Love — Not Capitalism — in the Time of COVID-19
When it comes to stepping up, people of color are there to help the most vulnerable
How is it possible for a country to handle a global pandemic in such a selfish, careless, and capitalistic way?
Viral videos of U.S. shoppers stocking up on six months of toilet paper and leaving store shelves empty are a grim reminder of how quickly first-world nations revert to primal individualism in moments of uncertainty. Young Americans gathering at crowded events and showing off their whereabouts like they’re on top of the world is nothing but unfiltered privilege and ignorance on display. Many have even bought a year’s worth of supplies with the intent to resell at inflated prices. It’s all genuinely disgusting and reflects the collective sickness to make a profit and brag about a false sense of resilience when the most vulnerable human lives are at risk.
By nature, capitalism functions as the excessively segregated distribution of resources hoarded by a few on our planet. So it makes sense that during a frightening event, many Americans are reacting with excessive hoarding and self-glorification. We live in a system that rewards the individual willing to out-hustle their neighbor, often at the expense of the rest.
That said, there are millions of people stepping up with altruism and looking out for our most vulnerable and at-risk populations. These are the actual Americans who should be proud to call themselves citizens, who live by the virtues of the flag instead of wrapping themselves in it. The people who embody the principles of democratic liberalism that our country claims to be founded on, and who put their money where their mouths are.
Every one of these instances of unprompted philanthropy is from people of color. In times of crisis, it’s common for people of color to be the first at the frontline and the most generous givers.
New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, just 19 years old, has pledged to pay a month’s worth of the salaries of out-of-work employees at Smoothie King Center, his home arena. Mark Cuban also contributed by paying arena workers in Dallas during the NBA freeze and will reimburse employees who shop at independent stores to help sustain the local economy. Best-selling author Roxane Gay used Twitter to provide strangers $100 each on Venmo to help them buy groceries. More NBA players — including the League’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek immigrant — and pop culture figures like Shea Serrano, Lil Nas X, and Megan Thee Stallion have all publicly given money to those currently out of work due to Covid-19. Even international public figures are lending a helping hand to the U.S., with Chinese billionaire Jack Ma offering 1 million face masks and additional supplies to aid U.S. hospitals.
Other than Cuban, every one of these instances of unprompted philanthropy is from people of color. In times of crisis, it’s common for people of color to be the first at the frontline and the most generous givers. At the same time, there are so many instances of White people complaining about cancellations and inconveniences, and at times, acting completely invincible. Imagine if that event in Nashville over the weekend got canceled, and the money spent on alcohol and cover bands was used to create a collective fund for elders in the community. Locals who belong to overlooked communities — those who’ve been historically neglected and are therefore intimate with struggle — have selflessly demonstrated the empathy needed in these hours to give rather than take.
Examples of philanthropy and empathy are what we need to celebrate right now, as we prepare for a potentially drastic change in the way our lives have comfortably operated for so long. Let’s move away from capitalistic hoarding and shift toward communal care. Our nation’s stability may depend on our ability to love and trust our neighbors in these coming weeks. Let’s think of creative ways to spend our money. We can’t all pay the salaries of others, but we can resist buying that fifth pack of toilet paper, or we can donate it to a local shelter. We can text our cousins across the country and ask if they need assistance. We can resist senseless consumption and gloat about it on social media.
Unlike Jeff Bezos — who stripped Whole Foods part-time workers of health benefits and asked employees with accrued sick leave to pay for their co-workers’ time off — we can’t continue to dehumanize and devalue the lives of our nation’s neediest. We can’t ignore communities that don’t have a safety net. And we definitely can’t buy all of the fucking hand sanitizer to resell from our parent’s basements. Especially not when the coronavirus is here to humble us.
Days before the Covid-19 outbreak hit the U.S., my brother visited Arrazola, Oaxaca, a pueblo in southern Mexico near Guatemala, where the population has yet to be affected by the virus. As if living in another time, the people continue to move freely, far outside of capitalistic hysteria. Instead, family-trained artisans produce handmade goods like Alebrijes, knives, and garments, and the community sustains itself from these useful trades. When anyone is in need, they ask a neighbor for help rather than rushing to a Walmart. When someone is happy, they celebrate by telling their parents in person, not by posting it on Instagram.
Arrazola is an impoverished but caring town, filled with generously spirited families who look out for each other. I’m not saying it’s a perfect or immune place, or that the U.S. could even replicate that form of existence. But the undeniable simplicity and beauty of life seen in places like Arrazola are a tangible reminder of how societies can function without the drastic wealth imbalance, self-glorification, and resource hoarding that capitalism requires, especially during disasters.
The U.S. has a lot to learn collectively. But small acts add up to significant impact. It’s time to do our part.