I stepped outside today for the first time in about a month, just to get some eggs and milk and bread and something chocolate because life without chocolate just simply isn’t worth living. And during my quick walk around the neighborhood to run a few short errands, I quickly realized that there are questions that need to be addressed in this new age of quarantine.
How exactly will social distancing take shape in poor communities of People of Color? Because after listening in on the daily updates by Mayor de Blasio, followed thereafter by Governor Cuomo, I am clear on what is expected to happen, but after finally walking the streets and absorbing the public spaces in my community, I don’t really know how that can happen; at least not in the ways that are being proposed daily by the administrations that hold the reins of power.
From what I deduce, there is one realistic pathway forward, and it involves all of the terms that terrify the establishment: radical change, revolution, and reclaiming our communities. And six weeks of being quarantined has felt like six years’ worth of isolation. Just imagine what six months will feel like if we wait until November to act.
The root of the term social derives directly from Latin socialis “of companionship, of allies; united, living with others.” Let’s use that as a baseline for our understanding of how the word social ties into what we understand a society to be. When de Blasio issues directives on social distancing, which operate in conjunction with Cuomo’s directives to enforce the same measures which are aimed at protecting people from contamination, not only for their own good but for that of the greater good; there is a necessity to disseminate such directives in a fashion that provides a clear and widespread understanding of these measures and in turn requires the cooperation of all persons that fall within their jurisdiction. For said cooperation to take place, alongside it there must be a healthy working relationship of all persons with the world around them, including neighbors, building-mates, communities, co-workers and so forth.
Well, two issues immediately bubble to the surface. Let’s tackle the first one: understanding the measures and guidelines of social distancing. According to de Blasio and Cuomo, we should always maintain a minimum distance of six feet from others, face masks should be worn in public at all times, hands should be covered with gloves of some sort whenever applicable, we should wash our hands for at least 30 seconds, we should cover our mouths when we cough, which are all scientifically sanctioned healthy ways to keep yourself and those around you safe from infection.
However, within poor communities of color, where corporations hold court over ways of sustainability more than the individuals themselves, these corporations have deemed the lower rungs of employees as essential as a means of continuing their productivity in these times of crisis. During a time where the unemployment system is overwhelmed and corporations have exploited loopholes to coerce workers to report under the threat of purging payrolls, and as $1200 dollar checks—which amount to peanuts in this New York City economy—are tossed like paper towels at desperate citizens just trying to survive the crisis, overcrowding in these spaces of public transportation, which was the norm in 2020 BQ (Before Quarantine), has continued in the same fashion that it always has. It is compounded by the reality that the MTA is operating with reduced services, forcing more bodies into these tight crevices and now capitalism compromises health concerns. Breaking social distancing orders cannot be avoided for those persons in our communities.
And each one of those essential workers on the front lines now risks everyone that dwells in the domicile in which they live. It is not only the workers; it is their families that are also at risk. It is their neighbors at risk too. It is the inhabitants of buildings that they live in. There are way too many lives at risk for us to just identify and then oversimplify the magnitude of the risk by categorizing only them as the at risk population.
That’s that part, here’s the other; the part about coexisting inside of a healthy working relationship with the world around them.
How does one maintain a healthy working relationship with the world around them when for centuries, literally since the inception of this country, all the way up until the moment you arrive at this word in this very sentence, people of color have been isolated and marginalized from the larger social community, both locally and nationally, and have been persecuted for having the daring ambition to attempt to walk within and stand tall in those spaces? Just yesterday, my timeline was filled with different angles of overly aggressive assaults by police on people of color just for being (yes, just being; that is not an incomplete thought); all while inside of Central Park, hordes of pale people wandered about, flagrantly flaunting social distancing orders so much so that the same NYPD was passing out facemasks like flyers for those that were clearly in violation the mayor’s directives.
This type of policing is not new, especially in the city that never sleeps. Anyone from Gotham that is old enough to remember when A Tribe Called Quest released their first album knows about the oppressive policies and procedures by police under Adolf Giuliani’s regime. I still have my F— Giuliani black tee shirt, the one where you can see that he and Adolf are clearly cousins (or is that his wife with that relation?) tucked inside my closet somewhere, shrunken and discolored from all the usage. Broken Windows resulted in broken batons over bloody Black heads resulting in broken homes. Those policies were a danger to the communities of color just as this current crisis and the enforcing of the laws surrounding it is. And now, it seems that the enforcing of these social distancing laws have become the new Rockefeller laws, where there is a different, separate standard and application of them for communities of color. And this enforcement serves to further isolate those communities from the greater social order.
And that is the heart of the problem because for centuries, that same unequal enforcement of laws has resulted in those people having a contentious relationship with the larger society, which in turn prompts over aggressive responses during the inevitable infighting of these communal inhabitants for small spaces within the tighter circle of the communities in which they live. They’ve been pushed out, desocialized, and then victimized by the policing and the policies because that is what the system has created and fostered.
So how does one maintain a healthy relationship with the community while existing under the exigent circumstances of a worldwide health crisis? It begins within the communities themselves, with the people themselves.
We cannot rely on those charged with enforcing the rule of law in our communities because there is far too much evidence present that they are not adept at doing so. They are a direct extension of the ineptness of the Trump administration, which is riddled with cronyism and bigotry and predators all licking their chops at the opportunity to prey upon the lower classes, and are strongly supported by those sharing a similar mentality. We must begin the work of caring for our community in all of the ways which we know the local and federal governments will not. We must police our communities ourselves and encourage social distancing for our own safety and that of our community, and do so in a way that does not isolate those that have not found a harmony with their community; we must extend ourselves to include within our loving arms reach all those who have not historically felt welcome.
We must also police those that enter into our spaces with intent to disassociate us from our spaces through uneven application of policies whose resulting effect is to remove from us from our sense of community, our belonging to society, basic freedom, and most treacherous of all, remove us from ourselves. We must take back our own spaces with a pressing urgency; and when I say this, I am saying that we must do it now, not in November, because our collective health and safety depend on it.
We must realize that across this country, armed rebels are storming state capitals attempting to overturn social order and disrupt whatever comfortability people of color may have acquired through the election of the first president of color. They have championed their cause and desire a return to the good ol’ days where displays of Confederate flags were a source of pride. We cannot sit idle and watch while they usurp social order because our collective safety and health depend on it. We must recognize and accept and become acutely aware of the reality that their revolution has begun and impending consequences of their actions, because our collective safety and health depend on it.
We must recognize that our revolution is right now, right this very instant, because our collective safety and health depend on it. The revolution is not in November, the revolution is right now.
Ivan Waldo, a Bronx resident, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Puerto Rican Studies and is currently a student at the CUNY Graduate Center studying the political relationship and colonial realities of the island of Puerto Rico with the United States.