Ignoring the opportunity
Updated: May 14, 2020
“History will judge all of us not only on whether we got through this pandemic, but also on the lessons we learned and the actions we took once it was over.” - WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 6 May 2020 This seems to be the main thread in the conversations with nonprofit colleagues and personal friends recently. The current focus of “opening up” the country/states/cities/towns has gotten people talking. Or is it the general feeling of being “over it?” Either way, I’m terrified of the direction this conversation is going. In all my years working with others to create change in large systems (such as child welfare, homelessness, food insecurity, gender violence), the fallback phrase of why we couldn’t create the huge changes we wished for was something along the lines of “you’d have to blow up the whole system for that to work.” Well.... guess what, this virus has blown up the whole system. This virus has laid bare who the essential workers truly are, exposed the gross imbalance of our healthcare system, showed us that home isn’t safe for everyone, that gender-based violence and child neglect are real and pervasive, that racism is really woven into every aspect of American life and culture. None of this is new, but many of us are just coming to realize that these things are true. (And many are choosing to continue to ignore it, but that’s a different conversation.) My worry is that, for those of us not ignoring what these past few months have exposed, for those of us who have wished for the system to be blown up, we will still do nothing. This is the definition of white power and privilege. Let us be clear: it is white folks who hold the power, the wealth, and the majority of the seats at the table making the decisions. And we are now al in l just sitting here wringing our hands until we can go back to normal? It seems we do not *actually* want to blow up the system and take a very critical look at it. Not if that means we cannot go “back” to the comfort of what we were used to “before.” I fear we don’t actually want to step aside and look critically at the systems we have created. We don’t actually want to stare down our privilege and power, to listen (finally!) to the people of color who have been telling us this all along. So here we are. With an amazing opportunity to create real change. To be mindful, critical, and plan-full in how we come back from this. To listen, truly, deeply, and openly. And I am terrified that we will not. That we (with the privilege and power) will still not listen and still not change. That might be the harshest reality to come from all of this.