California reopens on June 15. We can’t afford a return to normal


On March 23 of last year, as COVID just began its murderous rampage across America and the stock market crash, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took to Fox News to post a call to sacrifice:

The economy had to remain open at all costs. If older Americans have caught COVID and died, so be it.

“As a senior, are you willing to take your chances in return for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? “

“If it’s the exchange, I’m totally into it.”

Fifteen months later, Patrick is still alive. Almost 600,000 Americans are not.

He is also still Lieutenant Governor of Texas. And while openly suggesting that eliminating the elderly to support the stock market has hit many, including myself, as a reason for dismissal, if not public flogging, it is now clear that millions of people across the country agreed with him – at least in spirit – and voiced that support in the form of mass uprisings against social distancing, masking and business closures.

It’s easy to dismiss these attitudes as phenomena born out of Trumpism, QAnon, and anti-vax fervor. But clinging to the status quo – no matter how deadly, delusional, or amoral it is – has long been a part of our national character.

In December 1942 America was waging a world war on two fronts. And it was in crisis. The Japanese military had taken over the main US rubber supply line and we were running out. US military forces were in danger of depleting the inventory they needed to continue their fight.

Lives were at stake. And the best and easiest way to save those lives was to get Americans out of their cars and keep them from burning rubber.

There was only one problem: We wouldn’t stop driving.

The voluntary driving restrictions did not work. Western states in particular have shrunk from any mention of mandatory cuts. It took a year of politics before FDR hit the gas rationing rules.

Faced with a choice between convenience or death, even members of the larger generation were perfectly happy to choose convenience.

As absurd as this reluctance has been, it pales in comparison to America’s reluctance to break with its race status quo. Even in the face of the crisis.

In 1933, nine years before its rubber shortage, America faced an unprecedented economic collapse from the Great Depression. New Deal plans were crafted to center a recovery around homeownership. If the federal government got involved in the mortgage industry by offering cheap loans, it could expand the housing market, creating jobs and lasting wealth for the middle class.

It was a radical break with established capitalist norms. But the crisis dictated action.

There was a catch, however: Democrats in the South and other parts of the country preferred economic ruin to the idea of ​​giving non-whites the opportunity to become their financial equals.

If blacks and other minority groups enjoyed its benefits, the plan was doomed to political failure.

The result of this deadlock was Homeowners Loan Corp., a government lending institution that revolutionized homeownership in the United States, but also systematically racialized it.

The lending institution created lending maps that divided American cities into classified racial territories. Exclusive white residential areas received an A rating, and therefore the best loan terms. Black neighborhoods – as well as racial integration zones – were painted red on the map, given a D rating, and denied access to credit.

This was the origin of the term redlining.

For decades, even after the Depression was over, this system gave white buyers exclusive access to cheap federal loans. This helped create an unprecedented expansion of domestic wealth for white America and a powerful financial brake on integration.

America has found a partial solution to an economic crisis, by widening its racial crisis. The byproduct of that decision continued to be so entrenched in our status quo, most hardly knew it was there.

Until COVID.

Amid the sea of ​​selfishness and incompetence that characterized much of the US response to the COVID pandemic, the Bay Area was an island of ahistoric reason.

Eight decades after being part of the Western Bloc, which refused to voluntarily give up driving to avoid an invasion, cities in the Bay Area have taken early and decisive action to protect citizens from the spread of COVID. When residents were asked to comply with strict lockdown and hide orders, we did. When the vaccines became available, we took them.

These efforts have saved lives. And yet, they still weren’t enough.

COVID hasn’t missed the Bay Area. Instead, its impacts were racialized.

Two months ago, The Chronicle released a map of how neighborhoods in San Francisco have been affected by COVID. Much of the city escaped relatively unscathed. But history students will see patterns in the COVID hot spot patches.

The trail of the virus is so firmly etched in the racial zones of the old Homeowners Loan Corp. maps, it is as if the disease was spread via government-sanctioned segregation in the 1930s. many ways.

It would be hard to find a more blatant visual illustration that the past is a prologue. May racism and death continue to live on in our status quo, even in the face of good intentions.

COVID was a test. He showed us what our future has in store for us without drastic action.

In the coming months, we will almost certainly smell the smoke of the coming climate emergency. As the years go by and this threat escalates, we will see history repeat itself. Those who can afford it will flee for a safer and more comfortable environment. Or they will work from home while the “essentials” risk their lives to meet the basic needs of their economic superiors. Who lives, who dies, who suffers will be guided at least in part by the racist policies of the past.

The Bay Area’s COVID response has shown what a united community can accomplish. But it also revealed the limits of good intentions in the absence of systemic change.

California will reopen on Tuesday. COVID restrictions will be lifted. A close approximation of our old lives will be accessible to us if we choose it.

It is our duty to resist. A return to the status quo is no different than Dan Patrick’s suggestion that Grandma die for the economy.

Matthew Fleischer is the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle editorial page. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MatteFleischer

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