colonizes us, it infects our brain. It tells us that there’s not enough for everyone so you better get yours. Suddenly, the reach for the last bottle of hand sanitizer feels like a fight for life or death.

It programs us to question if we are doing the right thing, persuades us to discreetly examine the actions of others and question our own measures when they differ from those around us. We find ourselves wondering, “Do I need to be hoarding toilet paper too?”

Sometimes, when fear colonizes us we “fight back” by overly-asserting our individualism. We flock to crowded parks and invite friends and family over for dinner, sedating ourselves with familiarity. We refuse to consciously or unknowingly see this as potentially dangerous. We see this as flexing our right to be an American. We revel in the solace of these previously mundane interactions, however fleeting, anything to momentarily drown out the fear.

Fear has the persistence to colonize our minds slowly. We may be helping our neighbors today but when it gets bad and the bodies start stacking up, will the numbers that presently stand together start to dwindle? Will we hide in fear and self-preservation?

When fear propagates rapidly within our ranks, who gets out alive? The ones who have access to the doctors, the money, and the shelter. When fear is fully formed and dictates our behavior, the ones who are spared are the most privileged among us.

How is this different from any other day?

For marginalized communities, experiencing this fear isn’t novel. Colonization of fear is not new. We know fear intimately and what it can do to us. It’s why our most marginalized are absolutely terrified. We’ve seen it kill us before in so many ways in all of fear’s past mutations. Disadvantaged communities know that even though we are all colonized by fear now, whiteness still has the advantage because of generations of privilege before it. The pandemic shows us what whiteness has been doing all along: protecting an infrastructure that has hoarded a glut of resources and power.

We can keep fear in check.

It’s not about being fearless. It’s not about denying that fear exists when it simmers inside us. It is natural for fear to enter our lives, to upend our thinking, to program us for self-preservation. When fear enters our system, what we must do is recognize it and what it is doing to us. It is about mentally preparing ourselves in advance when it inevitably visits us again (and again and again). When we spotlight fear’s first attack at the entrance to our heart, we bring out our first line of defense: Awareness.

Vaccines are when we introduce the weakened version of a disease into our bodies so that we can naturally learn to overcome it. In the same vein, when fear comes into our realm, our awareness allows us to notice it before it takes over. We trust our bodies to consciously adapt the tools to discern the differences between fear and friend. We teach ourselves to recognize its mutated forms as fear can wreak havoc by entering in so many permutations.

When we are inoculated by awareness, we comprehend that our knee-jerk reaction to hoard toilet paper is completely inequitable. We realize we only need enough for ourselves and our local grocer learns to institute a “2 items per person” policy.

With awareness, we begin to understand that we are not lemmings that need to do what everyone around us is doing. We can leave the extra case of water and know that we are doing the right thing, even if no one else is.

With this fear vaccine, we remember that the collective protects us too. The collective is keeping our water running, our lights on, our garbage removed, and our packages delivered. The collective has resolute health care providers working impossible shifts to save us. Let us remember that our individual freedoms are only temporarily encumbered to protect both ourselves and others in the long-term.

By taking a pause to observe our colonizer, we know that when it starts to get really bad that this is the most crucial time for us to stick up for one another no matter our skin color, sexual orientation, gender pronouns, our socioeconomic status, or our varying physical or mental abilities. When death and disease tear through us, we solidify our ranks. It is this united effort that will get us to the other side alive. We will lose many and they will not have died in vain.

When the pandemic subsides, let us remember what inoculating our minds first with awareness did to prevent the spread of panic. Let it remind us what it means to act intentionally from love in solidarity, not involuntarily from fear within individualism. When the pandemic subsides, let us remember how it has affected us so we can empathize intimately with what our most vulnerable communities have been going through long before this ever happened — in policy, in community care, in the design of our systems. Let us use this new knowledge to make the seismic paradigm shift this foundational systemic collapse reveals to us.

Past the pandemic and onward, once and for all.

Jasmine Pulido is a Filipinx-American writer in Seattle, WA. You can find her blog at  “Shameless Jas”  where she discusses all the topics people are too ashamed to talk about alongside unapologetically airing anything else on her mind. She enjoys forest bathing, nerdy topics, and racial-social justice.

Featured image: original artwork by Vlad Verano. See full-sized image here.

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