The coronavirus pandemic has infected all of us with an unhealthy dose of fear and hate. Racism, xenophobia, aggressive acts of self-preservation, hate speech, and pervasive “othering” are now predominating many of our social interactions, segregating individuals and entire communities from one another and making social cohesion impossible.
Our communities of color, who are having their well-being consistently undermined by discrimination and stigmatization, are bearing the brunt of this burden. Institutional exclusion from necessary resources, implicit bias in healthcare settings, and the regular occurrence of physical and verbal assaults from scaremongers and prejudiced privilege-holders makes COVID-19 an even bigger (and more hateful) threat for these marginalized populations.
The stigma they face can be so toxic that individuals who have contracted the virus feel obligated to hide their illness to avoid further discrimination, which prevents them from seeking medical attention and ultimately increases the spread of the virus and its mortality rates. Even those who do seek help and survive the virus now find themselves facing a new pandemic of fear and hate - - the end of self-quarantine doesn’t mean the end of their social isolation; they still must face the fear and hate of others who now see them as “unclean” or “contaminated.”
But even as the contagion spreads, so too is an appreciation for life’s fragility. More and more people are leaning into compassion, reaching out to loved ones, reuniting with old friends, checking in on strangers. Greater awareness of our collective vulnerability has led to renewed awareness of our inter-connectedness. Regardless of what measures we take to distance or separate ourselves from others, we are still in this together.
COVID-19 doesn’t care what we look like, where we live, or what we believe in. Paranoia spreads hate but if we are all able to recognize that we are united against a common enemy, we can conquer COVID-19 with forces of compassion and empathy. We are already taking steps towards a more community-based society fueled by the pandemic -- the general public can no longer turn a blind eye to the structural racism embedded in our society, our healthcare systems, and our law enforcement. COVID-19 has exposed structural inequities throughout our society, including health disparities, housing shortages, job injustices, and mortality rates. As awareness increases, we are seeing more cross-community support as people from all walks of life stand together to show support for those marginalized by injustice.
Think of this pandemic was a crash course in inter-connectedness. The frustrations of social distancing and led to an appreciation for connection, the simultaneous Black Lives Matters protests have energized the fight for change, and the pervasive uncertainty and distrust have clarified a need for the transparency of knowledge. Many are seeking meaning and understanding within their spirituality or faith. There has been an increase in self-love as people are prioritizing their own health and well-being, a return to the family as generations shelter-at- home together, a new frontier of dating as online apps and conversation become more relevant than ever, and an upsurge in community care as people lean on one another for support. Your health affects others, and others’ health affects you. This awareness, fueled by the high mortality rate of coronavirus, is only increasing each day as infection rates increase, resources decrease, and debates over restrictions and reopening heat up. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of our communities and society at large, and we now have the choice to decide what our post-pandemic world will look like. Will we let hate or love guide us in this time of uncertainty? There is a greater awareness of the things we took for granted in a pre-pandemic world, a reassessment of values and a return to the “simple things” in life, and a determination to address the inequities prevalent in our society.
Now is the time to find ways to combat this disunity and build an immunity against hate. Promoting solidarity over disjunction, embracing sincerity over vilification, and seeking knowledge over stigmatization will help our families, our communities, and our nation to combat this virus with love, rather than hate. The virus may have stolen our ability to touch, our ability to comfort loved ones in the hospital, and our ability to walk in the world without fear, but this shared lived experience is, ironically, bringing us closer together than ever before.