Saturday, November 14, 2020

Time Will Tell: Three Months In and a Challenge for Us All

This line strikes me. 

This is the one thing Dr. Frieden presses when confronted with the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. 

I have to question it. “Rebuild social cohesion”? We never had it. Well, we had a manufactured unity based on white culture. This election cycle proved that we have issues going way back that have precluded true cohesion of the whole. 

And yet, we must have unity moving forward if we hope to manage this microbe and others that will arise in the years ahead. Cohesion and trust are the two items that countries who are successfully responding to SARS-CoV2 have. No one is completely safe from this microbe, but teamwork is proving to lead to positive results and recoveries. There are large countries with only hundreds of deaths and economies recovering.

A bit more than 3 months into the 2020-21 school year. How badly are we failing in comparison? I will list mid-September, October, and November numbers. 

85. 100. 163.

County deaths. When I took IHME’s state death projections and adjusted them to Waukesha County’s population, I predicted we’d lose 220-240 people by 12/1. That’s only 57-77 more people. It’s highly likely we will surpass that awful number.

8%. 21%. 38%.

County positive test rates. Our testing has remained fairly steady, but we’re losing it on contact tracing. Data are only good if they are received quickly and used. This viral growth is completely unacceptable- we are not isolating it. We’re just saying “Yeah, it’s here." Our contact tracing is now being farmed off to those who receive positive results. 

134. 484. 1,145.

County infections per 100,000 people. If we picture the virus as salt dissolved in water, we are living in a really salty sea right now. The virus is receiving exactly what it needs to thrive and we seem incapable and unwilling to change its living conditions.

1,210. 1,508. 2,573.

State Deaths. IHME predicted in late summer that 3,708 COVID-19 deaths will have occurred in Wisconsin as of 12/1. We are within sight of that now, everyone, and we could blow past it. We lost 1,065 people across Wisconsin in the last month.

Oh, come on. How bad can it really be?

If you’re not following him, I recommend checking out Dr. Tom Frieden, the former Director of the CDC, and someone who’s specialized in pandemics and recoveries. He posts regularly and this week’s summary was particularly packed with both depressing data and helpful information.

He references The Covid Tracking Project's weekly report for the nation:

“Cases are up 41%, hospitalizations up 20%, and deaths up 23%. States reported 875,401 new cases this week; 1 in 378 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The seven-day average of deaths now exceeds 1,000 per day, a level not seen since the summer surge. States reported another 7,382 lives lost to COVID-19 in the past week.”

That positive rate seems shocking but we must remember this: that’s only 0.26% of our population. Even if we’re missing 80% of infections, that would still mean only a tiny fraction of our total population has been infected.

Herd immunity without a vaccine? Picture what we have gone through to-date and it just keeps going for months. Getting worse. Until finally, someday, it peters out. What and who will be left?

This report mentions Wisconsin specifically several times. Wisconsin is among the top 5 per-capita infection centers of the nation at the moment. Mayo Clinic is stating its facilities in northern Wisconsin are full. Full. And now there are data showing our Indigenous population is increasingly being affected by Covid-19, which is just another facet of that overall equity and social justice problems underlying our lack of cohesion and trust.

So, all the news just sucks?

No. Dr. Frieden points to some evidence coming to light about our immune systems and having hd OTHER coronaviruses. There MAY be some “cross-reacting antibodies” that some of us have that might help us combat SARS-CoV2. We still don’t know why some people’s systems react so strongly to this virus, though.

We also have reports on two vaccine studies with promise, and about a dozen overall in the works around the world. Data about this virus are multiplying and that can only aid the worldwide fight to control it.

Dr. Frieden wrote and published an article in The Atlantic yesterday to expound upon the current situation and our future. My lead quote is from that article. We’ll be seeing 2,000 deaths per day- every day- soon. Most of our 2021 living will be controlled by this virus.

What can we do?

Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?

The current administration's failure to orchestrate a coordinated, focused approach to this virus leaves us with a huge mountain to climb. But, as Dr. Frieden says in his article, all is not lost. I will both quote the article and include some of my own interpretations of what he says in the article.

There are things for individuals and businesses to do:

  1. “Indoor restaurants, bars, and social gatherings are, sadly, unsafe right now.”
  2. “Many clusters of cases come from people who go to work, school, or social get-togethers while ill. No testing, government, or health-care program can control COVID-19 if people continue this behavior.”
  3. “Business meetings and work that can be remote should stay so.”
  4. Delivery, curbside pickup, and strict shopping safety measures.
  5. Keep hair salons and stores open by maximizing safety measures.
  6. Take care of body, mind, and spirit. Outdoors is safest and can be good for mental health, too.

There are things for our leaders to do:

  1. Communicate honestly, directly, and regularly.
  2. Universal mask mandate for public places.
  3. Support The People. “Around the world, the best-performing countries provide stipends, social support, and temporary housing to help people who are quarantined.”
  4. Science-based standards. Strategic closing of parts of our system needs to be based upon community spread. “An effective closure needs to be nuanced, specific, and tightened and loosened based on real-time data about where the virus is spreading.”
  5. Support the delivery and rollout of a safe, effective, and widely available vaccine.

Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?

We’d all rather go about what we WANT to do. We’d all rather focus on something ELSE. 
COVID-19 is hanging about all our heads. 

Those "something elses". We have a lot of different ones and it seems like we all have a pet cause or two or more. Things like personal freedoms, jobs, human rights, social justice, religious freedoms, environment, health care, mental health, green industries, education, clean food, clean water, clean air...the list of things we hold dear goes on. Please feel free to add to what I have begun here.

Now consider:

Each is connected to the other.

We are connected to each other.

Social cohesion and trust. Can we do it?

Time will tell.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The White Funnel

Michael Harriot created one of his amazing tweet threads on November 4 that left me again facing something that I had to address for myself here.

My interpretation is this: there’s a status quo funnel that everyone needs to pass through in order to belong in the group of people who deserve a piece of The American Dream. That funnel is whiteness, resulting in white privilege. And if you don’t belong, you are Black or Other, and you will face specific restrictions and penalties.

The modern Republican Party headed by Donald Trump is the ultimate vision of this funnel. According to the voting statistics, at least 68,726,780 people have chosen that funnel.

Regardless of your DNA makeup, if you can get through that white funnel, you’re in. That’s the only way to explain why various “white” groups have gone from being “bad” to “acceptable” through our history: Irish, Italian, Swedish, German, Polish, and Spanish are all examples. It also explains why there are non-European ancestry folks who are “OK” and in the white nationalist camp: they have dropped their own individual genetic and cultural identities to get through the funnel and become “white”. Your genes may be African, Asian, or Middle Eastern, for example, but if you’re working to fit down the “white” funnel, you can stick around. If the white funnel's opinions change, as they did during the WWII era when we incarcerated Japanese-Americans, you are no longer in that funnel's care and become Other once more.

“White” is a construct. I’ve struggled my entire life trying to understand what “white” is, and this is the one explanation that actually fits. I’ve known about the ways “white” people hate on each other from the inside. My mother rattled off all the derogatory terms for Italians and Polish people among others- I never understood why but “knew” they weren’t as "good" as "we" were. It makes complete sense if “white” is a funnel. “Those people” haven’t made it through yet. They haven’t conformed and been accepted yet.

Fitting down the white funnel is typically beneficial- and for some, it's extremely so. That's why it's succeeded to maintain itself. Maybe you can make it big. Maybe not, but you’ll be “better off” than The Other (I’ll explain that in a bit). You have access to more opportunities like loans, jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. If you look a little different but know the right folks, you can still flourish in the white system. For some of us with pale skin and blue eyes, we can appear to be “OK” to a white nationalist even if on the inside, we’re raging at the violence and injustice done around us. We can go decades just moving along in that whiteness because it’s easy. Our birth gave us a special pass that might take years to recognize and address because the system is built for us. Depending on our choices, we may never understand it.

Why wouldn’t everyone just try to be white, then? To just go ahead and slide down the funnel with both feet? Doesn't matter if you're Indigenous, Black, or from somewhere else- just blend in and learn the rules.

Universal assimilation could be a thing, but it’s not. And even if it were, we’d lose so much. As I’ve heard some Indigenous People say, their traditions state that if their language is lost, their spiritual world is, too. They are another group of peoples who have always been considered Other- not white. Abandoning the self for material gain via acceptance robs us all in terms of cultures, viewpoints, arts, and so much more.

And there’s never been universal assimilation because Black people have always been rejected. Slaves were Other. Slaves weren’t human. Black people were enslaved, therefore, they could never even approach the funnel. For those who argue we haven’t had slavery or its problems since the Civil War, I suggest you start with Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

Because of those in the Civil Rights Movement and the many people to this day who defend and maintain those rights, some things have gotten a bit better. But the old rules and notions have extremely long tails. The fact that some don’t even want to move Confederate statues in more accurate contexts and think our modern segregation is not influenced by current and historic white-controlled laws is telling. Many are clinging to that funnel because historically it’s been the ticket to living in some comfort here. To “belonging”. Losing that is frightening.

That concept of belonging or not...I think that's connected to the real request Black people have made to the white people of the US: they don't need or want *help*. They want an equal *chance*. To not be penalized just for being who there are.

Besides law changes such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act that put cracks in the funnel, the fact that more recent immigrant communities have emphatically resisted fully jumping down the white funnel by not abandoning their languages, cultures, or religions, is a positive change. But those choices are met with grumbling by some and extreme resistance and hostility by others who either jumped down the funnel themselves or whose ancestors did.

The US is a land of opportunity...if you conform.

The US is a land of opportunity...if you are not Black.

Those are the truths we’re wrestling with today. As I reflect on how my own ideas of human beauty and constructive living have changed dramatically over my years, I know positive change is possible. I am so grateful for the comfort that I have now, instead of the anxiety, of seeing different people doing different things. It also helps me be more accepting of myself.

I embraced the Democratic ticket this year more so than I ever have because, even though I know I still benefit from that funnel, I want to break it. I want our ideals to have a better chance of becoming reality. A party that at least mouths the words “together”, “diversity”, “equity”, and “green” in positive terms with written plans was my only option and hope.

I couldn’t vote for a 3rd party in 2020. I have voted that way in other local and national elections. I will again in the future if this behemoth white funnel loses some of its power. I long for a system that supports 3 or more strong parties that must work together to get us further along in our quest for a land of true opportunity.

It’s going to be a long, hard process. But if we’re truly great, we must do it.