Op-ed: Unity in a Time of Disease

In this time of crisis, the most unifying thing we can do is uplift each other’s stories

By Ellanora L.
Class of 2020
Fishers Island School
June 1, 2020

This crisis has made a lot of us feel powerless. Many of us spend the vast majority of our time at home. Many people can’t work. We can’t protect our families or friends. We don’t know when things will go back to normal or what normal will be. 

This is compounded by a crisis of leadership. Conflicting messages come from the state, members of Congress, even from within the administration. This combination makes people desperate for something they can believe in. Desperate for proof of kindness and unity because, if these things exist, then everything will work out.

In pursuit of this unity, people have done a lot of good. Volunteering, donating money, spreading messages of health tips and solidarity. These are all forces for good. But the currently omnipotent message of “we are all in this together” doesn’t tell the whole story. 

In this time of crisis, the most unifying thing we can do is uplift each other’s stories. In fact, that might be the most unifying thing we can do all the time. Uplifting the stories of others is distinct from telling their stories. It means listening to others when they use their own voices and using any platform you have to amplify them. Uplifting the stories of others shows that you are listening and that you care and believe they are important. It is an act of and call for empathy. When we understand each other, we care more about each other. We support each other. We come together. 

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Uplifting the stories of other people is a constant battle. It is one that takes place in dinner table conversations and classrooms every day. Education is one of the most important battlefields in the fight to uplift marginalized stories. Right now, many parents are taking an even greater role in their kids’ education. 

Parent and educational author, Courtney Martin, argues that this makes it the perfect “time to push aside the elaborate academic schedules and teach our kids something more lasting about humanity.” Specifically, to begin to teach our kids about the intricate and institutionalized systems which plague America every day, and make this epidemic worse for many marginalized Americans. 

Social media also plays an important role in this process for many people. Activism through social media is often looked down upon by those who see it as lazy and many see it as a way for people to think they’re making a difference when they aren’t. Internet activism can certainly be harmful, especially when it lacks nuance, but it is still a powerful tool. When used consciously it can be a way to hear and uplift stories directly from those who are most affected.

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One such group whose fears and stories must be amplified are fat people who face medical discrimination. People who are considered obese are routinely denied healthcare because doctors are quick to blame their health problems on their weight without investigating other possible causes. 

One example of this is Patty Nece, who was told by her doctor that her hip pain was due to her obesity. Her doctor didn’t even examine her before making this diagnosis. Later, she learned that she had progressive scoliosis, an unrelated illness. 

Another woman, who asked to be anonymous, describes suddenly beginning to have difficulty breathing. She had life-threatening blood clots but the emergency room doctor tried to turn her away, telling her that her weight was to blame. 

Will overweight people with possible Covid-19 cases also be turned away and have their symptoms blamed on their weight?

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Another group, one that makes up about 40% of our population, is people of color. Right now, we must not forget that not only is racism still present, it is deeply ingrained in this crisis.

The per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the Navajo Nation is 10 times higher than neighboring Arizona. Tribal members are put at greater risk by high rates of underlying health issues and the fact that many do not have running water. 

Black people are dying at staggeringly disproportionate rates. In Louisiana, Black people are about 33% of the state population, but 70% of Coronavirus deaths. This disparity holds true for Latinx people as well. The data is clear, but it isn’t being consistently reported which allows the stark reality to be ignored. Some professionals fear that as whiter and more affluent areas recover, focus will shift away from the virus before it has stopped ravaging Black communities. 

This disparity exists because Black people have higher rates of pre-existing conditions. The stress of generations of racism, along with chronic lack of access to healthcare, has contributed to these high rates of chronic illness within the Black community. It has also created a reality in which Black people, at higher rates, are still working in low-paying frontline jobs and using public transportation. 

Understanding the historical context of racism is essential to understanding how it is affecting our society during this crisis. Literature, such as Maya Angelou’s 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, offers a valuable window into this background. Throughout her life, she was denied medical care and jobs simply based on her race and had to fight to get the care and opportunities she needed. Even though this book was written over fifty years ago it is still relevant because it is shaping the situation today. 

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Uplifting the stories of others is a massive feat. This piece is only a drop in the bucket and it doesn’t even begin to address the stories of so many other groups, such as incarcerated people, essential workers, medical personnel, and victims of domestic violence. Making sure all of these stories are told is a difficult task and it is not reasonable to expect that each person will accomplish all of it. Instead, by making an effort in our lives to think and talk about others, we can shift personal and national conversations to be more inclusive and support everyone. 

While this is already an overwhelming task, it is made more difficult by the fact that we are all spending more energy simply dealing with the disruptions to our own lives. The difficulties you face are valid and so is taking the time you need for your mental health. But we will not improve as a country and world if we cannot make time for those who face different struggles from us. 

Sources:

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2020/4/22/21230201/homeschooling-lessons-coronavirus-pandemic

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/03/12/does-slacktivism-work

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/07/11/activism-in-the-social-media-age/

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/health/obese-patients-health-care.html

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219

https://people.com/human-interest/navajo-nation-lost-more-lives-coronavirus-than-13-states/

https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/4/7/21211849/coronavirus-black-americans

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