We’re Not in This Together

Ben Faintych '22, Guest Columnist

For many of us, the novel coronavirus has seemingly brought life to a standstill. Quarantining and social distancing are indeed essential tools for public health during a pandemic, but they constrain us to our homes in isolation, withdrawn and separated from the rest of society. Yet the common refrain parroted in the media by politicians and corporations is one of unity. Together, they claim, we can overcome this challenge. In fact, almost every single coronavirus-era commercial has the same structure and message: as somber piano music plays in the background, X company tells us that now, more than ever, we must come together to move past this great obstacle, and that they are here to help us. Oh, and by the way, please buy their new car, cellphone, or insurance plan. 

This sentiment has become so widespread that I have even noticed signs put up across town with the same deluded slogan: “We’re all in this together.” To me, the pervasiveness of this message demonstrates an extremely worrying disconnect from reality. Absolutely no one before this crisis would have argued that American society was politically, socially, or economically unified, so why all of a sudden are we meant to believe it now? If anything, the disproportionate toll that coronavirus is taking on minority communities throughout the United States is only exacerbating the great level of inequality that already existed here.

Take Kansas, for example, where black people comprise less than 6 percent of the state’s population, but make up 15 percent of its total cases, and 32 percent of its deaths. Or Wisconsin, where they represent only 6 percent of the population but nearly 40 percent of coronavirus fatalities. The causes behind this are no mystery—hundreds of years of slavery and racism have left black communities with poor economic and health outcomes, such as their greater likelihood of having diabetes or heart disease, which in this case both severely worsen the odds of surviving coronavirus.

As this data suggests, now is not the time to give in to the romanticized notion that we are somehow facing the consequences of this crisis equally as a society. All it does is attempt to normalize the tragic injustices faced by minorities in America, and divert attention from the fact that both the US government, and the corporations that guide it, are unwilling to address this issue. Instead, we should take this opportunity to evaluate how this catastrophe has exposed the obvious cracks in our economic and political systems. 

Why, for instance, did the Wisconsin Supreme Court, whose decision was then upheld by the US Supreme Court, overrule the governor’s order to postpone the April 7 primary? In-person voting amidst the outbreak of one of the most infectious diseases the world has ever seen is a clear threat to public health security, so the only explanation for why it took place lies in the main event of the ballot: the State Supreme Court race between incumbent Daniel Kelly and the liberal challenger Jill Karofsky. The conservative strategy of limiting voter access is not at all new, as we’ve seen with voter registration and photo-ID laws, but as this tactic is translated into the climate of a global pandemic, it takes on a more disturbing and sinister character. 

It’s also no coincidence that the $2 trillion stimulus bill is aimed more at propping up the economy and big businesses rather than providing direct assistance to those in need. While large corporations suck up $500 billion dollars worth of bailouts and loans, low-income families are expected to last the summer with only one $1200 check, and countless small business owners like my dad have been placed in endless lines for loans that seem non-existent. 

I sincerely hope that the events taking place now will serve as a wake-up call to Americans who are still unconvinced that we are in desperate need of radical change. But if we truly want progress, we need to give up the idea that a global pandemic is bringing us together. It is simply untrue. Rather, we should directly acknowledge the inequity that it is revealing as clearly as it has ever been, and open up serious dialogues on how we can even begin to start confronting the economic and social disparities that exist in the United States.