Updated: Jun 15, 2020
With recent stay-at-home order protests & the death of Ahmaud Arbery it’s clear that the value of life in America is less than white privilege.
Originally published on Medium.com.
You know how when you’re in something, you can’t see the bigger picture?
That’s what it feels like living in America. America operates in a completely egocentric way driven by the narrative written in history books and told by modern day leaders that it’s “the greatest country in the world”. Some Americans chant this while waving their American flags, wearing their American flag denim shorts (blissfully ignoring the way those stars and stripes were added to the flag).
But what exactly is America great at? Capitalism? Incarceration? Injustice? Fumbling the handling of COVID-19? Blissful ignorance?
Living outside of America has allowed me to see more of the bigger picture. I moved to Europe nearly four years ago, just around the time that the collective praise of my country’s first Black president transformed into pity after the election of my country’s first reality TV president.
It was also around the time that the rise of social media brought the flood of videos and live streams of the murders of Black men, women, and children from across the country.
The swift shift in the credibility of America after its new leader took office further highlighted the cracks in the core of the country.
While the US monopolizes a majority of the global wealth, it still has the highest amount of health care costs, its employees receive the lowest amount of paid leave, and it has the highest gun violence deaths of wealthy countries.
What would a country value more than the success, health, and safety of its citizens? White privilege.
You don’t necessarily need wealth or status when your skin has a low level of pigmentation.
For those of us who don’t, we often have to work at least twice as hard to get half as far. We have to supplement the underfunded education systems in our neighborhoods in order to get into a good college. We have to bury more of our pregnant mothers. We have to teach our boys how to survive if they’re stopped by police or confronted by racism. We fear leaving our homes because we may not make it back.
Four years ago, I woke up most mornings crying before I got out of bed because the images I saw made me feel sad, unsafe, and unable to recognize the country that was supposed to be my home. My daily news feed alternated between hashtags of Black people killed by police or gun toting civilians.
One Black person being shot while their hands are up is too many. But when it keeps happening, and there’s no systematic change, or sometimes even outrage, America didn’t look all that great to me.
It took being interrogated by Europeans as the only actual American they’ve ever met to see how nonsensical the country looked to the rest of the Western world. Do the police really shoot Black people on the streets? Why do people still have so many guns when there are still so many mass shootings?
With each question the look of confusion on their faces grew. I didn’t have an explanation or justification for them. I was just as dumbfounded about the pervasive disregard for Black live. Even though so many lives were lost, nothing ever really seemed to change in America.
To see America through the eyes of the rest of the world continued to add to the picture.
With each body cam footage released of police shootings, people who saw themselves in the fallen, neglected, or endangered rallied together to appeal to those who had the power to protect them through peaceful protests. Some of which resulted in unarmed protesters being arrested or pepper-sprayed. But they endured this treatment in order to take a stand against the loss of lives and liberties of people who could no longer speak for themselves.
But after four years, America still hasn’t changed.
Now, people are drowning out pleas to stop the deadly impact of a global pandemic with protests filled with cries of, “I’m not dying so why should I care?”
In the country with by far the highest number of Coronavirus cases and deaths, where 44 million people are uninsured, people have taken to the streets — sans gloves or face masks — protesting orders to shelter-at-home aimed at saving lives and to prevent a collapse of the healthcare system.
There are a select group of privileged Americans who are afforded more leniency and whose influence reaches further than the rest of the country. That privilege generally coddles said group of Americans into believing that their individual wants and desires are more important than the health and safety of the rest of the nation. But now, they’re being treated just like the rest of us. One nation, indivisible, in the face of a global pandemic.
Emboldened by tweets sent out by number 45, armed protestors in a growing number of states have showed up to governor’s homes, state capitals, and hospital entrances to insist that their rights were being violated by these virology expert approved measures.
There are countries across the world with much stricter confinement rules, for example where I live in Spain. With the second highest number of Coronavirus cases in the world, Spain has some of the strictest confinement rules in Europe. Starting on March 14th, the general public hasn’t been allowed to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary — to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor, veterinary, work, or to walk dogs. Nearly all shops, restaurants, and businesses are closed.
What Spain and other countries have come to terms with is that even though their economies are going to take a hard hit and even though individuals will have to make sacrifices, it’s what’s necessary to save lives.
Despite the intense and lengthy measures the masses have obliged. It’s not to say that people aren’t clamoring to get out. Nearly every inhabitant in the small Spanish town of Huelva violated the confinements orders and took to the streets to celebrate Easter. But they were armed with wine and dance moves, not threats and guns.
As privileged protesters across America try to pass off their threatening displays as an act of patriotism, nonthreatening Black bodies characterized as threatening simply because of the color of their skin are still being shot down in the streets.
The privilege these confinement protesters have was not afforded to twenty five year old Ahmaud Arbery. In February, Ahmaud went out for a jog like he often did. But on this particular day he was cornered by a pickup truck and shot dead by a former police officer and his son. While their friend, also armed, drove behind them and filmed the lynching.
Ahmaud brandished no weapons. Ahmaud made no threats. But Ahmaud didn’t make it home that day.
A Black man can’t go for a run, seek help after a car accident, or sell loose cigarettes without the very real possibility of being shot, strangled, and killed. When they are, comment sections online fill with speculations about what they did to bring this fatal fate upon themselves. Even though they’re unarmed, unassuming, and non-threatening.
Now, armed militants waving menacingly large guns have been storming state capitals across the country. Chanting threats that they are being imprisoned, their rights are being violated and they should be able to put their health at risk in order to get their haircut or their roots died. All while unlawfully congregating against their state’s stay-at-home orders.
And they’ve all lived to return home.
These people don’t yell that it’s their body, their choice when women’s bodies are being hijacked by anti-choice lawmakers.
These people don’t protest the wrongful imprisonment of the disproportionate number of Black and brown people who sit in holding because they can’t afford an attorney or to post bail.
These people don’t protest for immigrants crossing the borders to have access to haircuts, or even beds or toothbrushes.
But these are the people who protest life-saving measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.
These images of Ahmaud Arbery being the latest Black man shot down for being Black while white men with guns parade around in public are forever ingrained in my mind. They’re also the image of America broadcasted across the world. The complete disregard for life.
People who would rather see the collapse of the healthcare system than look at their roots. Individuals using a viral pandemic to stock up on guns and proudly wear them across their bodies instead of masks and gloves. Masses that scream out the injustices waged against them while people are dying.
What a privilege it is to blatantly defy the government’s orders without fear of being arrested or fined while Black teens are harassed, beaten, and arrested for not wearing masks in New York.
What a privilege it is to protest stay-at-home orders while first responders who can’t stay at home lose their Coronavirus patients despite working around the clock.
What a privilege it is to protest holding a sign that says “I need a haircut” while women have to give birth completely alone because of COVID-19 measures.
What a privilege it is to openly brandish an assault rifle while an unarmed Black man out for a jog is chased down and shot to death.
It‘s clear that all lives don’t matter when it comes in conflict with white privilege.