COVID denialism in the US is problematic to say the least. The nation is facing a public health crisis that's far worse than it needs to be, as shown by the examples of countless other nations around the world that have largely suppressed the first wave. In fact, the US is one of the most dangerous places to be for this pandemic.
We have failed to pursue common sense policies and collective action here due to the ignorant attitudes not only of our leadership but of a significant share of our population.
Three recent interviews I did for my podcast, "Voices for Nature & Peace," highlighted the connection between this unfortunate state of affairs and our status as a settler-colonial state. These three guests were Margaret Kimberley, a columnist at the Black Agenda Report and member of the Black Alliance for Peace; Joanna Pocock, the Canadian-born, London-residing author of "Surrender," a memoir about living in the western US; and Alley Valkyrie, a US American activist, writer and artist in France.
What is "settler colonialism"? A method of expanding a nation's area in which ordinary citizens take the lead by physically occupying un-ceded land themselves, using violence or the threat of violence, often for resource extraction activities like mining, ranching, logging or farming. Spreading religion is another justification. When the area's original inhabitants defend themselvesor even when they don't, and just try to negotiate peacefullythey are moved or massacred by the nation's military. (Hence the term, "calling in the cavalry.")
The United States of America was founded this way, as waves of European colonists moved from east to west, dispossessing Native Americans of their home territories as they went. In fact, one of the two main reasons for seeking independence from the British was because they forbade colonists from stealing land west of the Appalachians. The other main reason was to preserve and spread the institution of slavery.
Though "the frontier" was officially declared closed in 1890, and the so-called "Indian Wars" are said to have ended by 1924, the US remains a settler colonial state. The physical occupation is ongoing, as well as the mindsets that motivate it.
Settler colonialism is adamantly individualistic and driven by greed. Said Margaret Kimberley:
"[We have] this history of settler-colonialism where people had to be hostile to each other. Your goal was to invade someone else's land, or enslave someone, or grab something before somebody else could. We're still living with that and we have to fight against it."
This approach to life was bad enough during business-as-usual, but in the middle of a pandemic, it's deadly. The hostility has taken active form in assaults on retail employees at stores that require masks, and in the refusal to wear masks. This "nobody's gonna tell me what to do" belligerence is the opposite of what we need right now.
Writer Joanna Pocock, whose two years living in Montana form the backbone of her book "Surrender," says that the US American concept of "freedom" seems to her to be based on a brief period in the 19th Century when white settlers were able to run roughshod over both native people and native landscapes with virtually no limitations on their rapacious behavior. Again, it was wrong then and it's wrong now.
The fact that the two demographics hardest hit by COVID-19 in the US have been Native Americans and African Americans is a perversely ironic tragedy, given that these were the two demographics hardest hit by settler colonialism. When people deny or downplay COVID-19, they are compounding the suffering of these populations, and helping write a new chapter of settler colonialism's toxic legacy.
As for the skepticism that the pandemic is even real?
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