Given the societal upheaval wrought by this pandemic and its requisite “distancing,” many have found much needed solace in any and all small acts celebrating our oneness, our humanity, our coming together in facing a common enemy. Indeed, most of our American community stepped up to the plate and readily enlisted in a science-based war against a shared threat. A nation seemingly hopelessly besieged by unrelenting partisanship banded together, embraced its fundamental kinship and abandoned its siloed political divide, allies for as long as victory demanded. Truly desperate times can move mountains.

Sadly, that initial perseverance far too quickly exhausted a necessary all-in commitment to what was projected as a very long haul until a “new normal” could be rescued by herd immunity or an equally distant vaccine. Our newfound selfless national resolve once again devolved into Us vs. Them political rationalizations heedless of what’s best for all, ultimately more dedicated to preserving the privilege of the haves over the have-nots. Despite rising death tallies, the wealthiest nation on earth couldn’t afford to stop a capitalist model that heartlessly accepts a paycheck to paycheck reality where Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetic notion of “The first wealth is health” remains steadfastly unaffordable to everyone. “Healthcare” determined by one’s ability to pay rather than a basic right enjoyed by all, especially those marginalized by what elsewhere is judged a caste system. Red or Blue, but especially White, caring for each other has never really been our strong suit. Some of us have always been deemed expendable, casualties of a supposed “greater good” economic paradigm far greater for the few than the many.

COVID of course doesn’t care about any of that. It takes advantage of any opportune disregard of exposure, even by those taking a knee in crowded protest of our continued inhumanity to those guilty of nothing more than having different coloration. This coronavirus has no concern that those who can’t breath unless on ventilators are more likely than not to be descendants of an enslaved citizenry still not fully freed. No matter how sincere we are in bestowing hero status on those finally recognized as “essential,” that recognition hardly makes amends for a profound lack of legitimate compensation. People manning the front lines of this war remain there, however we might be comforted wishing otherwise, chiefly because they have an economic knee on their neck. Meanwhile, those unemployed face the inessential sidelines with an indiscriminate $600 bonus.

America is a most complex piece of work. One step forward and two steps backward has always been our incremental journey towards fulfilling democracy’s great promise. The progressive justice sought by “Black Lives Matter” is countered by a dog-whistled, yet clearly sounded, “All Lives Matter.” The thing is that “All Lives” must unarguably include “Black Lives.” The even greater realization is to recognize that either notion should include “All Life,” not just humans. This is the essential truth if planetary survival matters.

Police, who so often do rise to heroism, are now being demonized with a broad prejudicial brush painting them collectively as fascist racists. Certainly, that portrait is a true likeness in enough cases to warrant whatever structural change actual justice requires. Hopefully, we’re finally holding a mirror up to a 400-year denial of America’s original sin of being built upon genocide and slavery. Overt racism is clearly a despicable and inhumane human affliction. No heroism there. No actual manliness or superiority, only the exhibition of fear and cowardice. Systemic racism is made all the worse because it doesn’t even require the vested interest of hatred, merely indifference. No matter how much we protest, what we repeatedly demonstrate is that our privileged humanity is itself a contagion far worse than any disease of its constituent parts. The entire human race is guilty of a far more insidious and deadly pandemic of brutal subjugation, one perpetrated against every other planetary inhabitant. “White supremacy” has nothing on our believed species superiority, our systemic “speciesism.” That’s an actual word, usually relegated to animal rights “extremism.” Plants and insects still await inclusion.

“All Life Matters” champions all living things. Humanity’s opportunity towards that crucial enlightenment now faces a rapidly shortening window, beyond which no amount of amazing grace will be able to save us. Our redemptive hour of first belief needs all the collective awareness and unity we can muster. We no longer have time for a supremacist luxury of continued systemic blindness to the world around us.

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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