Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 and Racism (Wait…they’re related?)

November 2019 was when the first case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was reported in China. January 2020 a lab confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the United States. Fast forward to today, September 2020, where there are 34.4M cases and 1.02M deaths worldwide (CDC, 2020). This led to closures, social distancing, and quarantining. People all around the world had their everyday lives shift and change. However, the coronavirus is not the only pandemic happening. A pandemic that has been going on for over 400 years, racism against black people, finally sparked conversations worldwide.

Ahmaud Arbery was shot by two white civilians while taking a jog in February 2020. Breonna Taylor was asleep when she was shot by policemen in her own apartment in March 2020. George Floyd had his body to the ground and a police officer’s knee to his neck for an alleged counterfeit $20 bill in May 2020. Rayshard Brooks was shot by a police officer for being asleep in his own car in June 2020. Jacob Blake was shot by policemen while trying to break up a fight in August 2020. This only accounts for five out of the many other victims brutalized as a result of racism. So, the question is, why are people speaking up now? Why are there protests and huge numbers of people going out and speaking up during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

In the episode of the Code Switch podcast titled, Why Now, White People?, there was a discussion about COVID-19 being a reason for why people were now speaking up for racism. Quarantining and staying at home allowed people to watch more news and go on social media. The host, Gene Demby spoke to a social psychologist, Nicole Fisher, about the implications of this. Would people still be so active in this fight if their daily lives weren’t interrupted? Fisher essentially explained that the sympathetic nervous system allowed people to get into their fight-or-flight mode. People were scared and uncomfortable when they were told that their lives needed to be on hold and by the amount of brutality and racism they were seeing. Their shared grievances and emotions were the uniting factors that allowed people to band together. With these feelings being shared and common, other people were able to “feed into each other.” Through this, there was a shared purpose.

Now it is clear that these feelings and the action to protest arise from collectivism. However, with the United States being a mainly individualistic society, how will the protests and feelings change as the world tries to transition back towards normalcy? Would the protests, the speaking out, and the fight for change just stop all at once? Or would they slowly be transitioned away? These protests have sparked more conversations and have even reached a global level. So, what’s going to happen?