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Opinion: Challenging a ‘Return to Normal’ After COVID-19 Pandemic Subsides

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Lately, I have been stunned by the social dialogue around higher rates of COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths among Black people as a “Black people’s problem.”

Old racist myths about Black inferiority and poor choices by Black people have been woven into the discussion.

Do some people actually believe that Black people are more genetically prone to catching COVID-19? Or that the cultural structures of Black communities discourage Black people from practicing physical distancing?

Well, yes, apparently some do. I have heard the most outrageous questions and comments, and I view these questions and comments as stemming from white supremacist indoctrination. This indoctrination presents a patronizing savior response to educate, guide and “help out” Black people.

These questions and comments are also a dangerous blaming technique: A way to excuse wide-scale systematic oppression. A way to insinuate that if only Black people made the easy choice to move out of food deserts and eat the right foods, took time off from work and stayed home, or became “good” citizens and followed the rules then health inequity wouldn’t exist.

These perspectives are indoctrinations that have become unquestioned habit and normalized. They are, in effect, the unconscious white supremacist paving stones for the road back to normal. 

Why would I ever want society to return to “normal?”

Normal is a prevailing U.S. culture where health inequity is a Black problem. Where the need for accessible health care is still up for debate. Where health justice and equitable policies languish without action.

I disagree with “returning to normal.”

As long as health inequity and high mortality rates remain a Black people’s problem, then real-world policies and active procedures will be slow in coming.

Returning to normal means returning to a network of systems that are killing people of color. I have every right to be outraged. I have every right to demand something better. Something that goes far beyond “accessibility.” Something that equates with inclusions, usability, and effectiveness. I have every right to be part of creating something that resembles health justice. Every person of color does.

The systems of this country are flailing.

The economic system, justice system, education system, health system and on and on. They are disintegrating. Now is the best time to birth new systems. This is the moment to serve the final blow to systems that are killing people of color.

This is the ideal time to experiment with the policies and procedures of health justice that before now could not find room to grow. No, not homogenized approaches to the multifaceted needs and desires of Black people.

Instead, make room for the Black-prioritized actualizers who have been planning for this moment. Let’s invest our time, our energy, our resources, and our support to the development of many paths that prioritize progressive change over returning to normal. 

Preston Vargas, PhD, leads the Black Brothers Esteem program at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Join us at sfaf.org/BBE.

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