In the Face of Crisis
By NANCY PATRICK
Many of us will talk about the hardships of the year 2020 for a long time. This year has indeed made life difficult for more than one reason. Even though 2021 has begun, I include the recent hardships of the deadly winter in the difficult year that began last March when the COVID pandemic began.
I had not heard of this virus before last March. I first learned of it when the schools decided to cancel the remainder of the school year. The new educational process would require drastic changes to provide free public education to our children. Districts developed several educational models including total virtual learning, total in-class learning, and hybrid learning (a blend of virtual and in-person).
Our society went through a whirlwind of painful change. We had to wear masks and social distance to protect ourselves and others from contagion. Many businesses closed while the ones that remained open imposed severe restrictions and had to dismiss employees and limit their service to the public.
These COVID-related changes created an incredible amount of stress. Thousands lost jobs and income, meaning they also could not pay rent or buy groceries. People who had never needed public assistance found themselves in long lines at food banks.
When we hear the distressing stories of what COVID has caused, our hearts break. Worldwide, COVID has infected over one hundred ten million people and killed over two and a half million. No one alive today had experienced such a pandemic, so the virus caught us unprepared.
A few months into the pandemic, American society entered a violent period of racial unrest. Unfortunately, the Civil Rights movement took a blow this summer. Shockingly, we all witnessed the public murder of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis whom police had detained to question about a bogus twenty dollar bill he had allegedly used in a store.
Police officer Derek Chauvin pushed Floyd to the ground and then forced his knee onto Floyd’s neck until he died. During the entire event, Floyd screamed, “I can’t breathe.” This horrendous event spurred violent and deadly riots throughout America. “I can’t breathe” became a common mantra for oppression.
His death provoked public awareness of many additional questionable deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers. The protests, widespread and frighteningly violent, showed deep-seated anger and bitterness over the prolonged racial discrimination in our country.
These devastating social upheavals have opened our eyes to something we thought we had overcome but suddenly realized we had just swept under the rug. COVID treatment has revealed a gap between the medical care received by ethnic groups in our country. People of color as well as low-income people frequently slip through the cracks in the health care system. This unacceptable fact places more value on some lives more than other lives.
The recent winter disaster of record-breaking temperatures, power outages, and water treatment closures has impacted a great swath of our country. My home lost power on Sunday evening, Feb. 14, leaving us without power for over fifty hours. Then we lost access to water for a couple of days.
The winter nightmare affected me more than I would have expected. Thankfully, I had my husband with me the entire time, but even so, I felt isolated and afraid at times. We were in a dark, cold house with no access to anything that required electricity. That meant no television, Wi-Fi, or cooking.
You should know that I live in a very comfortable home in a nice neighborhood. I have every kind of insurance available, and I have resources that could ameliorate my difficult circumstances. Sadly, many others do not share my good fortune.
The pandemic has opened many eyes to the systemic unfairness in our society. I have always known about individual prejudice, but with the revelations of COVID, I have discovered information previously unknown to me. This information shows the foundational discrimination that built our country.
On CBS This Morning, anchor Tony Dokoupil reported that Congress H.R. 40 will examine historical governmental discrimination that has contributed to the disparity between accumulated wealth of black and white people (February 19, 2021).
Even though this disparity may have begun during slavery, it took new forms as early as the 1950s during the development of suburbs. Dokoupil used his own family history to explain how these suburbs created an unfair and powerful practice of preventing people of color from having access to the benefits that would contribute to their success and wealth.
Dokoupil described, along with others, the utopian lifestyle of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, during the fifties and beyond. The Federal Housing Authority, backed by the federal government, planned, developed, and mapped suburbs around major cities. Whether the general population knew of this practice is debatable.
The developers color-coded all the neighborhoods, using red for the areas where the government would not grant mortgages. All other colors remained eligible for government sponsored mortgages. The practice, called red-lining, designated areas where only white families could purchase homes through government mortgages.
It’s easy to see how depriving certain areas of federal assistance in purchasing a home would relegate those areas to the poorest people. These red-lined areas were often further delineated by railroads or other natural boundaries that separated the communities.
All the tragic events of this year have made me wonder—just how much can a person or group of people take? Dokoupil asked his parents and several community leaders in Lyndhurst what should they do now to try to right the wrongs of the past.
The most honest answer was, “I don’t know.” Recognizing our past sins does not repair the damage done by them. We can take a first step by enlightening our minds and determining to be sensitive to every benefit we presume we will have. Let us look around to see if everyone else receives equal treatment.
For example, I want people who lost their jobs to receive stimulus packages instead of those who did not suffer great losses during the pandemic. I want everyone to feel as safe in their homes as I do in mine. I want those in authority to accept responsibility for their failures. I want leaders to lead by example rather than by admonishing people to follow their advice.
I guess I just want all of us to be the best we can be. Although I have seen heroic acts of sacrifice and kindness during this year, I have unfortunately observed an absence of it. I have observed selfishness, anger, fear, greed, hatred, and violent political division. We can do better than this.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing