Michele Norris has “a sense of vertigo and justifiable anger.” Perhaps because the latest product line she and others in the race industry are hawking isn’t quite catching on. It’s the idea that those who want to go back to work, or go shopping, or have a beer on a sunny day, are, in Norris’s formulation, “impervious to black pain.”
Covid-19 is taking a higher toll among black people than other groups. To most people, that’s a tragic fact. But to Big Race, it’s an opportunity. Here’s another way for America to fail black people -- another episode to toss into the 1619 “history” the New York Times invented last year.
Let Norris explain:
Would the disproportionate impact on black and brown communities lead to increased blame, stigmatization and a general willingness to move on because the threat was thought to be circulating in some distant orbit?
Or, would the disproportionate impact inspire a swell of empathy, resources, messaging and emergency measures targeted at black and brown areas in the path of the pandemic, with Americans at the same time embracing the notion of a shared threat?
Either way, race pimps win. Outcome 2 has society bending the knee to identity politics. Outcome 1 generates resentment and a sense of grievance (or “vertigo and justified anger”) and is anyway an important step toward achieving Outcome 2.
And Norris is running with option number one. It’s the smart media move. The Washington Post, where her oped appeared, says Norris is a “consultant.” But before that she was an NPR anchor, and before that an ABC reporter. She left that job because her hubby joined the Obama 2012 campaign. She undeniably knows her ways around the corridors of Big Race’s PR wing.
Norris nods to an uncomfortable truth, citing political scientist Evan Lieberman, who has suggested that “collecting disaggregated racial data on covid-19 could have unintended consequences.” Obsession with race always does.
“It is not difficult to imagine that if covid-19 comes to be understood as a ‘Black’ epidemic,” he wrote, “this will create false impressions for many white Americans — in the United States’ racially polarized and effectively segregated society — that the virus is ‘not our problem,’ leading to decreased demand for and compliance with public health directives.”
So Norris and her colleagues are doing their best to make sure it becomes a “Black epidemic,” which immediately makes America morally culpable. Because Michele Norris knows what’s in your heart:
“Not our problem” is an undercurrent in the largely white reopen-America protests popping up daily around the country. “Not our problem” is the undercurrent when people refuse to wear masks in public. And “not our problem” is the conclusion one cannot help but draw when one studies the calendar and sees that the protests commenced around the same time that the data on racial disparities became a central story line in covid-19 news coverage.
She cites a Post article about an outdoor shopping area that recently opened in Georgia and where two men there enjoying a beer in the sun.
“I know what people are going to say — ‘Those selfish idiots are killing our old people!’ ” And then the friend who noted that he wasn’t worried because of, well … you know … “the demographics” served up a final punctuation: “How do you give up a day like this — really, how?”
Note that one man clearly referred to “old people.” “Old” is a demographic.
But okay, let’s say Norris can see into their selfish, racist, beer-swilling souls. It’s for Norris to explain why they should give up their sunny day. How could those men being miserable possibly help a single black covid victim?
Truth is, it can’t. What Norris wants is punishment. See, there’s a survey in which “a narrative of personal responsibility led some whites to conclude that underlying issues such as diabetes and hypertension were more related to poor life choices than years of systemic racism that led to failing schools, substandard housing and neighborhoods that lack health care, steady employment or even grocery stores.”
Personal responsibility is “a narrative,” but “years of systematic racism” isn’t. And you must choose between the two. Norris calls covid the “us and them” pandemic, and she’s doing her damndest to make it so. But we don’t have to play along. We’re living through a tough period and we face many issues. But for most of us -- black and white -- playing race with a pandemic is not our problem.