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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Judy Rohrer: The virus does discriminate

April 21, 2020 Updated Thu., April 23, 2020 at 2:34 p.m.

By Judy Rohrer Eastern Washington University

People are still saying “the virus doesn’t discriminate,” but we know that’s not true. The virus is hitting vulnerable populations the hardest – our elderly, those with underlying health conditions, unhoused people, Natives, Black and Brown communities and especially those living at any of these intersections. These are the same folks disproportionately trapped in prisons, jails and detention centers. And while COVID-19 ravages those communities, some leaders have insisted on calling it the “Chinese virus,” leading to attacks on Asian people across the country.

Some in Big Ag are seizing the opportunity to see if they can pay farm workers even less. These workers are currently identified as “essential” because they feed us, but they are treated as disposable, especially if they are undocumented. And then there’s the lack of PPE for nurses and home health care workers, the vast majority of whom are women, and many are women of color and immigrants. COVID-19 is exposing the inequities and injustices in what we used to call “normal” life.

Some in Congress are calling for better collection and release of all COVID-19 data regarding race, ethnicity, sex, age, socioeconomic status and other demographics. We should support them in that effort. We need that data now (really yesterday) so that we can plan effective responses and mitigation strategies – ones that rise to the challenge, rather than the cliche “the virus doesn’t discriminate.” None of us are safe until all of us are safe.

Beyond safety and survival, we need that data to inform the way we reconstruct society post-COVID. I for one don’t want to go back to “normal.” The skies are clearer, and so too our recognition that our way of life was unjust, violent and unsustainable.

We are already creating that new, better world. Many of us are meeting neighbors for the first time, checking in on older relatives and friends, making masks, participating in mutual aid collectives. Scholar-activists are forging international alliances, standing in solidarity with indigenous communities, calling for climate strikes and debt strikes. This is happening globally, including right here in Eastern Washington.

I am proud to be a member of the diversity programs at Eastern Washington University. For 40-50 years American Indian, Africana, Chicanx and Women’s and Gender Studies (soon to be Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies) have served our respective communities and all their intersections. These independent programs with their events and curricular offerings centering diversity, inclusion and social justice make Eastern unique in the region.

Diversity programs like ours are catalysts for knowledge production, community engagement, cultural vitality and activism. We collect, analyze and interpret data and lived experience from our communities and use it toward the creation of a more just society. We knew from the start that the virus was going to discriminate because we live and study the vulnerabilities it is exploiting – structural racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, ableism and xenophobia. We invite your involvement imagining and building our way out of this crisis and beyond the violences of “the normal.” Juntos somos mas fuertes (together we are strong).

Judy Rohrer is director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Eastern Washington University.

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