George Floyd’s words will forever be inscribed in our minds and in our hearts. The refrain ‘I can’t breathe’ is haunting on so many levels. What I find particularly haunting about his final words is the larger context in which this horrific incident occurred.
For the last three months, the global media have been focused almost exclusively on reporting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a virus that affects the respiratory system and lung functioning – in other words, our capacity to breathe.
Although no one knows when the world will be free of COVID-19, a massive global effort is currently underway to rid the globe of this virus. Billions of dollars have been poured into the search for a vaccine, scientists are examining potential therapies to treat COVID-19, and the world is pulling together to defeat this global threat. But what efforts are being made to rid the world of the other virus in our midst – the endemic racism that killed George Floyd?
I have every confidence that we will eventually overcome COVID-19. World leaders have already demonstrated their commitment to ensuring that is the case, but unless an equal amount of energy is expended on rooting out racism, the George Floyd’s among us will still be unable to breathe.
There is no mistaking that things look bleak at the moment. We face an unprecedented danger that has impacted all of our lives in a very profound way. No longer can we go about our daily routines and proceed with business-as-usual. Crowds have dispersed, previously busy streets have emptied, borders have been closed, and there is a deafening silence in most cities around the world.
In the current climate fear prevails. People are stockpiling essential items out of fear and remaining inside their homes. We’ve been told to keep our distance from one another. Stop shaking hands and avoid all contact. It’s hard not to feel in despair given the current situation. These are undoubtedly dark and scary times. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders if it’s all just a bad dream.
Despite all of this, I haven’t given up hope. In fact, I have more reason to hope than ever. What’s happening is awful, but if we could possibly see this situation from another perspective, there is a lesson here amid the tragedy.
This virus has shown us how much we have in common. At our very core, we are all the same and it is on that basis that this virus operates. By that I mean, it attacks humans indiscriminately. It doesn’t care how rich or poor we are or what country we live in. It’s not bothered by our political views, religious stance, or the colour of our skin. And it certainly doesn’t give a damn about our socio-economic status, what we do for a living, or how famous we are. It can attack anyone, anywhere, and in so doing, it treats us all the same.
Of course, it does impact individuals differently depending on their age and general level of health, but insofar as whom it chooses to infect, it doesn’t show any preference whatsoever. In this way, we are equally vulnerable and what this virus is reaffirming is our underlying commonality. Being forced to take this collective pause is an opportunity for the world to be reminded of that.
No one knows when our lives will return to normal again. But whenever the time comes, I hope we will take the lesson of this tragedy to heart and truly begin to see that we are all the same.