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OP-ED: And all they saw was red

  • Published at 10:41 pm August 1st, 2021
Covid-19-mask red

Prejudice and poverty are intrinsically connected

During the early days of Covid-19, there was an uptick in Asian-American hatred in America, even in supposedly liberal and tolerant places like Los Angeles. Last night, there was a report that Bangladeshi natives were pissed at the Rohingya for taking over the local job markets of their respective areas.

A couple of days ago, the WHO released a statement that amounts to saying that the whole world is at war with the coronavirus, and that we need cooperation on every level to fight this invisible enemy.

This got me thinking: Why are we in this mess again? Lockdown started in March-April last year -- and spanned a couple of months. During the end, it really did feel like we were out of a long, drawn-out storm. But this year, it feels like we are back inside of it, and there seems to be no end in sight.

While armchair intellectuals will blame everyday citizens for this, when it comes to the national level, I would blame the people at the top. We really should have made better deals to get an adequate supply of vaccines, and even if lockdowns were necessary, they should have been coordinated in a better way.

But in the grand scheme of things, there is only one group that deserves the blame. And if we can adopt this bird’s eye view, we really need to look at the rich and powerful, and point out the abhorrent ways they have hoarded resources -- resources that, if shared equitably, would have eradicated this disease by now.

It’s simple, really. The more people that are vaccinated, the harder it becomes for the virus to transmit. The harder it is for the virus to transmit, the harder it is for the virus to mutate. And if the virus stops transmitting and mutating, then it effectively puts an end to its lifespan. And if most are vaccinated, this would mean that the occasional breakout would be isolated to just a couple of digits here and there. In a few years, everything would be back to normal. 

In reality, because rich nations have hoarded all the vaccines for themselves, the virus was free to run rampant in the rest of the world. And now that the virus has mutated and continues to mutate, it is very likely that we will soon be back to square one. 

This is the consequence of consolidation. This singular, isolationist approach to living life would make sense in a vacuum. If everyone was out for themselves and everyone could, in fact, afford to do so, with people focusing on themselves, and only on themselves.

But the world is more complicated than that. More often than not, the sources through which people consolidate said power are based on work that is done by the collective, and there is only so much power and resources to go around.

For every Jeff Bezos that can shoot off into space, there are millions more who can hardly take care of  basic necessities. Every breath they take, every day they live is a fight for their own existence. And when you have people who are so singular, so focused on the very basics of survival, you have people who are susceptible to both fascism and terrorism, and you have people who will tear apart their own kin in order to survive. 

When you are living in a mansion and you can have food at the snap of a finger, you can busy yourself with the larger picture. But for the workers living under your house, who have to settle for the minimum wages you give them, their own family members can turn into enemies in their fight for survival.

The intricacies of our reality are complex, and one needs to think clearly in order to see the many strands that make up this its existence. And it is difficult to think clearly on an empty stomach. This is when people turn to racism and extremism when they are faced with a reality that treats them as slaves.

There are many studies that trace the relationship between poverty and racism, but you can just look at America. 

Covid-19 originated in China, and it is seeping into the US from abroad. Fired from their jobs and no money in their bank accounts, they begin to see red. And what do they see? People who come from the country of Covid prancing around. They don’t have the time and resources to think about the failure of the politicians. They don’t have the time and resources to look into the people who used their insider knowledge to make millions off of stocks before the lockdown was announced.

All they see is red. And when people see red, the animal that is within them comes out. 

Marx once said that capitalism will lead to a point where it will no longer be able to sustain itself, and thus the process of self-cannibalization will begin. 

But perhaps it is far more likely that we will be swallowed alive in the void than see the end of capitalism.

To the extent which global conflicts have been exacerbated the last few years, it might go either way. 

Whatever happens, happens.

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and an intern at the Dhaka Tribune.

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