The other epidemic we must fight is white supremacy

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Twenty years ago, as a senior at Boulder High School, I led a small collective of students in a walkout to protest the murder of Amadou Diallo by police in New York City. While at Casey Middle School, when the Klu Klux Klan marched along Pearl Street, I tip-toed downstairs to lock my sister’s bedroom door while she was sleeping after my friends told me she was too dark-skinned to be safe. 

This month, leaders across our Boulder community — and the world — have been protesting the ways black people are killed by police brutality. We join these protests knowing that black people have been dying from racial inequality in health care, the disproportionate vulnerability to the coronavirus and suffering unequal economic impacts from the COVID-19 crisis. These are not accidents. These are all symptoms of another deadly illness. 

These violent symptoms point to an illness that has gripped this country since its birth and has been embedded into its very DNA. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor this past spring, and of George Floyd and Tony McDade the last week of May are painfully visible manifestations of this epidemic. This illness is all around us — impacting us differently, yet none of us are free from it. We need to see all these symptoms as parts of the same sickness: white supremacy.

What many of us protesting are asking is that we don’t ignore the sickness that choked George’s breath from his body, nor deny the illness that allowed three other officers to stand by, watching. We need action against the contagion released with the tweets of public officials escalating the violence. And, if you are angry at these actions, please also grieve about the silence of neighbors and family — because that, too, test positive.

As a Chicana woman, I’m painfully familiar with both the brutal racism enacted on my people, and the policing of white identity that results in a more privileged position for those — like myself — who are people of color with light-colored skin. My tias and primos in New Mexico and my brothers in Sao Paulo, Brasil tell me that a COVID vaccine may help those with money and proximity to whiteness, yet together we bear the suffocating experience that this, too, will be unequally distributed in our majority black- and brown communities. 

I tested positive for COVID-19 in March, and felt the panic that grips you when your lungs are starved from oxygen. I now fear for my Chicano-Korean son, as attacks on Asian-American communities escalate because of the racists who labeled coronavirus a “Chinese virus.” As white men with guns — cheered on by their president — demand business as usual in the face of over 66% of coronavirus deaths being suffered by people of color, it is all too clear that white supremacy is both business as usual and a violent epidemic attacking us.

As our black sisters and brothers suffer on both the frontlines of police brutality, while bearing the refusal of health care systems to value black lives, and an economic system built on the enslavement and elimination of black and brown bodies, we know there will be no vaccine for white supremacy. And any inequitable “fix” will keep the system of white supremacy firmly in place, failing to transform and heal the systems that privilege white bodies and white lives.

Neither a vaccine for the coronavirus nor defunding the police — both of which are imperatives — will cure this other sickness. Without deeper transformation, white supremacy will continue to unleash violence against black people and other people of color, and continue infecting and diminishing the humanity of white people who remain complicit. There are no bystanders in this pandemic. It privileges some, yet infects us all.

We cannot support a return to a “great America” that never was. We — all of us — desperately need a new normal… one that enables a shared future. To get there, we must work towards the individual, organizational, societal and structural transformations necessary to ensure an equitable future for all people. 

Jodeen Olguín-Tayler is a Boulder resident and parent. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.