Your Dear Little Ear
Notes from the Pandemic
What started out as one historic crisis has become two: the pandemic and racial reckoning. The odd thing—one of many these days—is that the two call for radically different, almost opposite responses.
The pandemic calls for quarantine—in fact, I sometimes use the two words interchangeably: “during the pandemic…” and “during the quarantine….” It is passive, something to be resisted and outlasted. We hunker down. We keep our distance. We wander through the house, trying to pretend things are normal.
The racial crisis calls for us to reach out, communicate, understand, change. It is active. It begs for assembly, demonstration—the very things that quarantine discourages and even prohibits. We gather in groups to vent and discuss. We stand shoulder to shoulder, literally, with no sign of social distancing. One could argue that social distancing is what caused the problem in the first place: what is segregation but social distancing on a huge, hateful scale?
Wondering how in the world George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake could have been treated as they were, I find myself thinking of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific. The song is about how children aren’t born with racial prejudice but learn it: “It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.”
This certainly is true of children, but they aren’t the only ones. All of us, every day, are carefully taught by the media, by the actions and inactions of others, seemingly by the very act of breathing.
It turns out that corona isn’t the only virus we can inhale.