It’s strange to think of community right now.
COVID-19 forced us all to retreat to our homes in order to protect our communities, to prevent our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed so that care could be provided to those who become the most sick. It’s true that many of us resisted the need to wear masks and to socially distance, and many more will as the weather becomes nicer and we grow fatigued with self-isolation. Nonetheless, the majority of us recognize the severity of COVID-19, and what it means for our communities. Taking the appropriate action, however, made me feel isolated from my communities. I can still go days without talking to my friends from Duke. While I Zoomed and texted my high school friends here in Spokane, COVID-19 still made me feel separate from them until recently. Most of them live within in three miles of me, but I had only seen them two times – following state guidelines for social distancing – since coming home at the beginning of March.
While COVID-19 still requires caution and adherence to public health guidelines, the current protests have reinvigorated a sense of community within me. For the most part, I still stay home. I always wear a mask. My connection to WomenNC, the nonprofit I intern for, is limited by my remote work status. DukeEngage provides me little community since this is an independent project and not the group program I planned to do. I only see my friends from Duke on Instagram and Snapchat.
But I still feel connected to the millions of Americans taking a stand against police brutality. I saw my Spokane friends for the first time in about a month this past weekend when we peacefully marched on the courthouse with 5,000 other Spokanites tired of racism. Since then, we have been communicating nonstop about the injustice we are witnessing – about the SPD unleashing tear gas on peaceful protestors after kneeling with them, about white supremacists instigating violence in our city, about former peers of ours who respond to our social media posts looking to debate what is and isn’t racist.
I consider myself deeply committed to social justice. I am obsessed with current events and social issues, wanting to talk about them with anyone and everyone. Most of the time, I feel like I belong to a small group of people who pay attention to the world and the constant injustices occurring. I felt things starting to change in May, first slowly with the heightened news coverage of Ahmaud Arbery’s death and then rapidly with the incident involving Amy Cooper in Central Park and the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I felt my small group here in Spokane and my small group at Duke connect with other small groups of people interested in changemaking all over the country until we all belonged to a national community.
For the past few days, all I can think about is racism. As I sit working on my assignments for WNC, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others weigh on my mind. We like to divide ourselves into groups based on gender, race, sexuality and other identities important to a person’s experience and perspective. These groups, depending on who belongs to which ones, can make it difficult for the larger communities they make up to feel welcoming and safe. What I have appreciated most about these protests is the open-mindedness that so many people (not enough though) who belong to privileged groups are demonstrating. I just hope those of us with white privilege can walk our talk and continue to practice anti-racist behavior long after this moment in history.