I first published this in my weekly newsletter. You can subscribe here.
This week saw a weird development in our collective stay-at-home reality. The president, encouraged I assume by conservative media, has begun calling for states to be liberated from the lock-downs that are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
LIBERATE MINNESOTA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
How many of those who urged our govt to help liberate the Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, Afghanis, etc., are as committed now to liberating Virginia, Minnesota, California, etc?— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 17, 2020
I’ll leave the debates about when we can safely loosen our new quarantined lifestyles to the experts; it’s the language of liberation that caught my attention.
If the recent protest in Michigan is indicative, it would seem that those who most want to be liberated right now are white supporters of the president. At the same time, it’s obvious to anyone paying even a little bit of attention that those most at risk from the virus are people of color, especially Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino/as. The impact of poverty on underlying health conditions along with the inability to shelter in place have made certain communities of people way more susceptible than others.
So the call for liberation is also – intentionally or not – a call for more sickness and death.
The ugly irony here is that the people calling for liberation are co-opting language and imagery from those who are suffering the worst of this virus. The African American communities who are being devastated are heirs to a long tradition composed of those who called, worked, and died for their own freedom. By appropriating the language of liberation in this moment, the president and his supporters are aligning themselves with the same stream of racial oppression that led to the fight for liberation in the first place.
Resisting the demand for liberation in previous generations led to Black suffering and death. Co-opting it today will lead to the same.