Guest Column by Chris Lahr
The world as we know it has changed in just a few months due to the virus, Covid-19. The world as we know it has in many ways stayed the same when it comes to the virus of racism. Reflecting on the two viruses, I can’t help but to draw some comparisons.
Dry cough, fever, loss of taste and smell are just a few of the active symptoms of Covid-19. For every cough and even sneeze in the public arena today one is given the evil eye as possibly being a carrier of the virus. What we have learned though is that the virus spreads most rapidly among asymptomatic people. In other words, the virus is spreading quickly among those who do not even know they are infected by the virus. As a result the spread of the virus continues and death rates mount.
The virus of racism isn’t much different in our society. Sure you have those actively infected by the virus and they model the symptoms of hate, and active racism in many violent forms like we just witnessed with the police officers in Minneapolis as they choked George Floyd to death. But it is also true that the bulk of racism in our country is spread through those carrying the virus asymptomatically. You see these are the people who on the surface do not look like they are carrying the virus, they do not have the cough of using racial slurs or the fever of hate; but they do hold bias’ and fears of the unknown that often feed into racial stereotypes and sets the stage for unplanned racism like we experienced with Amy Cooper as she called the cops for feeling threatened by “an African-American” man who simply asked her to put her dog on the leash (which was a written rule for that section of Central Park).
One way we have combated Covid- 19 has been by wearing the mask. My understanding is that the mask is more effective in keeping you from spreading the virus than it is from protecting you from getting the virus. That said, we need to put on the mask of self reflection when combating the virus of racism. We need to learn to be mindful of our own history and culture that has shaped us into who we are and into how we think. It has been easy for some to simply blame Covid-19 on China by calling it the “China flu,” but in reality it is a virus that belongs to us all, affects us all and will take us all working together to conquer. The same is true with the virus of racism, it is not enough to blame the virus on generations past or simply on those with active symptoms, it is a virus that affects all of us and will take us all making active measures to bring about change.
Another means of fighting the virus is through social distancing. By standing 6 feet apart or more we can greatly reduce the possibility of getting Covid-19. Fighting the virus of racism we also need to practice social distancing, but instead of 6 feet we need to be 6 inches apart! The virus of racism will never cease until the gap of social distancing between people of all race/ creed/ nationality is reduced and genuine relationships are established. It is not enough to simply “know of” or “work with” people who are different from you, we just take the next step and learn from them, learn to celebrate and appreciate differences, and ultimately see the same human value they have that you hold.
Finally one of the biggest aspects of defeating Covid-19 is being informed. On a daily basis news channels blast the latest news about the virus by the experts and those working closest to the virus. It becomes impossible to fight a foe you cannot see and you do not understand. The same is true for fighting against the virus of racism. Too often asymptomatics are unaware of their sickness. A couple years ago I was talking to a 7-year-old girl who had just seen one of my daughter’s friends on her phone that was black. Her response was, “Ew, how can you like him? He has brown skin!” We then asked her, “Do you know any black kids in your school?” She stated there was one! We asked her to tell us about him. She stated he was hyper active and sometimes mean to her. We then asked her if she knew any white kids that were hyper and sometimes mean. She said yes. We asked for some names and she dropped a few. We then gently had her reflect on the fact that just because one person acts a certain way, does not mean that a whole race of people will also be just like them. We were then able to tell her about several of our friends that were people of color and the many gifts and joys they bring to the world. She left that conversation a little different. We need to be informed. Even at a young age the virus of racism begins attacking us and we are totally unaware. The experts keep saying wear the mask and social distance. I think this is a great place for us to start… wear your mask of self-reflection. Do you have biased thoughts cross your mind now and then? Don’t let it pass you by without analyzing it and seeking truth. Also begin practicing the social distancing of 6 inches and get to know people who are different. If you do not have genuine friendships with people from another race then work on it today.
Chris Lahr was the General Manager for Timoteo Sports in Philadelphia for over a decade. He currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his wife works as a midwife, and he applies his lifelong passion for working with youth as a skills coach for the Bowen Center. He has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and did his undergrad at Eastern University.