The question that is troubling me most right now is how long will we tolerate gross inequality in our societies? Of course, the killings of African-Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by white police officers, and Ahmaud Arbery by two white residents, brought the stark inequality of structural racism to our focused attention again, nationally and internationally. White supremacy and anti-blackness are perhaps the most recent, clearest, most egregious example of inequality, grounded as they are in ancient, absurd notions about race. But there are also inequalities of power, civil rights, and opportunity that are distributed very unevenly according to wealth, income, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. Why?
It is hardly surprising that the coronavirus pandemic has also hit African-Americans, indigenous people, and Latino/as hardest. That is because those groups already tended to have less access to money, insurance, and health resources. One Axios article I read struck me hard in that respect.
“From hastily-chartered superyachts to fortresslike country estates, the wealthiest Americans have found places to ride out the pandemic far away from the masses. . . . The contrast between the rich vs. poor experience of coronavirus exposes class differences — in housing, access to health care, etc. — that are less obvious in normal times. . . . Even as elected officials tell us that the novel coronavirus does not discriminate — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “the great equalizer” — it’s still true that the moneyed classes are walling themselves off and, on the whole, suffering less. . . .
Headlines that tell the story:
- “Chic Hamptons food stores ransacked by the wealthy amid coronavirus pandemic” (NY Post)
- “Private jets ‘pour in’ to Martha’s Vineyard as rich flee coronavirus” (The Telegraph)
- “Billionaires are chartering superyachts for months at a time to ride out the coronavirus pandemic” (Business Insider)
- “The U.S. has a shortage of coronavirus tests, so the ultra-wealthy are paying concierge doctors to do their own,” (Business Insider)”
Jennifer A. Kingston, “The Rich Pull Up the Drawbridges”, Axios, April 3, 2020, https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-rich-drawbridges-7567f493-1bed-494e-926c-be897823a706.html.] Meanwhile, my good friend, who is Latino, one of the working poor, and has no health insurance, just prays that no one in his family comes down with COVID-19; they cannot afford medical treatment.
I confess that when former presidential hopeful Andrew Yang proposed the idea of universal basic income (UBI), I thought it was a poorly thought-out nostrum that could never work. I am rethinking that. The vast majority of us seemed to embrace the “economic impact” or coronavirus stimulus payments many of us received during the pandemic. UBI would be a step toward equality. Self-interested as we are, we might even consider that UBI could stimulate our consumer-driven economy the way the economic impact payments did, the way social security benefits do.
When will even those of us who benefit from unequal systems have had enough? When will our disgust for our society that oppresses people without cause rise up in us enough to let us confront the basic inequalities in the systems we live with but cannot justify?
I think we are getting closer. I got closer watching the recent protests in our country and around the world against police violence toward people of color. I got closer when I saw this video of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant singing the song he wrote about what it is like to grow up as a black man in this country, “I Just Want to Live”. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUSa4pJ4enw.] For the sake of our own human decency, how can we not put our collective arms figuratively around Keedron and everyone who is treated unequally? And then how can we not insist on real, institutional changes that will show him and others we care enough to act; that will give him, at last, a real opportunity to live the life he wants to, an opportunity equal to the one many of us get to take for granted.
It does not have to be the way it is. Inequality among us was not ordained by God or Nature, despite arguments to the contrary. “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Inequality is antithetical to these UU Principles and others. May we also make it antithetical to what we are willing to live with.