On the Perils of Normalizing the Virus

School students in the West Bank and Gaza take precautions against the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Benay Blend

A fault is a fracture or zone of fracture between two blocks of rock. During an earthquake, the rock on one side of the fault suddenly slips making a big move all at one. This is what happened during the pandemic, an exposure of an unsustainable system that, like dominos, has a rippling effect both within a country as well as on an international scale.

“Just want to re-iterate that I HATE the ‘personal responsibility’ discourse around vaccines and the pandemic,” writes Onyesonwu Chatoyer, organizer with the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) and All African Women’s Revolutionary Union, editor with Hood Communist and member of the National Coordinating Committee for the Venceremos Brigade. “What’s happening is not the result of individual failures,” she continues, “it is the result of systemic failures and no amount of berating people who are rightfully confused and distrustful after living through over a YEAR of profit-driven misinformation from the tippity top is gonna change that.”

 In that quote, Chatoyer encapsulates how the American political system, which privileges profit over people, was exposed in its handling of the pandemic. It also sums up the country’s foreign policy, a strategy in which certain lives matter more than others.

In “The Little Talked About Covid-19 ‘Variants’: Vaccine Mismanagement Will Have Dire Repercussions,” Ramzy Baroud discusses the “selfish and haphazard international response” to the pandemic. “If anything,” he explains, “the pandemic has deepened – and further highlighted – not only existing global inequalities, but the complete disregard of the poorer, readily exploited South by the wealthier, neocolonial North.”

Rather than ensure that dosages are equitably distributed, “wealthy nations,” Baroud notes, “seem more consumed with piling up or selling vaccine surplus to the highest bidder.”  Again, economic considerations are more important than the lives of people who will surely suffer long after developed countries have partly contained the virus.

Exploring what she terms “vaccine nationalism,” Sue Halpern writes that much of what is termed “vaccine hesitance” is actually an issue of lack of access for communities of people of color. Moreover, she explains, vaccine allocation follows a similar socioeconomic path around the world, where Covid vaccines are most densely located in high- and middle-income countries.

As a consequence, what some researchers call “vaccine apartheid” will eventually become a larger problem. Viruses are “international travellers,” claims Halpern, “and over time they mutate.” In the same way that extreme economic disparities are not sustainable, vaccine inequality will lead to never-ending cycles of the pandemic, along with consequent loss of life.

“A race to vaccinate the world is not an effort to achieve herd immunity,” Halpern writes. If vaccine distribution continues on its current trajectory, it will not lead to “a magical return to the land of indoor dining, casual sex, and visits to grandparents.” Without a commitment to vaccine equity, both within and between countries, what most likely will evolve is a “chronic, never-ending pandemic.”

Moreover, susceptibility to virus outbreaks will most likely become normalized, in the same way that we accept lack of health care, extreme poverty, and a foreign policy that ignores human rights abuses in countries that we deem as friends. For example, in recent days Israel launched a massive arrest campaign against Palestinians who participated in uprisings against the state’s colonial project.

Among those arrested have been children, including Abdul-Khaliq and Mohammed Burnat, sons of Bil’in activist Iyad Burnat. According to Burnat, Abdul-Khaliq was released on bail of 5,000 shekels after 55 days of torture in the basement of the prison. His other son remains in Israeli detention until his hearing in October, during which time he will most likely endure similar treatment at the hands of the Israeli military.

Their story is only one of many children who are undergoing similar treatment. For the most part it is ignored in Western media which normalizes and/or obscures such human rights abuses. Moreover, like those in American prisons, these children are crowded into close quarters where they are subject to catching the Coronavirus, another example of the inequities of a system that seldom reaches the news.

In “It Wasn’t 2020, It Was the Ruling Class Trying to Kill You,” the Hood Communist editorial staff reflects on Covid-19, capitalism, empire, and how all of that impacts the poor, working-class, and colonized people around the globe. In short, very early a decision was made to keep business open as usual: “the trains were to run, the planes were to fly, the shelves were to be stocked, and the people were to work,” no matter the consequences for not containing the virus.

The article goes on to state that it’s not just “personal responsibility” narratives that mislead the public, but also the stories that are intent on presenting the two electoral parties as inherently different. For example, the “ideological mystification of the democratic party as the savior of the colonized working-class masses” allows candidates like Reverend Raphael Warnock to dismiss “defunding the police” while at the same time partnering with Zionist groups like the Democratic Majority for Israel.

Reverend Warnock “pledging allegiance to the apartheid settler nation while denouncing ‘de-funding’ allows for the federal funding of programs like the Deadly Exchange to go unchallenged.” This creates a situation that allows for the normalization of state-sponsored murder of people of color at home along with the extrajudicial killing of colonized people abroad, including Palestinians, a guarantee that nothing at all will change no matter which party holds power in Congress.

Indeed, Aila Slisco reports that Joe Biden recently called on state and local governments to use $350 billion in Covid-19 funding from the American Rescue Plan to “fight crime” by hiring new police officers. Calling attention to the rise in violent crime, Biden claimed that it was “not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities.”

Biden’s “tough on crime” position is part of a much larger picture, that of a government that prefers to normalize poverty, inadequate health care and a poor educational system rather than tackle these problems which are indeed at the root of what causes crime in our cities. Whether at home, or with US allies such as Israel, there will be no change from above. In the meantime, there will be talk of learning to live with the virus, along with other inequities, in the same language that Israel has used to normalize its Occupation.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)