“How do you go to work everyday when that means you have to protect patrons from a disease that they aren’t doing anything to protect you from.” – Kiese Laymon, Navigating The Nightmare: Under The Blacklight, Episode #9, African American Policy Forum
“…And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it…” Number 13:32 (NIV)
As I complete week #10 of our sheltering in place and watch states begin to reopen, the two statements and scripture above keep rattling around in my mind as the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage our nation.
Frankly, as a woman of African descent in America, I shudder at the thought of what I am returning to?:
George Floyd murdered by a police officer outside a grocery store.
Continued detention of men women and children at our Southern border
Contested Navajo checkpoints
The continuation of black and brown bodies being slammed on the pavement in far too many locales across America
Requisite shootings and beatings and killing of Black people by law enforcement, civilians and each other
Disproportionate death and suffering due to COVID-19 for most non-White Americans
Spotty virus testing in most places
Record unemployment and joblessness
Stubborn trickle down relief
Hateful attacks against Asian Americans
Too little PPE to go around for workers who are both essential and disposable
Folks unwilling to mask in public for the safety of others
Physical mistreatment of people of color when we mask AND when we don’t mask in public space
Weary children and parents with few available resources or outlets
Grandparent confined to nursing homes without family access or regulatory oversight
Empty bank accounts
Looming voter suppression
So, as the doors of our civic life are pried back open:
What did WE learn?
Who do WE value?
What rights and protections should ALL in America possess?
Is America GREAT AGAIN YET?
And how is that measured these days?
Is that measured by the number of COVID-19 cases or the overall death count?
Therefore, as I peak out my gate and watch “the reopening” go by, I have had to make some decisions:
If me and mine are going to CONSTANTLY menaced at stores, harassed while exercising, extinguished while asleep in our bed, tacked in stores or on asphalt, coerced by armed assailants while crossing American streets among other daily atrocities.
Why would people of color hurry out of their seclusion to enrich this nation with our dollars (if we do have any)?
According to the University of Georgia’s 2018 Multicultural Economic Report , minority communities in America posses 3.9 TRILLION dollars in buying power. Yet, in this oppressive and stressful climate for people of color, why would we be hurrying out of to the great American reopening to enrich this nation with our dollars???!!!
Furthermore, as a person of faith, my hesitation around reopening pressed me into the Bible where I found an unlikely group of allies as my mind continued to sputter that “we looked like grasshoppers…we looked like grasshoppers”….
In the book of Numbers 13-14, we meet that scouting party who have been over to Canaan to explore per Moses’ directives and have returned.
The text reports that:
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. – Numbers 13: 31-34
Now, typically, as we settle on our biblical heroes, Moses, Caleb and Aaron are held up as worthy of our admiration in this text. However, in this COVID-19 moment, I have to admit that I am rocking with “the scouts” ( or the men who explored and returned) at the moment.
While Moses called for the exploration (v. 17) and Caleb was eager to take possession of the land (v. 30), the men who had gone up with Caleb “spread among the Israelites a bad report” and commented on the danger of the land, the size of the people in comparison to themselves.
Now, be clear, I conceded that ain’t now shout right here…ain’t no organ…we ain’t been past the cross yet…but just hear me out.
As people of color, we must be like the spies in this conversation: deeply concerned about how we return…and where to return…and how to deploy our resources upon our return.
Now, I know that this is a controversial position—that of the siding with the scouts standing between Moses and his mission. But let me explain.
I just believe there in the wisdom of the scouts.
There is caution with the scouts.
They remind us that—in moments that proceed a profound change of course— we need to talk it over, think it through, plot it out, make a plan and consider a course.
By Number 14:1, we find that the community gathers, raised their voices, wept and wailed aloud. The community allowed itself a process to sort out the wisdom of moving forward.
Furthermore, I believe the text gives us another important insight: When the God-ordained leader such as Moses leads the community, the community is expected to follow.
And yet: Is that where we find ourselves in this moment?
Who in our leadership has prayed over this reopening?
Who in our leadership has “rent their garments” over this opening? They won’t even wear masks?
Who in our leadership has wrestled with God over this opening?
Who in our leadership has promised to resolve any of the issues in the list above to make this reopening any better, any safer, any more just, any more equitable for communities of color and other vulnerable populations?
Thus, I pray that people of color in America afford themselves the time to deliberate, discern, doubt and decipher what THE LORD IS SAYING ABOUT HOW THEY SHOULD MOVE AND WHAT THEY MUST DO during this great American reopening.
It just seems to me that in THIS America— if we as people of color CANNOT move through space, vote, recreate, work UNMOLESTED, OCCUPY SPACE SAFELY AND SURVIVE ENCOUNTER WITH ARMED PURSUERS— why should we EVER find our precious bodies or resources racing out into “lands that devour those living in it” —if we can help it?
In closing, I would also offer that we are not only mindful of how we re-enter, but be sure that
We are supporting individuals and institutions that are fighting for us to be protected out here in these COVID-19 streets.
If possible, here are a few national organizations that I suggest we support with our time, talent and $$$$$— in addition to YOUR local charities, faith communities, candidates for elective office and YOUR preferred philanthropic efforts in the coming months:
Navajo and Hopi COVID-19 Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/NHFC19Relief
Protect Native Elders: https://www.gofundme.com/f/protect-native-elders
National Domestic Workers Alliance: https://domesticworkers.org/coronavirus-care-fund
Equal Justice Initiative: https://eji.org
Color of Change: https://colorofchange.org
National Nurses United: https://www.nationalnursesunited.org
African American Policy Forum: https://aapf.org
Democracy Now: https://www.democracynow.org
***Alumni chapters of your colleges and universities and/or SPECIFIC departments/units that serve minority students, faculty, staff***
World Central Kitchen: https://wck.org
Black Futures Lab: https://blackfutureslab.org
One Fair Wage: https://onefairwage.com/about/
Farm Workers Alliance: https://www.alianzanacionaldecampesinas.org
Nursing Home Advocates: https://theconsumervoice.org
The Black Voters Fund: https://www.blackvotersmatterfund.org
The Intercept: https://theintercept.com
The Poor People’s Campaign: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org
Feel free to expand this list and share your preferred organizations that need our support.
Love yall, stay safe and be well.