Address racial profiling, white privilege in the pandemic

Many forms of privilege have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as class, economic and job stability, access to healthcare, and technological availability for at-home work. Equally significant has been the highlighting of thinly-veiled racial bias, ‘othering,’ and racial profiling that frequently goes unacknowledged in the United States.
From the beginning the pandemic has had an overt racial dimension. Asian Americans have been subjected to racial slurs, violence, and blame for the spread of COVID-19 from ignorant Americans. Our president condoned this ignorance when he took to calling the virus the “Chinese Virus.” In this climate, many Asian Americans fear for their safety, and in the case of medical professionals, they fear for their own safety even as they put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to protect other people. In the past months, many Asian American medical professionals have been subjected to threats, and some have dealt with racist patients’ objections to having Asian American medical professionals administer their treatment. Medical professionals are now rightly considered some of the heroes of our society, and it is infuriating to think that Asian Americans, who make up 18 percent of physicians in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are being beyond denied that gratitude and mistreated by bigoted patients who they are going out of their way to protect.
Another manifestation of racial prejudice that had arisen during the pandemic is racial profiling in as it relates to medical precautions. Antone Melton-Meaux, a Democratic candidate for the Minnesota District 5 seat in the House of Representatives, published an opinion piece on MinnPost on May 19th about his experience wearing a medical mask in public as an African American man. He describes feeling conflicted, wanting to follow medical precautions to keep himself and others safe, but fearing what would happen to him if he were racially profiled and perceived to be a threat. It goes without saying: this is ridiculous. African American men should not have to compromise their safety from COVID-19 and the safety of others in order to protect themselves from racial profiling at the hands of ignorant people.
The #IRunForMaud movement in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man who was killed while jogging in late February by a white former police officer and his son who claimed they mistook Arbery for the perpetrator of a recent burglary, has brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and the criminalization of African American men. It has served as a reminder that there are things that white people do not think twice about that people of color, particularly African American men, are not able to do in this country without putting themselves at some degree of risk. An example of this is “driving while black,” referring to the rampant racial profiling by police officers that has led to the senseless deaths of too many innocent African Americans when they were pulled over for small or non-existent offenses. In the aftermath of Arbery’s murder, there has been increased attention towards “running while black,” where racial prejudice has caused African Americans, often men, to be criminalized while running, with exercising being interpreted as running away from a crime. This is something that white people do not have to think twice about. While racial profiling and bigotry is obviously not a problem that has arisen from the pandemic, the pandemic has inspired some behavior that has shown immense white privilege and illustrated just how different the experiences of white people can be from people of color in this country.
There have been numerous examples of egregiously threatening behavior by white extremists in protests against stay-at-home orders that have led to no consequences. Armed protesters at the Michigan capitol. Threatening protesters at the governor’s house right here in St. Paul. It needs to be said: if those protesters had been people of color, the police response to them would have been very different. Those protesters were allowed to throw around threats and even openly carry weapons into state capitol buildings, in the case of Michigan, and none of them had to worry at all for their safety. Meanwhile, Asian American medical professionals are being threatened even as they work to save lives, and African American men have to consider the implications that following medical recommendations could have for their safety. Call it what it is: white privilege.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about new manifestations of existing racial prejudices and white privilege. It is vital, now and in the future, to recognize ways that different groups are ‘othered’ in American society. Racial prejudice is not going to be solved in a few months. That said, don’t be the reason that this pandemic is even harder for someone. Reflect on your own racial prejudices. Notice the role that white privilege and racial profiling plays in your life and the lives of others right now.