For anywhere between ten minutes to six hours every day since roughly March 20, I’m pretty sure I have COVID. Sometimes I’m able to chase off this worry with a long walk, sometimes with a stiff gin and tonic, sometimes just with fretting and eventually going to sleep, during which I wake up throughout the night and try to figure out whether my throat is sore or my chest is unnaturally tight or the lingering array of concerns left over from my weird intestinal stuff last fall is EXPRESSWAY TO DEATH.
That all of this has happened during allergy season is a thing, and allergy season in a new house is definitely a thing, and allergy season in a new house partially shaded by a hickory tree (which I’m officially allergic to) is definitely, definitely a thing. But still every day. Like clockwork.
COVID isn’t the only thing keeping me up right now, obviously, and that’s kind of the point. I’ve spent a good part of the week mulling over repeated claims by fellow white people in which they earnestly admit to having never really thought too hard about race before the last couple of weeks. This sounds improbable to me if not impossible. Even if you grew up in Idaho or Utah or some insanely expensive New England suburb, what did they teach you? I mean on a very basic level: have you been asleep for the for the last twelve years? Did you assume the blowback to, say, Barack Obama was because he was a democrat? It smells like bullshit to me, but I I’m also a southerner. I literally cannot imagine coming up in this country without “thinking too hard about race.” I feel like race informs just shy of everything. You don’t have to come up in the WTF cognitive dissonance of a summer afternoon singing Nina Simone songs while reading a children’s Harriet Tubman biography while swinging on a porch swing, dressed in an ersatz kid-sized southern belle dress, staring down the path of the Virginia family farm toward an outbuilding your great-grandmother still refers to as “the slave kitchen” with zero sense of irony.* You don’t have to spend family reunions trying to work out which of your elderly relations is the worst bigot (correct answer: all of them).You can just walk through any town in the south and look at the old houses and wonder who built them and who for and read a single damn historical marker or look at the stupid, fucking statues or notice who is getting pulled by police or living in what neighborhoods or working what jobs or attending what schools. You wonder, “How did the bullshit happen?” about just about anything that doesn’t make sense. The answer is almost always racism
Of course, white southerners are not the only bad actors when it comes to race. And the above exercise works in a shockingly diverse number of places (some of them not even on this continent) even if the names of the statues are slightly different. You could be in New Hampshire or Oregon or Arizona and probably still have a gaggle of honking Well-Actuallys dying to tell you how tearing down a statue is erasing history.
Erasing history, though. What a phrase. What a notion. Were it possible to erase history by pulling down a piece of tin outfitted with confederate epaulettes, it seems like white America would be all over it. Because what is America, as we know it, but centuries of concerted effort to erase history starting with everything that was here before us and revise the rest until we can look in the mirror and live with ourselves. But history doesn’t really disappear, no matter how many bronze plaques you hang over it. No matter how many times you edit, you can still see the original bloody draft. And that’s the thing, right? People are rising, people are fighting back, in large part because four centuries of history cannot be erased. That story demands its reckoning. It always has. I mean, isn’t that why the statues went up in the first place, to try and scare the truth back into silence? To keep history from getting any big ideas?
And I guess it worked. Maybe it even worked enough that some white kid that went to college in the south, at a university built by slaves, that never integrated until the latter half of the 20th century, in a town still largely segregated, in a state that still that goes out of its way to keep its African American voters from casting their ballots (and gerrymanders districts such that those ballots will have minimal impact, even if they can get to the polls) can say they’ve “honestly never thought much about race” until last week.
But all the lights are on and History is wide open. There’s no excuse for not thinking. There’s no excuse for not knowing. At this point, at best, it’s willful ignorance and delusion. At worst, it something that looks like the old banal evil that would prefer to trudge along in service of the status quo no matter (or maybe even because of) how many bodies it must trudge over to do so. I don’t know about you, but I’m done even tacitly allowing for that to be an option.
Picture today was taken in Charleston, SC in August of 2019.
As of this writing, 4,888,316 people have recovered from COVID-19.