Are you looking to get some exercise, connect a little with some people who aren’t in your house without resorting to Zoom, and do it all while safely following prevention measures? Here is a game for you to consider: Parade Tag!
Parade Tag Instructions
Get a committed participants list in walking distance of one another.
Pick a parade theme that you can dress up for while masked, and be sure it is one that the participants will be able to afford to engage with. Depending on the culture in your area, it may be best to decide this before working on Step 1.
Pick an order of households to create your parade loop and make sure everyone knows what the order is so they know where they are going.
Schedule a parade day that works for everyone. Depending on the culture in your area, it may be best to pick the schedule first before working on Step 1.
Plan your household’s costumes.
The first group goes to the next house and waves through the windows. Dancing and silliness are recommended but not required. After they’ve retreated a safe distance on their way back home, the second group leaves and goes to the third house. And so on, until the last group goes to the first house.
If you have people who want to participate but cannot leave their homes, place them in the loop anyway. The people right before them on the list can wave through the windows to them, then continue on to the next house.
Make sure everyone is in agreement ahead of time about what a “safe distance away before the next group leaves their house” is. You can also mark these distances on the ground with chalk ahead of time if sidewalk chalk is permitted in your area.
The train doors slid open, and I moved through them with everyone else towards the elevators up to the surface streets. We strangers waited in silence for the elevator to arrive. When it got there, those with bicycles entered first and the rest of us filled in around them, although there was still ample space. Someone leaned heavily against me despite the empty part of the elevator. I fidgeted to clarify with motion that I was not an elevator rail. The leaner’s back remained pressed into me.
“Excuse me? Hi, yes, I am a person, not a wall.”
The leaner looked around at me, then shuffled off a few feet away into the big open space in the middle of the elevator. My eyes met those of another person standing on the other side of the bicycles. This was a person who looked like a woman in this culture just like I did, with eyes which held empathy for me. Silently, we admonished the patriarchy in that moment, both of us acknowledging and lamenting that this was the latest one in a series of events just like it.
That is what it is like to be treated the way USA culture treats a woman. To be unseen by men to the point of being treated like furniture in a very literal sense, and to have a sense of community with women which is quite unlike any other community that has welcomed me. American women’s culture has a lot more shared context than American culture in general, and that affects communication. A silent moment of eye contact and a pair of nodding heads with a particular facial expression was all it took for us to both know we were thinking about sexism, the atrocities of how women are treated, the obliviousness of men, and the fact that talking about it out loud in a closed space with this person still there was too dangerous to risk even with the other strangers present. After all, sometimes the people who do these things are also rapists and murderers. We’ve all heard the stories. The shared fear is part of the shared context.
Some years later, after I began my testosterone treatments but long before my facial hair grew in, I injured my foot. I was in a lot of pain, but I had an errand that could not wait. I dragged myself to the bus. As I entered, I saw someone rise from the handicap section and turn to talk to someone. I slid around behind the riser to take the only empty seat on the full bus, relieved by the instant reduction in foot pain.
“Hey! I was going to sit there!” said someone who looked like a woman. The person who had stood looked like a man, and had risen to give my admonisher the seat I occupied. Normally, I would have stood at that point.
“I have a foot injury,” I said. “I need to sit.”
“Yeah well I have had brain surgery!” the admonisher responded emphatically.
“Maybe if you ask someone else to stand up for you, they will,” I said.
The admonisher gasped and hemmed and hawed and made comments about how rude I was being, but did not ask anyone else to give up a seat. I looked down, unsure how to respond. After all, I had already mentioned my foot injury.
The admonisher fell silent and avoided looking at me until two stops later.
“Have a good day, Sir,” the admonisher said cheerily and exited. I was surprised by the complete 180 in how this person was treating me.
“I’m not a Sir!” I called out but it was too late; the person was gone.
It was not until that final exchange that I understood the conversation we had been having, because up until that point, I had thought that I was being perceived to be a woman. Women are so accustomed to being taken advantage of by men behaving in excruciatingly selfish ways that my admonisher probably did not believe that my foot was injured instead of taking my words at face value the way people had before I started testosterone. My lowered gaze was probably seen as an averted gaze, and that combined with my silence was probably interpreted as being yet again ignored by a man when trying to speak up about something important, rather than as the pensive confusion it was. If I had been seen as a woman, the other person might have recognized the confusion and checked in with me about a possible misunderstanding instead of continuing down a defensive path. The sudden cheery departure was probably a response to the common fear of being followed by a mean man from a bus.
I spent the rest of the bus ride disturbed by what had happened, and wondering how I was supposed to know how to interact with people if I can’t tell what gender they think I am. Even now after years of additional testosterone treatments, I still get both “Ma’am” and “Sir” every time I go to the grocery store.
The experience of being treated like a woman involves being ignored by more people than just men. Before I transitioned, I could say the same thing five times, in five different ways, trying desperately to get someone to listen to me, only to be either dismissed or totally ignored. I regularly spoke directly to groups or individuals of various genders and got silence in return, complete with a total lack of body language acknowledgement. I made regular asides to myself under my breath thinking no one could hear them.
Then I began my testosterone treatments. People started answering my muttered comments. I was astonished – and quite a bit embarrassed. Now, if I begin to speak, people of various genders will stop what they are doing to listen to me, even if I am not speaking to them directly. It’s as if I have stepped into a spotlight that follows me wherever I go. I intentionally relearned how and when to speak in order to handle that kind of power responsibly.
I do not believe that white cisgender men, having never experienced that contrast, understand the disproportionate power of their voices. And I don’t think most people recognize that they contribute to that power difference by listening to men and ignoring everyone else. Yes, non-men and feminists of all genders and political leanings do this too. After all, it is difficult to overcome cultural indoctrination. I am working to overcome this in myself by questioning whether I am truly listening with respect in my heart every time a woman speaks.
I refer to white cisgender men in particular above because cisgender men of other races are systematically silenced in a variety of contexts in ways that are often similar to what white women experience here in the USA. I recommend reading about that sometime.
My understanding of men’s culture is still in its infancy. The few all-men spaces I have been asked to join are uncomfortable for me. The values are so different from the values of women’s culture that I have trouble navigating these spaces due to the unfamiliarity. The things men do that I consider rude and hostile happen with far greater frequency in these spaces, and I wonder whether they see these things as rude and hostile. With the isolation caused by this pandemic, I have been unable to continue exploring these spaces. This is unfortunate, because that perspective would help round out this article.
Men, women, and nonbinary people each have a very different set of shared experiential context to the degree that it has created separate co-cultures. This affects how people speak to each other within these groups and also between them. Men and women who can also be either cisgender or transgender, which creates an additional overlay of shared experiences, and this also impacts communication. Thus I have found that while I prefer to just let people make assumptions and not bother with filling them in about my gender, this creates communication issues because it means that strangers and I are not on the same page about which communication culture I am coming from. This, to me, has highlighted the very different co-cultures associated with genders here in the USA in a way that contradicts everything I was taught in school about how wonderful it is that we have gender equality here.
This topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.
From deciding which soap to use or which light bulb to buy to discerning which politician is telling the truth about things like climate change or the proper approach to Covid-19 concerns, science is a big part of our daily lives. Most people, though, aren’t scientists. Chances are, you don’t have the time or money to just go out and get yourself a degree in a science field.
How do people go about fact checking scientific information when most people don’t have a background in science? In my experience as a scientist, frankly, most people do it rather badly. The worst part is how many people don’t realize that they are doing it badly and consequently both draw horribly incorrect conclusions and profess their false ideas to others, spreading misinformation.
And yet, as a tutor, I also recognize that people are genuinely doing the best they can with the information available to them. It is very easy to draw the wrong conclusion when the information one has is incorrect or insufficient. My intention with this piece is to provide information and context to support the non-scientist reader in spotting bad science, incorrect science reporting, and the outright lies so many politicians are fond of spouting.
Part 1: The Scientific Method and Experiment Design
“Science” refers to a method for discerning truth, to a body of knowledge collected by generations of scientists, and in many ways, to a culture. The scientific method is the process by which scientists determine which facts are true.
The general steps of the scientific method are as follows:
Propose a question.
Do background reading about relevant known information.
Form an hypothesis (an informed guess as to the answer of the question).
Create an experiment to test the hypothesis.
Run the experiment.
Analyze the data.
Form a conclusion about the hypothesis, or go back to step 4 and repeat the process as needed to have enough information to form a conclusion.
Communicate the conclusion.
If you are new to the scientific method, check out this site for more details in an interactive format. It’s designed for kids doing science fair experiments, which makes it easier to read regardless of your age. In fact, science materials designed for kids are great for all ages for just that reason. If you want something more detailed, the kids version will give you enough context to be able to find and understand it.
Each one of the steps in the scientific method has its own standard set of rules intend to guide the scientist toward truth while circumnavigating the scientist’s own biases. Experiment design is a big part of this.
Controls are necessary. Scientists use an experimental group and a control group when doing experiments in order to have a basis for comparison.
For example, when I was in sixth grade, I tested my fifth grade teacher’s running program to see if it impacted lung capacity. I measured the lung capacity of her entire class of students periodically throughout the term. This showed a growth in lung capacity, but that alone was not enough information to determine whether there was a correlation between the running program and the changes in lung capacity. Other variables abounded, such as the changing seasons, the natural growth of children over time, and so on. In order to determine whether there was a correlation, I needed to use a control group which had all the same variables except the running program. I used the next door fifth grade class in the same building, which did not have a running program. This group did not show any growth in lung capacity, making the data I collected far more useful.
Note: If the class I used for my control group had been kids of a different grade, or at a different school, or if I had collected the information during a different part of the year, then it would not have been a good control group because here would have been more than just one variable that was different between the experimental group and the control group.
When evaluating scientific information, claims, and journalism, keep an eye out for problems with the scientific method or with control groups. If you can’t determine whether these things were done properly, it’s best to disregard the information as unverifiable. It may be true, or it may not be. Not knowing is part of science. Get comfortable with not knowing.
Part 2: The Reality of Science
The reality of science is a bit imperfect compared to what popular media has to offer. Have you ever watched a science fiction show where a character uses a handheld device or other instrument to “scan” something, and instantly finds out a whole pile of information about the object in question? That is pure fiction. The real world doesn’t have that kind of technology yet, and likely won’t in our generation’s lifetime. If a scientist needs to test a water sample for contaminants, for example, that scientist will need to run a separate test for each potential contaminant, and each of those tests takes time. The length of time ranges from minutes to days depending on the procedure. For bigger projects, such as studying a new phenomenon, science takes months or years, sometimes even decades, to produce reliable conclusions.
The reality of the timing involved in science is one of the key concepts you can use when fact checking science articles. Claims of detailed knowledge of brand new phenomena are probably not based in evidence, whether or not they end up turning out to be correct guesses. Think back to when Covid-19 first started. Remember all the firm claims that ended up being wrong? Be wary of science reporting about new phenomena, especially if the reporting doesn’t take into account the concept that “we don’t really know for sure yet” in the language.
In addition to limitations, science is subject to bias. This is true both of scientists when conducting science, and of reporters when engaging in science reporting. Scientists are products of our own cultures, which means our biases influence the way we think, and therefore the way we design experiments and interpret the results. This is especially prominent in anthropology (the study of humans), but all other scientific disciplines struggle with this as well.
In order to help prevent biases and other issues from harming the validity of the scientific body of knowledge, scientists participate in something known as “peer review.” When science journals publish scientific research, the process involves having other scientists who did not work on the project review the documents, procedures, and conclusions for proper scientific method and accuracy. This process is very rigorous. When fact checking science, look for peer reviewed articles.
And finally, be aware of the limits of scientific observation. There is a lot we don’t know about, due in part to simply not having the technology to allow us to observe it. Not knowing is part of science. Get comfortable with not knowing, with being willing to hold space for an unknown rather than trying to fill it in without having enough evidence to do so.
Part 3: Understanding The Numbers
Numbers are a big part of science. We use them to describe our observations so that other people can understand what we witness. We also use them to do calculations to figure out more information about our observations.
As you might already know, math can get very complicated. However, you don’t have to go learn calculus or statistics in order to be a discerning individual when it comes to evaluating scientific claims. That said, the most important math to understand for this purpose is probably statistics. Statistics are often twisted, misrepresented, and simply misunderstood in science journalism and by politicians.
Please pause after this paragraph to watch the 12-minute video embedded below to start to get a basic idea of how statistics works. If there are vocabulary words you don’t understand, then pause the video and look them up before continuing. This video contains example problems to do on your own. You can use them to evaluate your understanding of the concepts. If you can do them, then you have a grasp of this knowledge and can use it when evaluating scientific claims. If you can’t, or if you choose to skip them, that’s okay too – it means that you know you don’t have a strong enough grasp of these concepts to evaluate related claims. If this is you, then it is important to remember to put any statistical information you see in the “I do not know if this is true because I am not able to evaluate it” box in your head rather than immediately believing or disbelieving it. Again, get comfortable with not knowing.
When you are reading about science, activate your critical thinking whenever you see numbers. Are units provided? If something went 13 kilometres, that’s a lot farther than 13 feet. Are numbers presented in a way that makes sense? For example, looking at the total number of deaths due to Covid-19 between countries is not as useful as looking at the total number of deaths per capita. “Per capita” means “per person.” This is how to adjust for population size. Think of it this way: If 1,000 total people die in Rhode Island, that’s a lot different than if 1,000 total people die in California because California has so many people in it. If 1,000 people die per every 5,000 people in Rhode Island, then it is the same rate of death as if 1,000 people die per 5,000 people in California. This is why “per capita” numbers are often more useful than total numbers.
Part 4: Reading Scientific Literature
If you have never read a scientific study before, it can look daunting. Studies are filled with scientific jargon making them difficult to read, even for scientists. The key is to read them more than once, look up words you don’t know, and focus on specific parts of the study.
The abstract is a good place to start. This section summarizes the process and results of the study. Sometimes the abstract has all the information you need to fact check the article or meme which was supposedly based on the study. The other parts of the study are valuable if you wish to gain a detailed understanding of how the study was run, especially if you wish to evaluate whether it was done properly.
Part 5: Evaluating Articles
As mentioned above, research journalism is rife with bias and outright error. Be skeptical of headlines designed to evoke an emotional response. Here are some practical questions to ask yourself when evaluating articles that make scientific claims:
When was this article written? If it was written a long time ago, have there been new breakthroughs since then?
Who wrote it, and why? How might that bias the writing?
Does the article site its sources, including links to any scientific studies the article claims as sources? If not, disregard the entire article as it is not credible.
Do the abstracts of the original studies actually support the claims in the article?
If the article uses numbers, does this article use them in a way that makes sense?
Part 6: Sharing Information
If you struggle with holding space in your mind for the unknown, it may be difficult to read false information without absorbing some of it into your belief system. There is a big difference between believing something yourself and asking others to believe it. To ensure that what you share with others is true, it is a good idea to create a system for determining what you will share. Consider these questions:
Have I actually fact checked this, or am I only sharing it because it fits with what I already believe?
Am I sharing this because it is true, or because I would be allowing my anger, hope, or another emotion press the share button for me?
Sometimes you won’t be able to fact check something. Maybe it relies on statistics you don’t understand, or maybe there is a paywall between you and the original study. If you can’t fact check it, then what? What do you do with that informational meme or science article which makes a really good point, but which you are struggling to fact check? In my opinion, you scroll past it, or you find an expert to ask about it. Don’t share what you can’t fact check.
This post topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.
Growing up I was always perplexed by the world, but that was okay. I was a child, I wasn’t supposed to know everything. I’m still perplexed by much of the world, and that’s okay too. The world is a big place, and there is a lot to learn. But I digress.
I enjoyed learning more than anything. I was always on time to school. One of the things that confused me was other children not wanting to be in class.
I loved numbers and words, colors, sounds, science, and history. I didn’t care whether it was learning about shapes or art or science or ancient civilizations, I drank it all up. Figuring out things I didn’t know was something I thrived on. The scientific method itself fascinated me. I won first place in the school and county science fairs every year. I was the annoying kid who could find all the problems with your project and, in pointing them all out to you, truly believe that I was helping. I was baffled when the other kids expressed annoyance.
I also found other social norms puzzling. Why did my cousin say that it wasn’t okay for me to go shirtless on a sweltering East coast summer day when I was barely more than a toddler? Why did my mother agree with him? Why did I have to put on a shirt when he didn’t? Why did “being a girl” matter? Why did my mother – who taught my brother and I that gender didn’t matter – agree with him?
I truly did not think about my gender very often as a young child. It only came up when other people made a big deal out of it. And then, it felt gross in ways I never had words to describe.
Why did my friend in 7th grade turn his face into a wrinkled scowl and say, “why would a girl want to be tall?” when I was happy to be one of the tallest kids in my year? What did “being a girl” have to do with one’s preferences for one’s own height? It was the first time in a long time that I had even thought about my gender. And then he threw what he thought it was into my face to stop me from enjoying a simple fact of the nature of my existence.
It struck me for most of my years as a minor that gender was fake. Everyone seemed fundamentally the same to me, but everyone was also picking sides in some weird battle between boys and girls, as if the difference was existentially significant. It seemed to me that this just didn’t have to happen, that they were making it all up and making their own lives and each other’s harder. But, it was happening nonetheless. I was certain, if nothing else, that I was apart from all of it. As an adult, the bafflement has melted into empathetic grief. I have watched the battle of the sexes of childhood harden into systemic oppression. My sadness for the depths and reaches of the harms of sexism is something I don’t have words to express. And yet, it’s still something I am generally apart from except when other people make absurd assumptions about my gender and act according to their sexist social scripts.
When the great digital cultural migration of our lifetime happened and MySpace was abandoned for Facebook, I did not select a gender. It was not required, and for reasons I did not understand at that time I had a strong aversion to the question, so I left it blank. Later on Facebook participated in the tidal wave of binary gender washing over digital platforms. Facebook’s language changed from prompting users to speak about ourselves in third person in every post to a looser format, and they also began using pronouns to refer to users. Around that time, those of us who had not entered a gender got a pop up notice upon logging in to select male or female. No other options, no way to opt out. I refused to select one. Instead, I spent a few years going up to the address bar to retype the home page web address every time I logged on. This bypassed the screen, which no longer pops up for users like me. To this day certain plugins break because I have never entered a gender into Facebook.
Why did my friends sit me down in college to have an intervention and tell me that I needed to be more girly in order to attract a man? Why couldn’t I wear my keys on my belt loop with my big baggy hoodie and no makeup? Why didn’t they understand that gender was more complicated than just men and women? Why did they balk so very strongly when I tried to talk to them about that? I was right on the cusp of finally letting myself understand that I am not a binary person, but that conversation went so badly that it shoved me far deeper into the self-closet. (Yes, being closeted to yourself is a thing, and it’s often messy.)
I did finally emerge, after some years of additional college education, into a place in my own mind where I was capable of thinking critically about my gender. I stepped out of my internal closet directly into a giant question mark: Was I really “not a woman,” or did I just hate the way the world treats women? I would ask myself this for years, punctuated by long periods of stepping right back into that self-closet. Or maybe I just ignored it because to me gender was that irrelevant. Or maybe it just took so long because “both” didn’t occur to me as a possibility for an embarrassingly long time. I don’t really know, and frankly it was likely a combination of these and other factors as well.
Why did the management team at one of my first jobs, where I was a peon in a huge corporation, refuse to call me by my name? Why did they call me into a meeting with HR to insist both that I must use my legal name and that the company was not transphobic? How could they not see the ridiculousness in that? And why, when the name change became legal, did they keep using my false old name on official documentation no matter how many times I filed a request for my name to be changed to reflect my legal name?
I bought a chest binder, but I wasn’t trans, I told myself. I proudly told people about how I had circumnavigated Facebook’s gender inquiries, but I wasn’t trans. I bought myself my first packer (link is NSFW), but I wasn’t trans. I wasn’t. I wasn’t trans. I also wasn’t cis. I was and am something different, something apart from the system as it had always been described to me. Cis/trans is just another false binary, another social construct used for the ease of communication. There is nothing wrong with being either one of those things. It’s just not a model that is useful for describing me. I knew this on a fundamental level but I did not have the words to say it for years.
Eventually I moved to a new place filled with the kinds of laboratories and research facilities where I’m interested in working. This place is also filled with trans people and other people who are neither cis nor trans, just like me. They all told each other my pronouns were they/them behind my back. The lie spread like wildfire. I spent my first year there regularly correcting people in my trans, agender, and nonbinary circles: I do not use pronouns. That includes “they/them.” Why did some of them call me a TERF for speaking my truth about myself?
Why did one of the few cisgender people I dated in the new place after I moved insist that I could not be neither cis nor trans? Why did he insist I must be one or the other? Why did he insist I must be something I am not? Why was he more attached to his preconceived notions of a language he himself admits is flawed than he was to listening to what I, his partner, was saying about the truth of myself?
Why was I treated like a “TERF-y faker troll” by some of the local queer communities when I was honest about my gender and pronouns? Why were they so hung up on yet another false binary that they were more likely to consider me a TERF than honest, even though I was speaking purely about my own existence, something they themselves say should be honored and respected?
Why are false binaries so voraciously present here?
Why would I ever call myself something other than “trans” when honesty caused me so much frustration and pain? Heck, I can’t even bring myself to describe my true gender here in this post. I’m too afraid. So just call me “trans,” or “transgender” if formality is a must for you.
Written in the Covid-stricken USA during the late July part of the 2020 BLack Lives Matter protests.
I was hired in March for a temporary position without benefits for an employer where I know I will not be able to get a permanent position. This gives me some freedom to perform acts of allyship without fear of losing my job. Any negative consequences of stepping up for others will be minimal in the long run. Given the circumstances, it is worth it to me to risk burning a few bridges if it leaves ash behind that others can turn into soap to use to clean up this mess. And, it is a mess.
Racism, transphobia, ableism, and more. Just like the rest of the USA, our workplace has issues. Our leadership, however, has been outspoken about wishing to correct internal issues of racism. I leveraged that to begin my allyship campaign at my new, temporary workplace. This article describes a portion of what I have done so far in the hopes that others will be able to glean ideas from it.
First, back in June after the Black Lives Matter protests hit a new nationwide height after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, a member of senior management cancelled a weekly casual Zoom meeting and replaced it with one intended to address antiracism. Being someone who is accustomed to discussions on race, I entered the call prepared to listen and learn. Instead, I found myself stifling a series of would-be faceplams on camera and acting primarily out of allyship rather than from a place of learning.
In summary, the meeting was a disaster. The interesting thing about it, though, is that the person who lead it probably left feeling like it was a success. I will skip past a lot of the details for timeliness for you my dear reader, but I don’t think this senior management person noticed that I – not the manager – was the one providing facilitation. I was the one who noticed that white people were talking over each other so fast that even they couldn’t get a word in edge wise, much less a person of color trying to work up the courage to say something in a hostile environment. I was the one who noticed that it was a hostile environment, not the manager. I – the temp who had been there for 3 months – was the one who said things like “Everyone please hold on, [person’s name] was trying to talk. I think your mic is off,” and otherwise creating space for voices of color to be heard amidst the white clamor. A caucophony, if you will excuse the pun.
Almost no voices of color spoke up, and those who did quickly stopped contributing when they saw how the meeting was going. None of the management called people to task for expressing racism. And, there was a lot of expression of racism; the people who were expressing it just did not recognize it for what it was. I don’t know whether the senior management present failed to recognize it or failed to act despite recognizing it, but either way it functioned to sanction and thereby galvanize the racism, regardless of intent. The black faces on the screen sat flat-flipped and silent for the majority of the meeting, only briefly going wide-eyed at the horrible things various white people said before carefully schooling their faces back to cold professionalism. That silence said more to me about the problems with race in my department than anything that the white people rambled on about for the hourlong meeting. The one thing that all of the different black people in the meeting who spoke all said – the thing they were clearly and unambiguously unanimous about despite only barely speaking at all – was that they wanted more of these discussions to happen. This was a start, and only a start, as far as they were concerned. Personally I found that take generous considering how badly that start went, but I kept my mouth shut.
At the end of the meeting, the senior manager asked me to send an email with the books I had recommended during the meeting. The manager was going to send them out to everyone. If that happened, I never got the email.
I thought about how that first antiracism meeting went badly due to the fact that it was lead by someone unqualified to do so. I decided I needed to say something to the senior manager who lead it. Clearly someone needed to, and most or all of the black people there were obviously not comfortable doing so. I wondered whether I should offer to pass on information anonymously, but none of the black people in my department are on my team and I am so new that they have no reason to trust me any more than they do anyone else. I ultimately sent this to the senior manager in the body of an email:
“I would recommend creating an anonymous way for anyone who wants to give you feedback to do so. I imagine this would make anyone of any given minority you aren’t a part of feel more comfortable bringing up issues in the department and criticisms about your handling of related topics.”
The response I got was disheartening. I won’t quote it directly here for privacy reasons, but the senior manager essentially said that anonymous surveys are not offered because they do not allow the senior manager to address the individual. The message also expressed that anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable going to the senior manager directly can go through someone else they do trust. I thought about how I had only been there for 3 months so it was silly to think I would be able to trust someone else enough for something like that. I thought about the silent faces and didn’t think it was reasonable to expect any of them to trust someone else like that either.
The next week’s casual Zoom meeting came, and I had not yet heard anything about another antiracism meeting even though it had been asked for by several people of color, both black and nonblack. So, when the senior manager asked for questions at the end of the casual Zoom meeting, I asked, “I was just wondering when our next antiracism discussion was going to happen.” The senior management expressed surprise that people wanted to talk about it more, then decided to schedule one for the following week. That’s how invisible people who aren’t white are in a working environment with white leadership.This is why we white people need to listen to our black and brown coworkers and reinforce heir voices with our own. I then carefully suggested, “I think if we could have some clearer goals for that meeting it might be a bit more useful.” The senior manager smiled and promised clarity.
Leading up to the second antiracism conversation, I considered the fact that this senior manager should probably not be the person who runs these antiracism talks. These kinds of conversations have a lot of different goals they can encompass, and each one needs something different. For example, if we want to give black employees a place to air their grievances with the company, the expectations and ground rules are going to be a lot different than if we want to systematically go through our policies and look at what might need to change. The first meeting didn’t have any clarity over what kind of meeting it would be, and that is part of why it was unproductive. I sent another email:
I am CCing [my direct supervisor] and [the relevant middle manager] because I’m not entirely certain who the right person is to send this to. I believe that the following are important goals for our antiracism talks:
Creating a learning environment about race, racism, and antriacism, especially for white people.
Working together to recognize and dismantle racism within ourselves, especially white people.
Creating space for people who aren’t white to voice grievances about the racism in our department.
Working together to recognize and dismantle the systems of oppression present within our department.
I don’t think we can do all of those things at the same time both because it’s too much all at once and because several of them are contradictory in terms of responsible ground rules. Each one is also big enough that it would make sense to pick just one at a time for each of these meetings. It is my hope that clear goals such as those above will make the next antiracism meeting a bit more productive.
That is why I asked for clear goals to be set for our next antiracism meeting. I realized after the Zoom meeting ended that my request was itself ironically unclear, so that is why I am sending this email with additional context.
I also think it would be a good idea for whoever leads these antiracism meetings to be someone who has experience doing so.
The senior manager’s response started with thanks and went on to inform me about a Zoom event happening the following week put on by an existing inclusion and diversity group for the entire department. According to the email, the antiracism talks for our part of the department were to be put on hiatus until after the bigger event, that way it could be used to inform policy and tactics moving forward.
The contrast between the bigger event and the earlier Zoom meeting was utterly stark. It was well-organized, with speakers prepared to speak on relevant topics in useful ways. I did not learn anything because they were speaking to those who are just beginning to learn about race and racism, but it was heartening that they were so prepared and the questions people asked showed that they were learning a lot. Best of all, they prospered concrete steps for each group in the department to utilize.
Fast forward to late July, and there was another large department Zoom meeting. This one was designed for people to ask questions about anything, so a lot of them were about things like working from home and salaries. However, this was also the first time since I started working here that I saw an anonymous feature in use. In addition to Zoom’s chat window, there was an anonymous question feature that displayed people’s anonymous questions in a secondary chat for everyone to see. There was also a thumbs up feature, and questions with more “thumbs up” responses got boosted further towards the top of the list.
At the top with the most thumbs up was the question: “When can we expect to see a coherent and transparent plan to address the rampant racism and transphobia in [our departement]?” There were also a slew of other questions, each with their own collection of thumbs up, that made it very clear that there are several people who are very unhappy with the working environment due to these axes of oppression. For context: these questions got as many or more thumbs up reactions as the questions that didn’t have anything to do with social equity.
The senior-senior management team’s response to these questions? Waving it away, denial of there actually being issues, and an admission of not having any plan to make a plan. Somehow the same managers who said things like, “Without more data we can’t really be sure these things are happening” also said things like “If someone really thinks this is happening, they are welcome to come talk to me privately about it.” No one is going to have enough trust left to talk to a manger privately about a serious issue after that manager makes it clear they don’t and won’t be taking it seriously.
One of the managers was new and spent very little time speaking except during introductions, as new people often like to listen more than speak. This was the new manager’s first big meeting. This manager is also black and went from smiling the smile of a giddy new-hire excited to work their new job to the same careful mask worn by the other black people in that first awful antiracism meeting in June.
Yesterday, the senior manager for our part of the department (the same one who had run that first antiracism meeting back in June) had a follow up meeting with us. The email invitation said it would be to discuss working from home, transitioning back to working in person, or anything else from the big meeting that people felt like discussing. This senior manager opened the Zoom meeting with something along the lines of, “This session is for you, does anyone have any questions?”
After a long pause and some chuckling comments about no one wanting to speak up, a middle manager decided to go first. “I found it very informative just how strongly people are feeling about their working environment right now,” the middle manager said carefully. I wondered whether this referred to all the people who hate working from home while their kids were also home, or to all the people who were feeling marginalized because of race or gender.
The senior manager decided it meant the first one and went on for about 5 minutes about working from home, the stressors involved in that, transitioning back to the office, and what that might entail. The middle manager politely waited for the senior manager to finish talking and then clarified: “I was referring more to the people who were expressing concerns about racism, and disparity in pay, and things like that.”
The senior manager was probably embarrassed, and awkwardly repeatedly gave assurances that we can talk about that if it is what people wanted to do. Awkward chuckles and comments came from both managers, and then I asked if I could ask a question. The senior manager welcomed it warmly.
“It seems like a lot of the questions to that end, whether it was racism or transphobia, got rather hand wavy answers. I saw a question on the anonymous chat that was up there towards the top of the list, and I’d like to ask it here: When can we expect a coherent and transparent plan for addressing these things?”
That was enough to get the ball rolling. I was able to sit back and listen, learn a little, and watch as the team finally began to start moving towards taking real action instead of just talking about how important it is to take action.
At some point the conversation moved to trying to adjust hiring practices to ensure a wider diversity in hiring. During this, the senior manager said something about trying to get the gender balance to be 50-50, and a few other transphobic/binarist remarks. I finally spoke up again and asked, “[Senior manger], are you open to some feedback?” The senior manager said yes, so in front of all 20 or so people who work under this senior manger, I quoted the manager’s own words a few times and said, “I would like to remind you that there are more than two genders, so if you really do want this to be ‘an inclusive and welcoming place,’ you might want to consider adjusting your language. It can never be ’50-50′ if it is actually inclusive.”
The senior manager responded by thanking me for the feedback and expressing an intention to do better moving forward. A coworker privately messaged me emojis of clapping hands and called me courageous, saying, “I have never seen someone call [senior manager] out like that!“
The next time I spoke up, I wrote out what I had to say ahead of time for the sake of getting through it all despite nerves. In fact, I had written this up before the meeting even started specifically because it needed to be said, and of all my coworkers, I risk the least by speaking up. I put it on a Notepad window directly below my camera and made the window super narrow to minimize eye movement from reading. Our senior manager is so verbose that I was able to edit it to match the nuances of the context of the moment I chose to speak up prior to unmuting my mic. That moment came when the senior manager said something which had been said so many times before: “I would hope anyone who has a concern would feel comfortable talking to me directly.”
I asked to speak to that point, and then said this (which I have done my best to edit to match the words that I ended up actually saying):
“I think it’s important to talk about the intricacies of how the power dynamics involved in leadership roles preclude people from speaking up. By their very nature, the kinds of issues that marginalize people also break down the trust that is necessary to speak up about those issues. Since we know that those issues exist, and we know that we have serious problems in [our department] with racism and transphobia and perhaps other axes of oppression as well, it makes sense to be sensitive to the fact that people on the harmed ends of these spectrums risk a lot when speaking up. Whether it’s a promotion or the chance for a temp like me to get a permanent position or whatever it is, marginalized people are unlikely to be without fear of being passed over for these things or otherwise treated poorly for speaking up. I know I mentioned to you before that I believe it is important to have an anonymous feedback mechanism. This is why. Asking people to trust a leader enough to speak to them directly when they are a leader in a department that marginalizes those people doesn’t make much sense in light of these dynamics, regardless of good intentions. Regardless of your very clear and obvious good intentions.”
I muted my mic again. The conversation immediately progressed to how to go about creating anonymous feedback systems with multiple active participants already on board with the idea. Concerns were raised about how to ensure that it is truly anonymous, considering we are a department of IT people and that means we all know the data exists somewhere if you have to log in with your company login credentials to access the form. A very productive and efficient conversation ensued about the logistics of putting together something that people can actually trust.
The coworker who had messaged me privately before sent a private new message that said, “I would have expected the language you used to be used in an upper level seminar course on power dynamics and institutionalized gender discrimination.”
“I talk to a lot of queer people in my spare time. It’s kind of like informal grad school lol,” I responded. Please note dear reader that I used the word “queer” knowing my coworker is about my age. Older LGBTQIA people are often still stung deeply when they hear that word so I do my best to avoid using it as a blanket word when speaking in groups.
In our private chat, this coworker – who has been there for many years – told me that it is very good for this department to be exposed to this language.
Meanwhile, the conversation on the Zoom meeting returned to hiring practices. People threw out some well-researched ideas that have been implemented by other organizations with great success, such wiping names from resumes and CVs before handing them to the hiring committee to remove bias from perceived race and gender, something which studies show happen even when people don’t think they are exhibiting this bias. Look up “unconscious bias in hiring” for more information.
The senior manager voiced support of all ideas that were discussed. It was the first meeting larger than my small immediate team that I have attended since I was hired in March that seemed to be productive in any capacity whatsoever, much less within this context. It would not have been productive if people had not decided to talk about racial inequity even though it is uncomfortable.
After the meeting ended, someone I have never met thanked me privately for speaking up, saying that it made the meeting purposeful and productive, and expressing fear that if they speak up, it risks too much, so they will not be doing so. Speaking up makes a difference for those who can’t. That is why I do it, and that is why I recommend you do it too.
Many of us remember what Mr. Rogers told us to do as children when things got scary: “Look for the helpers.” As for adults, we are to be those helpers.
As I watch buildings burn and police turn several kinds of military grade weapons on peaceful protests across the nation (USA), I have been doing both. I’ve been looking for the helpers, and doing my best to be one myself.
Here in Seattle we’ve got Seattle Police Department (SPD), SWAT, and National Guard. Over the past week or so, peaceful protesters have gathered daily at the East Precinct in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s historically gay neighborhood. Police have been using every excuse they can to teargas the crowd, or throw flashbang grenades into their midst, or any one of a number of other weapons that are clearly not intended for deescalation.
We have that on video, thanks to Jessica Frost, who held her phone out of her apartment window above the police line for over six hours to broadcast live via her Facebook profile, where you can find daily recordings. Some of them are also posted to Brandon Frost’s profile as well. Eventually they asked the community for help obtaining equipment. They have gone from one cell phone held precariously out a window to six cameras streaming simultaneously to get more evidence and more views. The Frost feeds are going to be key in future lawsuits and to historians.
Jessica didn’t keep her phone out of the window all night that first night though. She had to close the window to protect herself and Brandon from the clouds of tear gas. You can hear her coughing in the video even with the windows closed.
This picture was taken on June 2 at 7:14am of the streets of Seattle. That’s not fog. That’s tear gas:
Night after night, people have gathered at the East Precinct. Night after night, things have turned violent when the police attacked the protesters with war-grade weapons. Except the tear gas – that may not count as war grade since it’s been banned from use in war by the Geneva Convention. Anyway, night after night, people have regrouped and continued to stand their ground. Leaders have actively worked to keep the crowd peaceful. Protesters work to stop the few who would cause trouble from doing so. You can see all of this on the Frost feeds.
Local to the area, you can find maybe three to six other protests happening on any given day. None of these get much if any attention from the news. None of these turn violent. None of these have any real police response. Go figure. When the police don’t attack, things stay peaceful. SPD has proven daily this week that they are incompetent and violent when it comes to handling peaceful gatherings that they don’t like.
Now of course, all of this is happening because people in America are suddenly taking racism seriously and protesting against it. (If you’re thinking “Racism? What racism?” this article from the Thai Enquirer does a good job summarizing it.) George Floyd may have been the martyr that drew people together, but it could easily have been Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Darrien Hunt, or any other number of black Americans to die at the hands of police in the past few weeks. Or any of the over 600 black Americans to be shot to death by police in the last 2 or 3 years. America has a problem, and we’ve decided to fix it. The police don’t like that. It’s probably because they’re part of the problem and, as other writers have said, “they are allergic to accountability.” I’ll get back to this in a moment.
Before this week, I wasn’t sure what an anarchist was. If I’m being honest, I’m still not, but what I have seen in the past week has made it clear that “anarchy” in practice is not equivalent to “chaos,” despite everything I’ve heard about the word from teachers, politicians, and other people who aren’t anarchists. My anarchist friends have told me this repeatedly, but this week I got to see it in action.
As I watched across social media and other platforms, anarchists individually identified needs and choose which ones to fill on their own, all while respecting the Black Lives Matter movement’s leaders. People with medical training set up first aid kits or stations. Some of them asked for medical supplies, food, or water. People with supplies or money provided them. People with vehicles drove the supplies.
People who heard what the leaders wanted passed that information on via several types of platforms so that people could use it to inform their decisions. It’s a large part of why the protests have stayed peaceful; some of the local anarchists heard the leaders wanted a peaceful protest, and have been helping to enforce that up at the police line where the instigators tend to congregate.
Someone with a whole lot of tech savvy coordinated some of the communication and connected people with needs to people with resources. This included coordinating emergency rides and other immediate needs, since 911 is not a reliable place for people who are protesting police brutality and systemic racism to get help. Others with tech savvy backed up the recordings of the Frost feeds to ensure that the police couldn’t eliminate this vital evidence by deleting the posts from the Frost profiles.
All of these efforts combine into moments like the one shown in this Facebook post:
When I asked the person who posted that for permission to post it here, it was happily given. This person also asked me to emphasize that if you wish to provide supplies, make sure they are supplies people have actually asked for. Some people, wanting to be helpful, did not properly coordinate to ensure they were providing things that people actually needed, which meant that this person has gotten stuck with a lot of unneeded items at the end of protests.
On the note of supplies, the supply lists I’ve seen floating around from people asking for donated supplies have things like “water,” “umbrellas,” and “Sharpies” on them. Not one weapon is on any of the supply lists I have seen. Here is one of the most recent supply lists to cross my path. I have hidden the location because on the night of June 7th/June 8th, police or one of the agencies they were working with tossed explosive weapons directly into the medical care area.
Not all of the people I have described above self-describe as anarchists. Many of them do, and several of those who do have been vocal about this kind of community networking and support being part of what anarchy means to them. I have learned from watching this unfold that I do not know what anarchy is. I’m writing about it here because whatever it is, it’s not what the mainstream narrative says it is.
Despite the fact that the protesters are unarmed and the police are fully armored, the police have been acting as though an umbrella is a weapon and have responded with tear gas and other outrageously overblown responses to the point that a pink umbrella has become a symbol of both peaceful protest and SPD violence towards peaceful protesters. Their overreaction to umbrellas and tossed plastic water bottles has prompted a series of memes, one of which found its way onto a protester’s sign:
Let’s get back to the bottom line of what is going on: The USA is built on and was in a literal sense built by a racist system of hierarchical oppression, and people are fed up with it. It is time to make changes that have been needed for hundreds of years. This requires the people in power to lose some of their power, and that will not happen without some kind of fight. That’s what we are seeing. That’s why the police are protecting their precincts instead of the people who would like to see police dismantled, reformed, defunded, and/or abolished. All they need to do to end the violence is stop causing it. Instead, they are attacking people.
Mr. Rogers told us as kids to look for the helpers. Now is our time as adults to be the helpers. That doesn’t have to mean going to a protest, handing out supplies, or providing them as described above. It can also mean writing to your representatives to demand changes, asking your police chief or mayor to step down if you are in a city where police are being violent, or any other number of political actions. You can look at local, county, state, and federal levels and contact every one of your representatives. Every time you contact a politician, it’s like getting a bonus vote.
And, if you are white like me, you may have the most power of all to make lasting change that goes well beyond the correction of police brutality towards people of color, which is only one of the symptoms of the problem. Our minds grew up surrounded by racism. It is not possible to grow up white in America without being influenced into thinking in racist ways even if we do not realize it. We have the ability and responsibility to do the work to learn to recognize that and dismantle it, both within ourselves and for the systems of oppression we live within.
If you haven’t ever thought much about race, now is the time to start educating yourself. If you have already started your journey towards understanding race and racism and your racist family frustrates you but you haven’t had frank conversations with them about it, now is the time to have those hard conversations. We must change the way we as white people think about race and racism to be more in alignment with reality, allyship, and antiracism before black lives in the USA will be treated as though they really do matter. This is the part that isn’t fun, doesn’t show up on news, and can feel the least rewarding, but it is also absolutely vital for any meaningful change to occur.
Also, my dear fellow white Americans, you know that awful feeling you get when someone else who doesn’t know you all that well thinks they know better than you do what you need? Black people are sick and tired of white people trying to tell them how to protest, how to be black, how to go about reaching a place of equality, and so on. We have never been black, so it is ridiculous to think we can know better than they do what it is that they need. Listen to them first before taking actions to support their needs. That way you’ll actually have the information you need to make good choices about your actions.
From something as silly and annoying as bringing unneeded supplies that nobody asked for, to something as serious and racist as accidentally silencing the voices of the people you’re trying to uplift, everything about this will go better if you listen first, then act accordingly. If you’re not used to that, start by following some black leaders on social media, such as John Boyega, one of these bloggers, Senator Cory Booker, and countless others. Find at least ten. Read, don’t comment. While you’re at it, follow some leaders of other races as well. Other axes of racism work differently than the white-black axis, and we need to educate ourselves about all of them.
Here is the Netflix documentary “13th,” free on YouTube, filled with relevant history and context:
Our ancestors did not fix the system. That’s on them. It follows that if we do not fix the system, that’s on us. It’s time to be one of the helpers.
This topic was selected by the author’s Patreon patrons.
“The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was created in 2004 to draw the attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender, intersex people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.”
With that in mind, here are some meaningful ways that you as a straight, cisgender, non-intersex American can honor May 17th and make a real difference:
1) We are disproportionately poor and homeless (especially our youth) due to discrimination in hiring, promotions, and housing, especially those who aren’t white and face that discrimination due to race as well. Message your queer, transgender, and intersex friend(s), ask if they are short on any necessities, and offer to provide them in honor of today.
2) Many basic rights are stripped away from us through deliberate discrimination in federal policy making. We rely on state laws to protect us from these federal assaults on our human rights. Here is a great interactive infographic from The Guardian for easily comparing state protections for some of the basic rights that are often denied due to discrimination around sexual orientation. Call or write a letter to your state legislature asking them to fill in any holes in rights in your state, or thanking them for the protections that are in place.
3) A LOT of violence against trans and nonbinary people happens in bathrooms. Transgender are frequently beaten, raped, and arrested just for trying to find a place to pee, so gender neutral public restrooms are necessary. Besides, these facilities are useful for people from cultures that have more than two genders, making your workplace more culturally inclusive. If you don’t have gender neutral restrooms at your place of work, email your supervisors or HR department and ask them to install them now during the pandemic closures before reopening. This can often be as simple as changing signs.
4) Our representatives don’t know what we want unless we tell them. With powerful lobbyists filling their ears, it is particularly important for all of us to contact them. Call and/or write to your federal representatives after looking at their track record. Either praise them for protecting LGBTQ rights so they keep doing it, or ask them to start.
5) If you do not know who Brett Kavanaugh is, please look him up and read about his terrifying background from before President Trump appointed him. Impeaching Kavanaugh protects all Americans, not just the gay ones. Call and/or write to your federal House representatives and ask them to begin impeachment proceedings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Yes, they can do that.
6) Educate yourself about intersex people. Here is an article that explains some of the most common false myths associated with intersex people. Here is one that talks about the abuse intersex children frequently experience in the form of unnecessary genital surgeries, written with a focus on the cultural context surrounding that. Then, call and/or write to your state representatives and ask them to ban genital surgeries on healthy intersex infants and toddlers.
I want to preface this by saying that I am a white American, and the target audience for this particular piece is any white adult in the USA who is against racism but may not have really dived into racial dynamics and anti-racism very much yet. If you’re a kid, you can still read this, but some things may not quite apply to you, and you may not have some of the information this piece assumes the reader has, which might make it difficult to understand in some places.
With that context established, I would like to invite you to take a moment to prepare yourself for this content. Remember that America was in a very real and literal sense built on the backs of slaves on land stolen through genocide of several different groups, many of whom are still here and fighting for the return of their ancestral lands, because unlike Africa, this continent was never decolonized. Remember that as history progressed, the powers that kept people of color down persisted, changed forms, and were enacted on every nonwhite racial group to arrive here.
These powers and influences are still all around us. We are steeping in them. Remind yourself that you are merely human, which means these influences have impacted the way you think in ways beyond your awareness. Remind yourself that it is up to us, today’s white people in America, to do whatever we can to correct the way we think about and handle race, because no one is going to do it for us. We can’t usually do that while feeling comfortable. That means this piece will likely be uncomfortable to read at times, and that’s okay, because that is part of how progress towards racial equity happens. This kind of discomfort doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re an improving person, which is truly the best you can do. Ready? Here we go.
The first prerequisite for doing anti-racist work on a personal scale is this: We must acknowledge the extreme levels of racism swirling all around us in the USA.
We can also see the pervasiveness of racism by opening our eyes and following Americans of color on blogs and social media, and by opening our hearts to the truth of what people of color are saying about their daily experiences with racism of various scales both to our faces and all over the internet every day. Too many of us brush these things away as exceptions, as not true, or as not significant. Until we accept the fact that people of color experience racism daily on scales that range from racist comments, to systemic threats to one’s livelihood and home, to various forms of racially charged murder and other bodily harm, we cannot begin to do our necessary work because we are limiting ourselves through willful ignorance. The evidence is there; there is no valid excuse to ignore it now that we are adults and responsible for our own knowledge.
Most of us white Americans grew up not seeing any of this, perhaps even being taught that racism was a thing of the past. Indeed, many American high school history and sociology textbooks happily point out the “post-racial” nature of America as if this concept was somehow true. But, as white adults, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and make sure we understand reality now. We have the most power out of any racial demographic to uphold or change the way systems work here. We have so much power, in fact, that both our actions and our inaction matter and have real consequences for ourselves and others. We must use this power responsibly and with intention. To do that, we need to learn about and acknowledge the reality of racial inequity in America. We cannot bury our heads in the sand, or our neighbors and community members of color will continue to suffer. Their continued suffering will be on us, just as the suffering of their ancestors was on our ancestors.
The second prerequisite is this: We must understand that we (white Americans) all enact racism, often without even realizing it.
The idea that we white people could grow up surrounded by so much suffering and not even see it astounds me, and yet this appears to be a frequent experience. We don’t suffer due to our race, so we don’t know what it is like and have no personal evidence that it happens to others. We weren’t adequately educated about racial dynamics in school, so we have little to no academic knowledge of it. We were raised by generations that believed racial blindness was the answer to fixing racism (it’s actually racist), so we have little to no immediate community culture that supports the concept of racial harm being real.
So, it makes sense that when we were growing up white in America, we didn’t really have any way to know about the existence of racial inequities, much less which specific actions or systems cause racial suffering for people of any given nonwhite race.
If we don’t know which actions or systems cause people of color to suffer, then it is impossible to conclude that we are avoiding doing or contributing to those actions or systems. We can’t fix what we can’t recognize, so we are given no means by which to prevent ourselves from inadvertently furthering the racial harms in America. In other words, the system we were born into creates racism within ourselves beyond our own awareness, regardless of our good intentions. This in turn means that inaction with regards to our own self-education as adults supports racism, both within ourselves and the structures in place around us.
On the occasion that a person of color tries to explain the existence or experience of racism to us before we have done the work to educate ourselves, and before we have accepted that racism real and “post-racial America” is a myth, that person’s words are so at odds with everything we think we know that we tend not to believe them. Nobody likes being treated as if their experiences didn’t happen, and it’s got an extra layer of oppression when there are racial dynamics involved like this. This is a common example of a way in which white people are directly racist to people of color without even knowing it. This particular kind of racism makes many people of color understandably less inclined to talk to white people about racism.
Here is a more specific example of unwitting racism from a study described in a post from Psychology Today:
Race can also play a role in evaluations of performance and achievement. In one experiment, law firm partners were asked to evaluate a memorandum supposedly written by a third-year associate named Tom Meyer. Half of the partners were led to believe the Meyer was black and the other half that he was white. The partners found twice as many spelling and grammatical errors in the memorandum they thought was written by “black” Tom Meyer than “white” Tom Meyer. And their comments suggested very different assessments of the associate’s capacity: White Tom Meyer was described as having “potential” and “good analytical skills”; black Tom Meyer by contrast, “needs lots of work” and is “average at best.” One partner stated he “couldn’t believe [the associate] went to NYU.” It is doubtful the partners who read and commented on the memorandum saw themselves as racist, but subconscious ideas about academic ability clearly guided their appraisals.
You and I, being mere humans, are not immune to this phenomenon. Accepting that we have these internal biases allows us to seek them out and work to dismantle them. We can’t do that work without accepting and recognizing our biases for what they are.
With all that in mind, we can begin to do the work to discern and dismantle racism in ourselves and our immediate spheres of influence.
We cannot do this work until we give ourselves a basic understanding of what the heck is going on. We must give ourselves the education that the public system failed to provide. Once you begin to have an understanding of racial dynamics, you will be better equipped to direct your own re-education, and to have enough context to do things like look up answers to why a person of color told you that something you did or said was racist. This will be a lifelong process with a steep initial learning curve. Why not get started now, with everything shut down anyway?
Here is your initial homework to get you started:
Look up the racial demographics of your state, county, and city.
Find out which indigenous people lived in your area before colonization, and which do now.
Pick one of the racial groups you found above.
Look up “what is it like to be [x] in America” on the internet. Find something written on the subject by someone of that race, and read it.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have an initial idea of the racial situation of your city.
Bonus: Repeat steps 3 and 4 for your the races in your whole county or state.
For those who prefer books, check your local library’s online catalog for downloadable e-books and audio books to maintain isolation to fight this global pandemic. A suggestion to get you started: “Racism in American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito,” by Brian D. Behnken and Gregory D. Smithers (part of the “Racism in American Institutions” series).
I have seen various prompts from the historians of today suggesting that this (life during the global shutdown of Covid-19) is something future historians will be interested in, and will wish to find primary sources of accounts of daily life. This is mine. I intend to update this post periodically. When I do so, I will start with the date and location of that writing. I will keep these updates here on this same post, in order to prevent spamming my followers with updates about a situation they are already stressing over. I am writing this on my blog instead of somewhere else because I haven’t kept a journal in years, and because posting this here will allow future historians to correlate what I have expressed here with what I believe about a variety of other topics.
Friday, March 21, 2020 (Seattle, WA):
Life is changing so rapidly that the rate of change has outpaced the internet, which is saying a lot. Every day sees significant changes to how we live, updated government mandates, changes to the collective knowledge humanity has about Covid-19, and more and more restrictions. The changes in medical knowledge happen so rapidly that sometimes doctors are still acting on previous news even though the WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations were updated. I’m pretty sure a global debate over whether ibuprofen and NSAIDs are safe for Covid-19 patients to take was started by a single doctor’s tweet. I’m “pretty sure” rather than “actually sure” because there is so much conflicting information even from legitimate sources that it is difficult to know what is real. That phenomenon is one that extends well beyond this virus, though, and has long been a festering problem here in the USA.
When we first heard about the virus here, it was limited to Wuhan, China. At least, that was what we were told; we found out later that China had tried to cover it up and severely punished the doctors who spoke out about it. It had been around longer than they were telling people. When it first came here to King County, I noticed the report of the diagnosis. Then, social media’s consensus buzz (at least, within my bubble) was that it wasn’t here yet. People became surprised when they noticed double-digit numbers of diagnoses. I found their surprise surprising and wondered why they had originally thought there were no cases here.
Testing has been slow here in the USA. Other countries got on that much faster than we did, and as a result, it is my personal opinion that Covid-19 has moved much further through the population than our numbers show. I’m pleased that so many states are shutting things down. Social isolation isn’t perfect, but without adequate testing to ensure proper quarantine and no vaccine, it’s our best bet for slowing this down. It appears to mutate about once every 14 days, or about once every other person it moves through. That means, in my mind (and I am not a doctor), that it will be similar to the flu if we can’t get an early lock down on it in terms of having a bazillion strains and no real way to create herd immunity. The difference, of course, is that SARS viruses are a lot harder on the body, require significantly more hospitalization, have longer recovery times, and result in more deaths per person who catches it. Older people die the most from it, too, and with their deaths we lose a significant amount of cultural value. Anything that targets a specific group of people threatens the diversity of the population, and diversity is an incredibly powerful part of what makes human collaboration so wonderful and powerful. My impression is that a lot of people don’t care if old people get sick or die. I have never understood that mindset. They are people, same as the rest of us. They are alive, and deserve to stay healthy just as much as anyone else. Their value is not diminished with their age. If anything, it’s the opposite. Their brains are walking history books and encyclopedias. They have so very much to offer our community.
When the initial suggestions to start reducing social interaction came out, businesses and events started closing and cancelling one at a time. It was like watching pieces of your life slip away quietly. Then, UW (University of Washington) closed its classrooms and made all courses shift to online. That was the start of the school closures in this state. Something I read said it was the first closure in the nation, but articles that claim something is the “first” aren’t always accurate. Like how most of Seattle thinks the mall in Northgate was the first one ever built and got all depressed about it closing because of that even though it wasn’t the first. Or all those men who are credited for being the first to do something a woman did first, or white people credited for being the first to do something someone of a different race did. But I digress.
As the schools began to close, I felt very afraid. I wasn’t afraid of the virus. I was afraid of losing my livelihood. I work two jobs. One is at a community college, supporting the chemistry lab. One is as an art teacher in after school programs. My boss runs a third party company that provides teachers and supplies. Schools contract with our company, and we go teach art, hand sewing, and machine sewing classes at elementary schools. In a typical term, I work at five different schools each week, six if you count the college. My first job to disappear was the one at the college. The school shifted all classes to a digital format with only a week or two of labs left. My boss sent us an e-mail and suddenly there were no hours at that job. Just, *poof* no work. At the other job, my boss got creative. She offered us hours doing behind-the-scenes work cutting out project pieces and organizing supplies in the stock room and so on via an online signup sheet. There were two weeks worth of signups available for anyone whose classes were canceled due to Covid-19 related closures. By the time the first week came to a close, the long term closures of all schools had been announced. With that, my boss closed the signups. With no income from parents signing their kids up for our classes, there is no money for her to pay us. There are no hours left until the schools open again on April 27th. (Personally, I think that the school closures are going to get extended.) Now, she is trying to come up with more creative solutions. She is selling pre-packaged kits of projects we usually do in class and is trying to come up with a way for us to teach projects digitally. She’s doing everything she can to keep as many of us working as possible. She has also gone out of her way to make sure that all of us know what all of the available government assistance programs are, and is providing us with resources for other ways to find related work. I don’t know how she does all of that while also raising a toddler, but here we are. World’s best boss.
In December of last year, I lost my public health insurance because I made something like $80-$100 too much per month when I picked up one of the above jobs. That meant I had to start paying over $300 per month for health insurance premiums, plus start paying copays for my prescriptions and doctor’s appointments. I couldn’t really afford to do that, but I tried. I paid for December, and for January. In January I got sick and used up the last of my sick leave. February I got sick again, starting on the evening of February 12, and this time it was extremely severe. My symptoms matched Covid-19, except that I had no fever. I was in respiratory distress so severe on February 13th I almost called 911, but it only lasted for about 4 hours before it turned into a frequent, severe, dry cough. This was after the first diagnosis in King County, but before the social media buzz became aware of it. If I had Covid-19, I would have been one of the first known cases. My cough lasted for about a month, slowly tapering off. This meant I had a significant period of simply going without pay, as I had already used up my sick leave. I couldn’t afford to pay for my health insurance. I waited until I got my paycheck in March to call the company and pay my bill for February and March, as a friend who works in health insurance told me that you can go up to 3 months before they cancel your coverage for nonpayment. My friend was wrong. When I called, I found out that they had cancelled my insurance coverage as of January 31st without notifying me. Over $600 of debt I thought I had was gone. Governor Inslee has also initiated a special open enrollment period for health insurance. I applied earlier this week, and was accepted to Apple Health. (Apple Health is our state’s version of Medicaid, which is also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare or state insurance.) Suddenly, I have full healthcare coverage. What a relief!
Going back to the closures and loss of jobs: At first I was terrified. Losing both of my jobs at the same time after already losing a serious chunk of my income was not a circumstance I foresaw as being at all likely when I set up my life to be the way that it is. I also didn’t predict a global pandemic. I desperately shared my Patreon page, posted new things to my Etsy, and offered to sell my time for a variety of forms of labor to my Facebook friends in an effort to have any semblance of an income. I scrambled to find work. I have applied for dozens of jobs since all this started, and I haven’t landed a single interview. With all the closures, I imagine the very limited job market is utterly swamped with applicants. Governor Inslee has closed most businesses, not just the schools. He has also ordered the requirements around standby unemployment (the kind where you know you will return to work at your same job) to be relaxed during this crisis. Before this, I would not have qualified because I was working part time at each job. Thanks to the order, I do qualify. I think it’s ridiculous that a special exception had to be made for part time workers to qualify for unemployment. This is the way it should have been, and I hope we can make it a permanent change.
When I applied last week, I was denied despite Inslee’s orders. That’s because the automated online system wasn’t adjusted to deal with the new orders. There is a hotline that you can call to let them know your application is related to Covid-19 closures, but my other roommate who is unemployed from closures tried all day and was unable to get through due to the high volume of traffic. At her suggestion, I instead wrote an appeal letter, and yesterday one of my other roommates took it to his job where there is a fax machine. He faxed it in for me, and today I got my notice that my application was approved. I have no idea how much money they plan to give me but the relief is already washing over me in waves. Rent didn’t go away. Only my income did.
I got lucky with the timing. Friday was the last day that roommate went to work in person. He has been instructed to work from home starting Monday. The company he works for provided him with a shiny new internet router. The connection is much faster now. Our fourth roommate is coworkers with him and has also been ordered to work from home. With them working from home and the other two of us unemployed, life is about to change significantly in our house on Monday. Everyone will be home almost all of the time. That’s not at all typical, and I wonder what it will be like for us.
Today I went to help an older friend with her garden. I trimmed her roses, mowed her lawn, and weeded her vegetable boxes. We didn’t hug, and I started with washing my hands, two unusual things. She let me have some of her pots that she isn’t using anymore, and I took them home to make a vegetable container garden. With all the changes to the food banks (I’ll get to that in a moment), I’m not convinced I’ll have adequate food access in the near future. I enjoy growing some of my own food anyway; getting set up as soon as I can to do it seems prudent. Our federal government is not handling this well, and if systems break down, I want to be able to eat something fresh. In that sense, it’s kind of nice that the timing of this aligns with spring planting season.
After I left my friend’s house this afternoon, I stopped by a local hardware store in her neighborhood to pick up some potting soil and compost. Seattle has a fantastic composting program. People and businesses all over town have access to compost dumpsters, for things like food waste and garden clippings. The city turns compostable waste into garden products. It costs a little bit more than the brand name versions, but I believe in the program and closing waste loops, so it’s what I always go for if I can.
When I arrived at the store, this is what I saw:
There was also an employee standing by the chairs, who stepped inside when I asked if it was okay to take a picture for this blog. Here is a closeup of what the signs on the chairs said:
Inside the door, there was a hand sanitizer station with another sign:
When I walked in, there was a display of bleach bottles just beyond the hand sanitizer station. Someone was shopping for them, and explained to a worker that “I tried to buy the kind for laundry, but it says ‘not for disinfecting’ on the label, so, you know, I don’t know if that kind is good enough.”
Signs that looked a bit more official than the one on the hand sanitizer station were all over the store, such as this one:
After I found what I wanted, I discovered that the line was set up with yellow marks on the floor every three feet to ensure social distancing. I was surprised, since the food bank had them set up every 6 feet.
When I got to the register, I discovered that the store had a new policy that cashiers weren’t allowed to touch the merchandise customers brought up. I was asked to turn each item so that the cashier could scan the barcodes with the scan gun. When I paid, I cracked a joke about how nice it was that we already have keypads set up for customers to swipe their own cards. I remember when cashiers always had to swipe all the cards themselves. It’s nice that we had that little technological shift and all the infrastructure changes that go with that before all this happened.
So, food banks. I have been living on food bank food for a significant portion of my adult life, both in California and here in Washington. I have a couple of very old posts about good food bank experiences and less good ones. The gist of the difference comes down to three things: Quality of food, food bank culture, and freedom of choice. Good food banks will strive to get semi-decent food. You’ll still be handed expired food, but not if it has gone bad. Bad food banks don’t care and hand you rotting vegetables with regularity. Good food banks create a culture of shared community. Bad ones treat the people who need food help as something less than human. Good food banks allow people to make choices about what they eat. Bad food banks hand out pre-packaged bags of food with no choices. So far, every food bank I have been to has either been good in all three categories or bad in all three.
The weekly food bank I have been using for the last three years has been amazing in all three categories. The food is sorted by type into bins. Each bin has a number that tells you the max of how many you are allowed to take from that bin to ensure everyone gets what they need. Usually, the number of options in each bin exceeds the number written on it, providing ample room for choice. If you are allergic to everything in a bin, the staff will find you something else if they can. If there’s something rotting in a bin, the staff will apologize and remove it. They are always friendly and treat you like a real person whose ability to eat both a balanced diet and food you actually like really matters, no matter how stressed they are.
That’s how they usually are, anyway. Two Thursdays ago there were significant changes. Instead of sorting through bins to find what you want, they had us point to what we want and wait for a staff member to hand it to us. This was meant to stop people from touching everything. The staff was super stressed out. It didn’t go well for them.
When I went back again two days ago, the system was completely different. There was no more choice. No more bins. Food was divided up into pre-packaged brown paper grocery bags with produce in plastic grocery bags. (Side note: I have no idea where they got those bags, since we no longer have plastic grocery bags here.) The bags were handed out through the window, keeping the entire line outside instead of in the internal hallway where it usually is. The staff was so stressed out that I could hear it in their voices well before I could see them. The line was marked out with marks every 6 feet along a driveway like this:
When I go to the front of the line, this sign was on a pillar between the first mark and the distribution window:
Someone had the brilliant idea to put a desk outside the window. It was useful for setting food down but it also forced distance between the staff and those of us seeking food.
When it was my turn, I mentioned my allergies. The staff tried to pull out everything that I am allergic to, but I still found things when I got home that I gave away because I couldn’t eat them. I saw the stress in their body language, and I made sure to be patient and grateful in how I held myself and spoke. These are people who probably pride themselves on the typical excellence of their service. In addition to whatever other stress the pandemic is having on their personal lives, here they were volunteering their time to provide a much lower-quality service than they are typically able to do. The person at the window became less agitated by the time they were done working with me. I’m happy for that. The staff also did their best to find me replacement items for what they took out of my bag.
Due to a series of illnesses, injuries, and so on combined with my intentional hermiting to successfully participate in NaNoWriMo (follow me here for updates on my book), I have been socially isolated except for work and choir rehearsal since the beginning of November with only a few weeks of relief. This means that part of what I’m experiencing is watching everyone else freak out on social media about the strain of the isolation, while I have tools to deal with it. That’s why I wrote this post yesterday (it will be dated as today because I posted it after midnight last night). It shares that knowledge, in the hopes that others will benefit from it. It’s fascinating watching everyone suddenly turn to the kinds of digital connection that have been my lifeline for so long. My socializing is actually expanding as more people get online. It’s just kind of sad that the timing lines up with when I’m finally healthy enough to connect in person.
I think, going back to where I started this writing, that the biggest challenge for me and for many of the people in my life is the change. It’s the high number of changes. It’s the significant nature of those changes. It’s the rapid rate of additional changes. All this is exacerbated by the uncertainty. Until today, when I got accepted for unemployment benefits, I didn’t know how I would be able to pay rent. I was terrified of ending up homeless. We don’t know how long this situation will last. We still don’t know very much about Covid-19. We don’t know how many people actually have it, due to inadequacy of testing. We won’t have a vaccine for at least another year. What will life be like by then? What about the long term? Will the planet die because we got so distracted by this pandemic that we forgot to solve our climate crisis? Should I be creating a physical copy of this in case the internet stops being a thing?
Monday, March 23, 2020 (Seattle, WA):
This morning, I took my organic chemistry final exam. For weeks, the logistics surrounding this exam have been in flux. First we were told we could come back for the final. Then, we were told students had to be limited to groups of 8 or fewer, so our professor would be running the final several times throughout the course of the day on which the final was originally scheduled to take place after assigning each of us to a time slot. Several iterations later, we landed on the final solution: Our teacher sent us the exam as a PDF on the morning of the final, which we printed out, completed, scanned, and sent back digitally before the time limit was up.
After that, I took a break for lunch and enjoyed the sun by planting some of my early food crops. I have been fearful about the greater systems we rely upon collapsing, so it feels hopeful that I may have come direct control over my food supply soon.
In the afternoon, I left the house again for the first time since the trip to the hardware store. I wanted to mail a card I had made for someone, and pick up some basic food supplies. While I was shopping, Governor Inslee announced an emergency “stay at home” order, and shut down basically everything except groceries and medical practices. All “non-essential” businesses are to close the day after tomorrow for a minimum of two weeks. Tomorrow, the stores are going to be overrun. I am so very glad I went today.
I have some pictures that I took while out today, to showcase what it’s like. It’s really rather eerie. Big parking lots of what I know to be bustling shopping centers sit empty in the middle of the day, except if there is a grocery store involved. Restaurants have already been closed due to Seattle City orders. Some put up nice signs about it, others handwritten. Some didn’t even bother; they just sit empty with the lights off. I’ll write more after the pictures:
As I walked around, I noticed something unusual. Chocolati, a popular coffee shop, was open! Surprised, I walked across the street to investigate. They are operating under reduced hours. This location is set up so that customers walk in to the area where the baristas work behind the counter. Beyond that area are the popular tables. I had no idea that Chocolati had doors that could close between them, but they do, and they were closed when I walked into the coffee shop today. They also had little signs on the two chairs in the room saying not to sit down on them.
After I walked around the area for a bit, I went to two different grocery stores. I also took pictures there to show the impact Covid-19 related closures are having on them. Whole aisles missing every last bag of flour. Signage telling people to stay two carts apart. Those kinds of things. I will post them another day; for now, it’s well beyond my bed time.
And in case you were wondering, I found out a few hours ago that totally aced the organic chemistry final exam I took this morning. I earned 153/150 points.
Friday March 27, 2020 (Seattle, WA):
Yesterday a friend of mine from my choir said, “Every day feels like a week. Every week feels like a month.” This resonated very strongly with me, and seems to be similar to how many people are feeling right now.
Our choir has moved to online rehearsals. Through Zoom, we hold abridged weekly rehearsals on Wednesdays. We all keep our mics muted, and our director sings each part one at a time along with his piano for each section to sing along in the privacy of our individual homes, unable to hear one another. This began last week, with our first digital rehearsal on Wednesday (March 18th). I was unable to participate for technical reasons.
One of my other choir friends agreed on Thursday last week to come over for rehearsal this week. My friend was going to bring equipment and come early enough to enjoy sharing a meal. Over the weekend, things had already changed so much that we agreed to touch bases on Tuesday (March 24th) to see what we would end up doing, and both of us acknowledged that even if we said “yes” on Tuesday, it might become a “no” by Wednesday. Tuesday (March 24th) snuck up on us. I commented to my friend that it seemed like last week’s rehearsal had been a month ago. My friend agreed, and suggested this was due to how much had changed. We both decided due to Governor Inslee’s order to stay home (which came out on Monday March 23rd and went into effect on Wednesday March 25th) that we should not get together for rehearsal.
I haven’t updated over the past few days because things have changed so rapidly I haven’t had time to write. I regret this, as I was hoping to capture the rapid nature of change by profiling each day as it happens.
I mentioned financial woes above. On Monday morning, I got an e-mail inquiring whether I was interested in a particular long term temporary job. I responded that I was. That afternoon, I had a job interview by phone call. After that, I went to do the errands described above. While I was out, I took pictures at various markets of entire shelves sold out of toilet paper and flour, or very low on menstrual products, cooking oil, and yeast. I haven’t posted those, but I will. My apologies to future historians; you’ll have to piece together the timeline. I am not going to edit what I have written here, in the interest of keeping it as real to what I believe at this time as possible.
Anyway, I exchanged a few e-mails about the job while I was out. By the time I was almost done grabbing my basic necessities and taking pictures for this post, I had a job offer that I had also accepted, and a start date set for Wednesday, March 25th. As I was leaving the last store, I got an e-mail from one of the campuses where I work about the school’s response to the governor’s emergency stay at home order, which was to take effect on Wednesday, March 25th. This is how I discovered that there was such an order.
I immediately responded to the thread about the job and offered to rearrange my schedule to allow me to come in on Tuesday, March 24th for training due to the governor’s order. This was found to be desirable, and I suddenly found myself going from waiting desperately for my first unemployment deposit to working a full time 8am-5pm M-F, 40 hour per week job. I spent most of Tuesday training, and was sent home with a computer and related gear to get myself set up to work from home, which I have been doing ever since. It is surreal.
This job is a long-term temporary job. It will disappear in a few months. That is also when I suspect I will finally be able to return to my other jobs. However, that return is not certain. Nothing is. Knowing that I have solid income for the next few months has washed away piles of stress. I knew that I was stressed out over money; I don’t think I realized just how much it was affecting me until I felt this relief. Now, it’s hard to remember that only a few days ago I was struggling so much more.
My community is split. People who can work from home, are working from home. Everyone else is just home. Some are using unemployment benefits, others are struggling to qualify. Two of my friends told me today that they are finally scheduled up with digital social events to a level similar to their lives before all this happened. I think people are starting to adjust to the physical distancing and find a new balance in their lives. The media and a lot of the signage calls it “social distancing.” I am still socially close to my friends. Even if we are physically separated, we are digitally and emotionally connected.
People all over my various communities who have work and money are using it to hire other people in my communities who don’t. Digital tutoring, gardening, and so on. It’s generally seen by people on both sides as a way to move money from the haves to the have-nots. Some of my friends with the most money are going around signing up to support various Patreon pages just to help more people get through this. (Patreon is a web based platform that allows content creators to get their work to patrons, who pay monthly patronages for access. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the gist.) Everyone knows the economy is broken. Some of us are hoping it means the housing bubble will burst and we’ll have a chance in our lifetimes of being homeowners.
I planted some vegetables right before the governor ordered us to stay at home. I think it will be poetic when they sprout as we are released again. If the end of the orders are delayed beyond that, then I’ll have fresh homegrown food during the lockdown and that’s lovely.
I mentioned earlier about toilet paper being sold out. It was the first thing to go. Now it’s even difficult to find it online. Companies that specialize in online sales of recycled and otherwise ethical toilet paper are sold out. It sold out all over Seattle rapidly, well before the closures were announced, prompting this popular meme:
A drawing of a toilet paper fort in a living room. Two roles are missing, forming a window, with eyes peeking out through the hole. Extra rolls of toilet paper lay about the room. Across the top of the drawing are the words, “meanwhile in Seattle.” The artist signature in the bottom right corner reads “LeLIEVRE.”
I wish I could say when I first saw that meme, but my sense of time is so distorted with the upheaval of every rhythm in my life that I have no idea.
Every time I went out after hearing about the toilet paper being sold out, I perused grocery stores to see what was sold out, out of curiosity. First it was toilet paper, but not menstrual products. I remember this because that second part surprised me. I wasn’t sure if it was testimony to the fact that the affluent people – the ones presumably stocking up – tend to be males hired by the sexist local tech industry (Seattle is home to Google, Facebook, and Amazon headquarters), but I did wonder.
Quickly after toilet paper came hand sanitizer. Next it was rice, pasta, other grains, canned beans, and bottled water. I found that oddly specific for everyone to have the same idea about disaster food. Then, it was vitamin C, bleach, and cleaning products. As each item began to be sold out, it never really went back up to full capacity. Some stores will still have a few of these items on the shelves, but I haven’t seen any of them fully stocked. Finally, the most recent items I have seen sold out or greatly reduced are bread yeast and menstrual products. Oddly, only one store I’ve been to was sold out on sugar. The rest were lower than usual, but not sold out like the flour. I wonder if most people don’t know they need sugar to activate yeast in quick breads.
I am told by friends who live near International District that their stores are not sold out of anything. I have seen headlines discussing the racism Americans are enacting against anyone who looks Asian, by assuming that they are Chinese and proceeding to associate that with Covid-19. If the headlines are correct, then Asian businesses began to suffer losses in or before February, well before the March closures affected everyone. It would not surprise me if the same phenomenon that drove white people out of Chinese restaurants also keeps them out of International District grocery stores. White Americans are generally very good at two things: racism, and denial of racism. I say this as a white American. I’ve seen it in myself, it was how I was raised to be, and it is something I seek to eradicate in myself and help others do the same. In February, I urged my friends with money to go to International District any time they felt like eating out to help mitigate the losses. I was definitely not the only one who had this idea. It flew around social media in Seattle, in various forms. Now, of course, that’s not possible. We can only support the grocery stores there.
I am very lucky to have work right now. When I recover my losses from being very ill and unable to work for most of the year, my job will be over as it is temporary. Hopefully by then, this will have blown over and I’ll be back at my regular jobs. If we are still shut down, then by then the changes the governor ordered to unemployment will have settled into place and I will be fine. It’s still not easy, emotionally. Everyone in my life is suffering in some way, whether that’s due to lack of work, or some variety of guilt-like sensation over having work when so many do not, or the simple suffering of a member of a social species being unable to share touch with others of its kind.
The collective suffering of a people is a weighty thing to witness, especially as a member. I do not know if I am capable of conveying it to people who are not experiencing it. The suffering in this situation is on a massive scale in terms of number of participants. It is also long, drawn out, and agonizing. People are going to die over this, and some of them aren’t even going to have Covid-19. People who lose their homes due to inability to pay rent due to closures, people who can’t find shelter because the shelters are closed, people who can’t get food because the food banks are limited, people who can’t get medical care for other needs because the hospitals are overloaded, people who can’t survive physical social isolation and are driven to end their lives, and so on. If this shutdown doesn’t end at the predicted two-week mark, and/or if the shutdown isn’t enough to contain the virus, things are going to get messy in ways we haven’t seen yet.
I want to share a heart-wrenching story from Tuesday, March 24th:
After I finished training, I ran an errand on the way home, knowing it was the last day to do so for a while. Someone who looked really old to my young 30-something eyes asked me for money. I told the truth; I didn’t have any. We chatted for a while and I learned more about this person. A Vietnam veteran, he had been hospitalized for 5 months due to illness. He was released on Monday. I don’t know if it was because he’s super old, and old people are more likely to contract Covid-19 and more likely to die from it if they get it. Maybe they released him to protect him? In any case, they released him with a pile of antibiotics and sent him home.
When he got home, he discovered that his landlord thought he was dead and had sent all his checks back to the VA. So there he was, fresh out of the hospital with nothing. The VA won’t get him his money until mid-April. He was sitting where I ran into him because he had tried to go to the food bank, which is typically open at that location on Tuesdays. It was closed, and would not open until Thursday. He had no food, no money to buy food, and no access to food at the food bank. I offered him half a bag of bagels that I had left. He said, “I have no teeth,” and pulled back his lips to show me. “I can’t eat them. Thank you though, that’s very kind.” I gave him the oranges I had instead. He graciously accepted them.
I hope he lived long enough to get his food on Thursday. I hope he is okay.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 (Seattle, WA):
Without going into much detail in this public post, let’s just say that having 4 adults work from home in a 3-bedroom house is far from ideal.
Often times when I look at history, and see people of the past act on wrong information. I read about the flyers during the Dust Bowl that claimed a better life waited in California despite the horrifying poverty that people found there when they arrived. Doctors used to prescribe cigarettes for stress, not knowing that they cause various types of cancer and a wide variety of other health problems. And so on. I sometimes wonder whether people of the past knew they were acting on questionable information.
So, dear historians of the future, I want you to know: at least one person is perfectly aware that the information the world is acting on right now isn’t reliable. On a global scale, every country is doing the best it can to act on inadequate information. This is a brand new disease. Every official recommendation from a government or international organization is based on professional guesswork. We don’t have a treatment beyond treating the symptoms, much less a cure. We don’t really know if the treatments we’re trying are going to work, and we absolutely don’t know the long term impact of what we are doing. All we can do is physically isolate ourselves as much as possible to create as much delay as possible for the researchers to figure out as much as they can before the pandemic gets to its height. It’s a race, it’s not a fun one, and that’s just about the only reliable information we have right now, especially with how many governments are trying to cover up their Covid-19 incidence numbers.
I also have the general impression that a lot of people don’t know that our information is too new to be reliable. People all over social media tout the word of whatever source they have found as objective truth with little to no recognition of the simple fact that this is simply impossible. We do not and cannot know how accurate our information is because we (we as a global species) haven’t had enough time to evaluate and study Covid-19 and any relevant treatments. A lot of people seem to think science happens in an instant. I’m really not sure why they do.
There is no end to the frustration I feel with the spread of misinformation.
Friday, April 3, 2020 (Seattle, WA):
We now know that the stay-at-home orders will be extended here in Washington until at least May 4th. I will be surprised if it doesn’t also go through June. The closing-down of our economy has me feeling grateful to myself for planting a small food garden. I hope I don’t need it; it won’t be enough on its own.
I just scrolled past this article shared on social media:
April 4, 2020. Image description: This is a screenshot of an article shared on social media. The preview image is of a building with a sign that reads, “United States Department of Labor.” The headline from NBCNEWS.COM is “A record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.”
The population of the United States was 327.2 million in 2018, counting children. That means about 2% of the nation’s total population – and therefore a higher percentage of the nation’s total workers – applied for unemployment in one week. I am not an economist, but I’m fairly certain that’s significant.
Here in the USA, we can’t do what China did in Wuhan. We can’t throw walls around infected areas and stop all traffic in and out. Instead, we have social campaigns. People are pushing each other towards responsible behavior with social media posts that range from sharing statistics and graphs that point out why self-isolation on a widespread scale is so important right now to the sort of begging that leads one to wonder if the author was sobbing while writing. YouTube or someone on it (I haven’t bothered looking) has begun running frequent ads urging people to stay home. Google, well-known for changing their home page to reflect historical birthdays and other interesting moments, has updated their home page as part of the campaign as well, with each of the letters in their name drawn with limbs and animated, doing an activity inside a house:
When you click on the Google Doodle, it takes you to an information page about Covid-19 which includes a world map of the spread, and a big alert to “STAY HOME. SAVE LIVES,” followed by the same five steps so many of us keep reading everywhere:
STAY home as much as you can
KEEP a safe distance
WASH hands often
COVER your cough
SICK? Call ahead
Here is a screenshot I took today:
Under the world map in the above screenshot, you can see a block that starts with “Worldwide cases” but is cut off. I scrolled down to the tables below that to provide a screenshot. It’s a mark of the times that I have no idea where the information in this chart came from, no idea how to fact check it, and no idea whether it is true. As a rule, I never share such information. I am putting it here not for my contemporaries to reference, but for the historians of the future to see a snapshot of what people right now generally think is true. Because the fact is, most people will believe whatever Google spits out without fact checking it, especially these parts of the search results pages. Most people don’t understand that Google pulls its information for its little truth box blurby things from the internet with algorithms, not with personal fact checking. I’ve seen blatantly wrong information come up in the little box that Google displays, trying so hard to helpfully give you the right answer without you having to click on sites. I’m glad they’re trying to work on automating fact checking, but it’s nowhere near reliable. Most people believe it is reliable, though. Anyway, here is the table:
As you can see, these tables have “confirmed,” “recovered,” and “deaths” columns for worldwide and a handful of countries, followed by the United States and a handful of regions within the USA. Some of the entries aren’t filled in. At the bottom of each table, you can see “Source: Wikipedia.” Wikipedia is linked there. Now, Wikipedia is a fantastic resource in a lot of ways. It’s also managed by anybody who decides to make an account. I clicked to the article itself. Let’s take a look at what I found there:
The article is titled “2019-20 coronavirus pandemic by country and territory.” The top of the page includes a blurb about the start of the virus, shows a color-coded global map, and the start of the contents, which have links for each region. Most importantly though, I would like to draw your attention to the blurb at the top, in the special highlighted box, which reads as follows: “This article is about a current pandemic where information can change quickly or be unreliable. The latest page updates may not reflect the most up-to-date information. Please help improve this article using reliable sources or help by discussing changes on the talk page. (Learn about how and when to remove this template message.)” While I don’t trust Wikipedia to be accurate due to this open public editing, I do appreciate that they are at least transparent about that. They don’t claim accuracy.
Going back to the page where the Google Doodle lead, there is another little hyperlink next to the source, which says “about this information.” I clicked it, and got this pop up box:
The box shows an explicit disclaimer that the data is changing rapidly and does not include all cases. It says specifically that confirmed cases aren’t all cases, only the ones that test positive. It fails to mention the global shortage on testing supplies and the fact that this means our numbers are significantly incorrect, but hey, at least they are being explicit that the information isn’t reliable. You know, without saying the word “unreliable,” and only in a blurb you have to open by clicking on tiny, greyed out text. Sarcasm voice: I’m absolutely certain people will notice this.
The campaign to apply social pressure to isolate is going on outside of the internet, as well. traffic signs over the highways around Seattle with programmable lights that can display any message with three lines of text now read, “STAY HOME/LIMIT TRAVEL/SAVE LIVES,” (slashes mine) with two words on each line. This one really got to me, because this is the first time I have seen anything other than traffic alerts, Amber Alerts, and Silver Alerts displayed on that equipment. (Amber Alerts alert the public to the license plate and other information associated with a child kidnapping; Silver Alerts are about kidnapped elderly.)
Yesterday, I talked on the phone with a loved one who doesn’t know much about how viruses work. We talked for 30-45 minutes while I explained about human cells, proteins, immune system responses, viral particles hijacking cell equipment to reproduce, the structures that comprise viral particles, the reason why DNA recombination is so much easier in the flu than a lot of other viruses and how that has lead to the collection of flu viruses we have now known colloquially as “the flu” and, finally, about how the information we have about Covid-19 is all so new that no matter how reliable your source is, it’s not reliable. We just haven’t had time to verify any of the things we think we know. He thanked me for saying that out loud, saying he wished more people would do so. He asked me if “the test” is reliable. I explained about how each region has developed its own test, so there isn’t just one. I also expressed that this is even true within the USA, where we haven’t really had a federal response to my knowledge.
Towards the end of our conversation, my loved one asked me if I thought isolation would be successful in containing Covid-19 and preventing it from continuing to spread. I told him my general concept of the situation: In my mind, it’s far too late for that. If the source I read which says Covid-19 can mutate and create a new strain once every other host it moves through is true, then we’re likely to end up with a collection of Covid-19 viruses which, like the collection of flu viruses, is simply a new permanent part of the human existence. Even if it’s not, the virus has already moved through our population beyond our testing capabilities. It’s not going to be “gone by summer” as he was hoping. I am beginning to wonder how many years will be in the range in title of articles written in the future about this pandemic. While I hope that the above article title (“2019-20 coronavirus pandemic…”) remains correct in this sense, I would also not be surprised if historians of the future who are familiar with this pandemic squint at it or find it funny. It’s yet another example of people of this time making sweeping assumptions without enough information. You may notice that the title of this post doesn’t have years. I did that on purpose because I am a scientist, and that means I am careful about my unknowns.
2% of my country’s people applied for unemployment this week. Something like 40 of our 50 states have put some kind of isolation or shut down mandates into effect. I have the sensation – with little evidence to support or refute it – that we are just at the beginning of a very long shut down across the nation despite no federal response. People are already suffering from medical resources being shifted to handle Covid-19. I know people who may die or suffer significant irreversible but preventable damage because of inability to access treatment for conditions that are totally unrelated to Covid-19. This is a really bad time to need a doctor for much of anything. I can only hope other nations are handling it better than we are.
Are you in isolation because of Covid-19, voluntarily or otherwise? Is it really starting to get to you? Welcome to my world! This is how much of life is for people with chronic illnesses. In my case, I get sick more often than others do with various respiratory infections and isolate myself to keep my roommates, students, and others safe until I am well again. I’ve picked up a lot of information about isolation and coping mechanisms over the years. Here is my primer for you. And guess what? I’m super poor, so almost everything in this post is free if you have computer access.
Being stuck at home means your body movement is probably dramatically reduced. Exercise is part of several processes that keep you happy and healthy. If you can find a way to get your body moving on a regular basis, you are going to be a lot better off. Ways to exercise at home:
Use free videos from YouTube for stretching routines. Who knows, maybe you’ll come out of this way more limber and in way less pain because of daily stretching! Here is a great video you can follow along with from a doctor.
Use free videos from YouTube to do workouts on your own floor at home. You can find lots of them that don’t need any equipment. Here is a good one for strengthening your core, which I like to recommend because it talks about how to safely perform the exercises. Core strength is an important place to start with workouts because it supports all of the rest of your strength, so if you are a beginner, start with this. Also: Your abs are not your core. Your core muscles are underneath those muscles. (By “underneath,” I mean more internal, not lower down on your body.)
If you are able to do so, go on walks in your neighborhood.
If you have stairs in your home, walk up and down them extra times every time you pass by them.
Some may find this suggestion a bit crass, but you can also masturbate. It produces some of the same physiological benefits of exercise and typically takes up less space.
Most people have some kind of personal balance between alone time and social time. Very few people truly enjoy constant isolation, and even then, humans tend to prefer to do things voluntarily. Add financial distress and pandemic-related emotions to the mix, and it makes sense that a lot of people are struggling a lot right now. Here are some things you can do to support your mental health:
See the body health section above. Everything up there will support your mental health. Here is info on why and how.
Be careful about your sleep patterns. If you can set up your life so that you are going to bed at about the same time every day and waking up at about the same time every day, you will likely notice several benefits, including mental health improvements.
Establish a routine. Losing yourself in social media and the bowels of the internet for a few days is one thing; doing it for weeks on end can be destructive, especially with all the horrible news permeating every part of the internet right now. Use alarms for things like bedtime, meal times, when to start a regular activity, and other significant routine markers if you are someone who loses track of time. Avoid setting alarms for meal times if this strategy aggravates an eating disorder. Here is some information about the likely benefits of family routines.
Sit down, take a look at the time you have, and decide intentionally how you will use it. Are you going to look for online work, and/or work from home? Are you going to learn a new skill? Are you going to create something? Are you going to start a revolution? Now is the time to figure out how you are going to use your time. This will support your ability to establish a routine. It will also give you some control over your own life, which will support your mental health as well.
Have a meeting with yourself and figure out what your unmet needs are. It may require some daily thought to figure them out. Once you identify what they are, you can make a plan to find alternate ways to meet those needs. For example: if you identify that you need your quiet bus commute time to feel centered but you aren’t using public transit right now, you would then be able to establish an aspect of your routine that is designed to meet that need. This may be a useful conversation to have as a household if appropriate.
Find a healthy way to express what you are feeling. Maybe it’s journaling, or writing a song about it. Maybe it’s making a model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and destroying it. Maybe it’s talking about it with your therapist or deity if you have one. There are all sorts of options; find one that works for you. If you aren’t accustomed to doing this, I recommend starting with looking up more options until you find a few you want to try. It may take trying several before you find a way that works for you.
If you have never dealt with depression before, read up on what it is and how it works. I mean “depression” the clinical term, not “depression” the colloquial exaggeration for “I feel sad.” It is not unlikely that many people who haven’t dealt with depression before will experience it for the first time, seeing as social isolation can cause depression. Those of us in minority groups know this well.
See the social health section below. Meeting your social needs as best you can will definitely support your mental health.
This is the one everyone is buzzing about on social media right now. How do we meet our needs for connection when we can’t leave the house or touch people when we do? The answer is: It’s time to get creative. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Group or one on one video chat is available via a variety of free systems and apps, for both computer browsers and smart phones.
Good old fashioned phone calls can be amazing when you haven’t heard someone’s voice in ages.
Use texting and messaging apps to connect if you wish to avoid social media.
Swap snail mail letters.
Group audio chat on a free system such as Discord allows you to hang out with your friends while doing other things.
Play video games or tabletop RPGs together via free services such as Discord or Roll 20.
Hold a virtual tea party via group video chat (funny hats recommended but not required).
Simultaneously watch the same show or movie while keeping a chat window open to chat about the show (there are multiple software options for simultaneous streaming).
Use the above strategy to hold a virtual Bob Ross paint-along.
Cook “together” by video chatting while cooking (extra cuteness points for making the same meal).
Hold an art swap with your friends. This works like a Secret Santa except after you draw names, you make and send art, either digitally or via snail mail as you and your group prefer. Here is a site that conducts the name draw for you for free, and has a variety of options for how to send the drawn names.
Play Pass the Cookie Jar with your friends. The first person makes and mails cookies to the second person, who makes and mails cookies to the next person, and so on until the last person makes and sends cookies back to the first person.
Record a song “together” by singing/playing it separately in your own homes, then digitally editing the tracks together.
Work together to write some fun fiction using Google Docs or other software that allows all participants to have the same file open at the same time.
Hold a virtual dance party via group video chat. This can also help with the exercise issue mentioned above.
Build something together by designing it together digitally, and having each person make a component that is meant to be combined with everyone else’s. When all this blows over, you can come together to build the final piece.
It’s going to be so much easier to use these strategies now that everyone else is also isolated and seeking them out. Remember this experience next time one of your disabled and/or chronically ill friends reaches out to you for digital connection. It may be the most socialization they get in weeks.