by Lisa Sharon Harper
All over the U.S. this weekend, little girls held their father’s hands as they walked together through semi-crowded beach town streets and sat down for burgers and fries from local restaurants, glad to be open and receiving customers again. Together with mom and son, this classic American family ate their classic American mid-day summer meal at an outdoor table. They basked in the sun and thanked God that things were back to normal. Only, they were not.
This weekend, while the iconic American family walked through crowded streets, entered mom and pop shops, stopped in public restrooms, and handed credit cards to smiling newly dubbed “essential workers” behind ice-cream shop cash registers, the U.S. approached a morbid milestone: The 100,000th person will die from COVID-19 this week. And while things look “normal” now, in two to three weeks, hospitals across the country will be overrun with mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who contracted the coronavirus from the person walking next to them on that quaint cobblestone street, from the clerk who caught it from the person in front of them in line at the tackle shop, or from the worship leader at their church.
The gut-level ache for nostalgic moments that many Americans yearned and voted for, even before COVID-19, is rising in full force in the wake of Memorial Day memories of barbeques, parks, beaches, hot dogs, burgers and ice cream cones. The President’s call back to a nostalgic norm has pushed every Governor in the U.S. to reopen their states, even though the vast majority are not ready. Rather than elevating public health, our nation’s leaders are opening the floodgates and pushing people to tempt death.
No state has achieved the three benchmarks required to reopen, as put forward by the President’s own task force: 1) two weeks of shrinking cases of the coronavirus in the state. 2) Mass testing and tracing. 3) Enough PPE, hospital beds and ventilators to manage the coming surge.
We are not prepared. What’s more, we are not safe. Coronavirus is still with us. This holiday weekend, as people squeeze into bars, onto beach decks of mom and pop restaurants, and crowd around airport conveyor belts and onto planes, the coronavirus finds new bodies to invade. Driven into public space by calls from their President (who spent the weekend golfing in solitude), sun-scorched white men and women reveled in their personal liberties, passing Buds between them in Missouri and Georgia and Texas and Florida and Alabama utterly ignoring sign in plain view that called for 6 feet of distance between guests.
Why did they do it? Do they actually believe President Trump’s cry that the coronavirus is “Fake News”? Did they see news reports of Black, Brown and older people dying at higher rates, and think to themselves, “This proves eugenic theory: Whites are the master race. So, if coronavirus is a battle of the fittest, surely white men are invincible.” Do they have a death-wish? Or is the nostalgia so great they would put their lives in danger just for one hit of that feeling of white dominance – that now distant feeling of invincibility, of the feeling one gets when you know you will never have to face consequences for one’s actions.
This Memorial Day weekend will serve our nation as the capstone to a powerful and necessary four-year lesson about who we are. When Trump won the White House on the promise that he would make America Great Again, white men flocked to his side and the majority of white women voted for the man who bragged about grabbing women’s private parts, God surfaced a stream of nostalgia that runs deep in White America. But we didn’t know how deep the waters went. White revelry throughout the South and Midwest in the face of 100,000 dead Americans reveals the depths of the undoing of white norms in a browning and decolonizing world. Invincibility is no longer a given. Consequences are coming.
So, we look to the not-too-distant future when hangovers have given way to emergency room sirens on Main Streets across America. I pray now for our brothers and sisters then. As they try to force breath through COVID-19-tarred lungs, and as they make decisions about whether to place their mothers, fathers, sons and daughters on ventilators, I pray for God to meet them in their humanness. I pray for humility to take hold. I pray for repentance.