The Spiritual Potential of Crisis
It’s been said that the FDR Administration implemented the New Deal because, when white people started experiencing the kind of economic suffering during the Great Depression that was typical of the everyday lives of black people, it became clear that drastic measures should be taken to alleviate hardship. History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes. As the government grapples with how to respond to the rising unemployment and lack of economic stimulation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, reports are not just that a recession is coming, but that a recession is, in fact, here. Republicans, who spent the better part of the twentieth-century branding themselves the party of small government and personal responsibility, are suddenly proposing sending thousand dollar checks to everyone.
This, in a country where black unemployment has always been at least twice as high as white unemployment. This, in a country where segregated living conditions and little or no access to healthcare are the norm for the disproportionately black and Latinx service workers in those occupations requiring face-to-face contact (i.e. health care support, personal care, protective services, and gig-economy jobs) that have now been deemed “essential” by the government. The perverse aspect of being recognized as essential during a time of war, but dispensable during a time of peace is that the special designation comes at the cost of your life. Service workers are now being made more susceptible to infection due to the inability to distance themselves from potentially infected customers, while the economy’s less essential, but more valued, workers labor from home.
So, black workers are essential to the U.S. economy. Not simply because they are workers, but because they are black workers and the U.S. has a particular relationship to black workers. This country still expects the black body to operate as the slave body — where black people exist, first and foremost, as essential commercial units rather than flesh and blood.
For millions of Americans, separation, confinement, scarcity, and uncertainty have always been facts of life. Society has tolerated these realities existing in its midst because they’re traditionally reserved for them. But, in a crisis, there is potential to destroy the concept of a them. Temporarily enduring separation and isolation can force us to live in what it feels like to be marginal. To suffer. To experience a fuller range of humanity.
May this time of inconvenience and discomfort cleanse us of our oppressive impulses. May, as a result of thinking, “Me and my family don’t deserve this,” more start asking, “Does anyone deserve this?” and “Why?”