• M. J. Chrisman

COVID-19: On the Margins

Photo of spray painted image of a medical mask on a brick wall by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

“Please keep a social distance of at least six feet,” I remind our guests as they form a line outside, behind our table of sack lunches. "The Showerhouse" volunteers, including myself, are now wearing face masks and rubber gloves. Before we start serving, each of us wash our hands for at least 20 seconds and check our temperatures. We begin our outside distribution at 8:30am, and the initial group of 40 individuals, families, and couples grows to a total of 60-70 people throughout the morning. In the past, we would have served these same folks “café-style” inside, but now we can only offer showers and hospitality for 10 people each day we are open and have to serve pre-packaged meals to everyone else outside, sometimes in the rain and cold. The new protocols are precautions we take to protect our friends—many of whom are houseless, low-income and without health insurance, and/or have health complications—because volunteers are more likely to expose guests to the virus than vice-versa. In fact, KCMO’s Third District (where we live and serve) is now the most impacted by coronavirus, with black residents having the most reported cases (KC Star). Due to systemic racism and oppression of black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities on KC’s east side, people who live here and have preexisting conditions are now at a higher risk of death and complications from the global pandemic. And this injustice is compounded by generations of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, disinvestment, over-policing, and so much more. Meanwhile, many residents of places like Brookside in KCMO and Overland Park, KS have easier health access and work-from-home stability power and so are less lethally affected by this outbreak. But before I bash some of KC’s yuppiest communities, I acknowledge the advantages I, too, hold as a white resident of KC’s Historic Northeast. I work part-time for two local churches, managing and running their communications and digital media. So I have already had the advantage of working from home for over six months. Meanwhile, most of my friends were recently laid off from their jobs because COVID-19 restrictions closed their work locations. Although I am low-income, I am privileged to afford my student loan payments and catastrophic health insurance in case I get sick.

Photo of "COVID-19" written chaotically with sharpie font on paper by @marjanblan on Unsplash

Here is the intersectionality of this crisis. Even if we have more advantages than the guests who come to The Showerhouse or live in KC's Third District, COVID-19 is ripping off the bandage for the world to see how deep the wound of White Supremacy goes. Now we all know someone who has lost a loved one, gotten sick, been laid off, been evicted, and so on. Perhaps the virus won’t strike every person in the U.S., but its impacts will ripple through our failed systems of unfettered capitalism, healthcare, housing, education, and so much more. If this pandemic does not help us see the fickleness of the foundation upon which America’s house of cards has been built, we will keep electing other “Trumps” in office to serve as scapegoats for our follies.

So what could direct action look like on a local and national level?

What if we spend our time and resources on… 1. Mailing grocery gift cards to our struggling neighbors. 2. Helping buy items and preparing sack lunches for hungry families to be distributed at places like The Showerhouse, Thelma’s Kitchen, Salvation Army, and other servicing places. 3. Remotely supporting groups like KC Tenants, Stand Up KC, and Missouri Jobs for Justice who are advocating for housing rights, livable wages and sick leave, as well as Missouri Medicaid expansion. 4. Financially supporting anti-racist groups/orgs like Uzazi Village, SURJ-KC, One Struggle KC, and Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance that are BIPOC-led and working for systemic change. 5. Joining the New Poor People’s Campaign and helping move people toward solidarity and action as we organize the largest live-stream demonstration in history on June 20, 2020.

Without direct action and a collective, intersectional approach to end White Supremacy, we know exactly how crises play out for our BIPOC and low-income neighbors. From Katrina to Joplin and now COVID-19, our current systems not only disproportionately harm BIPOC but they also affect white folk, because White Supremacy hurts everyone. The better we understand how global events like these affect those on the margins, the sooner we will organize to end White Supremacy in our communities and nation as a whole. In the end, I hope COVID-19 helps us see and love our neighbors—the ones still being detained at the border, the ones being racially profiled for wearing a mask, the ones we pass by on the street corner every day—because we should be taking their perspectives right now during this pandemic.

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