Ashes and Rubble

Unless you have serious psychological issues, you recognize the grave danger the COVID-19 pandemic poses for our global community.

This is a time of great loss. The worst tragedies are the loss of our loved ones. And, in addition to these heartbreaks, we also must bear the simultaneous catastrophes of the loss of income, the destabilization of our families and the destruction of whatever marginal security we may have had.

Because COVID–19 is going to leave communities around the world in ashes and rubble— financially, socially and emotionally— it is extremely important that we, as people of color, stay strong and focused.

This murderous virus does not discriminate based on race or economic status, but the social structures under which we live leave some of us more exposed than others to its dangers. And facts, borne out by data, show that people of color and the poor are dying of the virus at a rate disproportionate to our percentage of the general population.

In the midst of this pandemic, it is not easy to see clearly all the circumstances contributing to the misery we now suffer. Amid the scramble to survive, we are left with little time to reflect on why it is killing African Americans and other people of color faster than wealthy white people. As in the fog of war, the fog of crisis narrows our focus on the enemy directly in front of us from moment to moment. And it takes critical analysis to understand why this is happening to us.

The answer to this question also reveals why whites generally live longer than people of color: We live in different worlds.

This might be an extraordinary thing to say if it was not for the reality of environmental racism.

Environmental racism creates different worlds for different people. It created the toxic water crisis in Flint, Mich. It is one reason Puerto Rico has not fully recovered more than two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria left it devastated in 2017. And, for years after New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, was flooded by Hurricane Katrina its rehabilitation was neglected because of environmental racism. These tragedies, which never would have been tolerated in predominantly white and wealthy communities, are only a few examples of environmental racism.

Interstate highways and exchanges cut through predominantly black urban areas. Many urban areas populated by people of color are classified as food deserts by the federal government. And in a 1987 study titled “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States,” the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice found that “indeed, race has been a factor in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities in the United States.” Those facilities have been deliberately located in and near communities of color, resulting in a disproportionate number of individuals having their health compromised and being more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

For people of color, our fight for survival must be fought on multiple fronts, and now COVID-19 has opened yet another one.We should not despair, however, over the dangerous road ahead. Instead, we should take a lesson from our ancestors many of whom, suffered slavery or oppressive colonialism in times past. The generations that emerged from under these evils to educate themselves and their children while building lives, communities and institutions in the face of racism set an example for us to follow. We must support and rely on each other while demanding fair treatment from a reluctant government. Threats to our health and welfare have always been compounded by social injustice. And so it is with this COVID-19 pandemic.

With one arm we must shield ourselves and our communities from encroachments and threats like pandemics and, with our other arm, we must wield the sword of justice to eliminate public policy inequities born of racism and notions of white superiority and then inflicted upon us.

Our greater vulnerability to COVID-19 is the result of conscious and deliberate decisions by policy makers under the influence of racial bigotry and belief in white superiority. It is not enough for us to beat back this deadly virus. We also must also strategize and work to eliminate those injustices that make us the most vulnerable in its path. And, we must work with those who recognize these injustices in order to tackle these problems collectively.

Out of the ashes and rubble of this worldwide tragedy we must build a new and more just world.

A new breed of bigoted politicians

— Among the many windswept cliffs that stand guard on the shores of the island of Okinawa, one is known for its particularly gruesome history.


Oscar Blayton

“Suicide Cliff” is located on the southern portion of Okinawa. It is so named because thousands of Okinawans took their own lives at the site as American forces advanced across the island in 1945 during the last months of World War II.

Twenty five years later, flying low over cliffside memorials honoring the dead of various towns and villages who perished there, I was struck by the fact that so many people felt compelled to rush to their own destruction. I soon learned that for tactical reasons, and to further their own doomed war effort, the Japanese army had terrified Okinawan civilians with tales of extreme cruelties they should expect at the hands of the approaching Americans. The island’s people had their minds manipulated to the point that many chose to kill themselves rather than fall into the hands of a ruthless enemy.

Eventually, the people of Okinawa came to realize that these were “useless deaths” as the Americans turned out not to be the monsters portrayed by the Japanese army.

In the years since viewing this tragic site, I learned it is not unusual for people to be manipulated into a mass hysteria that makes them act against their own self-interest, or even to rush toward their own self-destruction. In this cycle of the U.S. presidential election, we have extraordinarily clear examples of the type of propaganda and demagoguery that leads to this type of madness.

Donald Trump is the poster child for destructive demagoguery. This bloviating bigot has pulled the Republican Party down to new lows and, in the process, dumbed down the national political discourse to a point where America is gnawing at its own flesh in an attempt to expel nonexistent horrors.

Echoing the likes of former Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama and the two Virginia senators, Harry F. Byrd Sr. and Harry F. Byrd Jr., Trump feeds his followers platters of noxious vitriol that are devoid of facts. In addition to demonizing Latinos and “Black Lives Matter” activists, Trump, a privileged White man who inherited his wealth from his father, once declared that the Pequot Indians “don’t look like Indians to me.” This is a person who feels so entitled that he can determine what America is and who Americans are.

Like the thousands who followed a manipulative Japanese army to their hurried end on Okinawa, individuals who flock to Trump’s banner of bigotry and foolishness –eventually will see the senselessness of championing someone who makes extremely ill-considered pronouncements and whose campaign completely lacks sound policy ideas.

Fortunately for them, however, Trump will not be president of the United States. Unfortunately, however, other Republican presidential hopefuls are mimicking his audacious and bigoted posturing because his followers are giving so much credence to this cartoon of an ugly American.

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee may not be stoking the fires of the exact same bigoted causes, but they are ramping up their rhetoric to approximate Trump’s level of demagoguery. Just as George Wallace and both Senators Byrd relied on a strategy of saying the “N-word” louder than anyone else, this new breed of bigoted politicians base their strategies on attacking liberal targets of opportunity with more vigor than anyone else. And while there are varying degrees of bigotry among the Republican field of presidential candidates, they all seem to be willing to have the country self- destruct rather than give in to its liberalization.

During the past seven years, most of them have urged their followers to reject the Affordable Care Act, with little regard for the fact that many of them cannot pay for basic medical needs. These Republican candidates have called upon their followers to oppose an increase in the minimum wage, despite the fact that many of those supporters are low-wage earners. They ask conservatives to join them in opposing the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, even though the sons and daughters of those conservatives might bleed on the battlefields of any ensuing war. And, of course, they oppose extending equal rights to the LBGT community, while many of their backers have family members and loved ones who are in the LBGT community.

They are urging their followers to go over the cliff and pull the rest of America over behind them.

For those of us who refuse to swallow the venom of the likes of Trump, Cruz, Huckabee and Paul, we have a pressing obligation. We must do all that is necessary to prevent the forces of self-destruction from taking hold. We must not allow a group of hysterical bigots to determine the future of America. We must stand against those who are taken by a type of self-destructive madness and would throw America over a political cliff to drown in a sea of hatred and despair.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps. combat pilot and human rights activists who practices law in Virginia.