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How Black Lives Matter and the Pandemic came together

Naomi Klein discusses the intersection of the pandemic with BLM and wonders whether a new 'softness' played a part.

In this extract from an interview, author and film-maker Naomi Klein, describes how, “We must not return to the pre-Covid status quo, only worse.”

Interviewer, Katherine Viner, reflects on the fact that in the midst of one crisis, the coronvirus pandemic, we are seeing further upheaval, in the form of huge demonstrations against racism. She asks Ms Klein why she thinks these protests, in light of George Floyd’s death, have happened now. Ms Klein responds:

This is not the first uprising of its kind. But I think there were certain aspects of it that were unique because of Covid and the outsized impact of the pandemic for African Americans in cities like Chicago where, by some counts, 70% of the fatalities from Covid were African Americans.”

Whether it’s because they are the ones performing those at-risk jobs, without protections, or because of the legacies of environmental pollution in their communities, stress, trauma , unsafe workplaces and discriminatory healthcare. Black communities are bearing a disproportionate burden of the fatalities from the virus, defying this idea that we were all in this together.

In the midst of this moment of profound trauma, those killings – of Ahmaud Arbery, of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor – slice through that.

But then there is a question that a lot of people are asking, which is what are all these non-black people doing at the protests? That is what is new, certainly at this scale. Many of these demonstrations are truly multiracial; black-led multi-racial demonstrations. Why is this time different?

I have a few ideas. One has to do with the softness that the pandemic has introduced into our culture. When you slow down, you can feel things; when you’re in that constant rat race, it doesn’t leave much time for empathy. From its very beginning, the virus has forced us to think about interdependencies and relationships. The first thing you are thinking about is: everything I touch, what has somebody else touched? The food I am eating, the package that was just delivered, the food on the shelves. These are connections that capitalism teaches us not to think about.

Discussion point:

Naomi Klein suggests that the experience of the pandemic may have made us ‘softer’, more aware of other people’s vulnerability. Do you agree? Do you think there could be a link with the Black Lives Matter protests in the way she describes?

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