This article – The Second Pandemic – by Conn Fyfe of St Louis Grammar School Ballymena, came second in the 2021 Columban Schools Media competition. It is illustrated by the image which was awarded second place in the competition and was created by Caoimhe Collins of Ballincollig, Co Cork.
The year of lockdowns and isolation.
A deadly virus preys on the multitudes, killing mercilessly.
The pandemic that plagues us: COVID-19.
The year of protests and Black Lives Matter.
A world waking up to the racial injustice in our society.
The pandemic that plagues us: racism.
Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to kill thousands daily, a second pandemic plagues us all. Racism has afflicted humanity for centuries and continues to divide us. Every nation is locked in the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, a solution to the interminable nightmare that has suspended our lives. Similarly, the vaccine for racism, the second pandemic, has never been more crucial.
Black people are dying in their homes, in front of their children and yet there is a widespread denial that anything is wrong. It is in our control to harness the power a united, global approach would have in eradicating racism, by showing love and compassion to our brothers and sisters. Jesus taught us ‘love one another as I have loved you’ which has never been more felicitous when we consider the issues that face society today – to solve racism we must learn to empathise with our neighbours. We must learn to love one another irrespective of colour, creed or class.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that has erupted throughout the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd has inspired hope. Action is finally being taken to avenge the casual racism that Black people have had to endure for centuries. I recently heard the line ‘slavery didn’t end in 1865, it just evolved’ which I believe echoes the message that the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is advocating.
However, we must ask ourselves why these protests are even necessary. Is racism so deep-seated in our society that we must have these demonstrations to protect the rights of our fellow human beings? During the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase ‘we are all in this together’ has been thrown around and become almost empty of meaning. However, when we consider these words, we realise the power behind them, and how they also pertain to the pandemic of racism; we are all united in our fight against not only a disease, but our prejudices.
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis shares a vision with us of fraternal love. He reminds us that love and compassion for one another should supersede all forms of hatred, and that we must cooperate and empathise with one another to create a world free from racism. He writes: “We have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly” which I believe speaks volumes for the pandemic of racism that plagues us; despite not being the one suffering we all have a duty to condemn racism and take action to eradicate it.
As Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We cannot be bystanders while our Black neighbours fall victim to an unjust and corrupt system that is imbued with racial animus.
The presidency of Donald Trump has highlighted the fragility of American democracy. An entire nation can be divided through the medium of social media; derisive political messages can be summarised in just 280 characters. This was epitomised in the attack on Capitol building on 6th January. This attack embodied the appalling condition of not only Americans’ disrespect for other nations, but their disrespect for one another.
However, at Joe Biden’s inauguration one voice managed to rise up against these demonstrations of hatred. Amanda Gorman’s speech ‘The Hill We Climb’ inspired hope in all who watched as she delivered her words that seemed to lift off of the page they were inscribed on. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his awe-inspiring speech nearly sixty years ago, when Amanda Gorman said ‘we will never again sow division’ the words of King and his famous dream were echoed. Christ’s message of love for our brothers and sisters in his greatest commandment ‘love thy neighbour’ was reflected in the words of the twenty-two-year-old whose advocacy of unity must not only be heard but listened to.
In addition, it must be noted that racism is not just an American problem. The pandemic that places the lives of our neighbours in danger on account of the colour of their skin is the case all over the world. Here in Ireland we are the second biggest culprit in the EU for instances of racial violence. Shockingly, 51% of Black people in Ireland said they have been harassed either verbally, physically, or online. (European Agency for Fundamental Rights)
Moreover, in the UK, 46% of Black households are in poverty in comparison to just under one in five white families. (The Social Metrics Commission) These are just an infinitesimal number of statistics that embody the issue that faces us: there is a systemic racism in society today that needs to be addressed. Each day that passes in which no action is taken to change these statistics is a day too long.
The blueprint that was set by Christ in his mission of love and compassion acts a source of comfort for many in the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in. Similarly, the pandemic of racism that continues to afflict us will only be solved when we learn to follow Christ’s teachings and indeed love one another as he loves each of us.
We must follow figures such as Pope Francis, Martin Luther King Jr and Amanda Gorman in rooting out the underlying racism that exists in society. We must harness the power that a universal, global approach would have in eradicating this pandemic and make the invisible entities of love, empathy and justice, visible. It is all in our hands.