NPR’s Michel Martin reflects on the coronavirus and how it’s impacting daily life in the United States.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I was thinking about the trip our team took back in 2018 to report on Puerto Rico’s uneven recovery from Hurricane Maria. Of course you’re going to report on the big issues, but on a trip like that, for some reason, it’s those unexpected little details that tend to stick with you. And one of those details was our visit to a hair salon, where the owner told us that more women with naturally curly hair were choosing to keep it that way, even after electricity became more reliable and they could go back to straightening it if they wanted to.
She told us that a lot of her clients realized that it looked better, was easier to manage and was healthier for their hair, so she didn’t even bother to talk about the racist politics at the – forgive me – root of the whole idea that straight hair is professional and desirable and curly hair somehow isn’t. She just went about giving her clients awesome curly haircuts and stocking products to keep them looking sharp.
Can I just tell you? I thought about that again this week because all crises, whether personal or political, are revealing. The coronavirus pandemic we are now experiencing is no different. For sure, it’s laying bare objective realities, like the fact that millions of people can’t stay home if they’re sick because they won’t get paid if they do, like the fact that millions of people have little to no financial cushion and can’t stock up on necessities if they wanted to, or the fact that too many kids are living on the edge, and that a college dorm closing or a K-through-12 school shutting down for weeks is occasion for profound worry.
Some of what is being revealed is less obvious and more deeply ingrained, like the fact that so many people feel on the edge, even if on paper they’re not. Is it because the memories of the recession are still fresh and the scars are so deep, or that work is so central to American life that people don’t know who they are otherwise? Crises are also great teachers. We’re learning again what we as people and as a country could have known or should have known but have chosen not to see or act upon. Surely some of us are going to be asking, why?
Why, if, in a world with an interconnected economic ecosystem, with many of our clothes, our phones, machinery and food coming from China and Europe, not to mention Mexico and Canada, with U.S. soybeans, meat and poultry feeding the world and U.S. machinery and fuel powering it and transporting it, why hasn’t there been a more coherent global response? Why aren’t we sharing more information and resources? Are the world’s best scientists working together to solve this, and if not, why not? Why can some countries test as many people as need to be tested to determine the course of this virus and others with great resources are not? Why are some communities able to quickly wheel around to offer their students opportunities to take lessons at home, but others, even jurisdictions right next door to each other, even in the same state, cannot?
And finally – and yeah, sure, this is a sensitive one, but it has to be asked – why, in a rich country like the United States, a proud country, a compassionate country, is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness a right according to one of our founding documents, but the care that could keep you alive or at least well is considered a benefit, something you need to earn through your job or receive through mercy or righteousness? There are always reasons, but are the reasons sufficient and relevant to now, to what we know now, to the facts and science and common sense and moral reasoning now, not what our parents told us, not what our neighbor said, not what everybody thought was right back in the day, what makes us feel good about ourselves and our place in the world? We’re going to be different after this, the only question is how.
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