Column: Campaigns flood us with reductive racial rhetoric. How can we push back?
The racial and ethnic dimensions of this pandemic are being increasingly conflated by a growing number of commentators, politicians, and public figures who are attempting to make sense of it by using the language of pandemic preparedness to promote a “nation,” a “race,” and a “people.” In the midst of the chaos at the peak of the public health emergency, the language of racial self-determination and racial healing is being used to justify the dismantling of the nation-state and the state itself. As an interdisciplinary scholar studying the intersection of race, disability, social justice, and medicine, I argue that all three of these concepts are too limited and imprecise to be useful to understand the coronavirus pandemic. The United States is a nation and a people that are multiracial and multiethnic, a nation and a people that have made significant progress in moving past race and its historical legacies, but also are a nation and a people whose racial and ethnic identities are still under assault by the coronavirus pandemic. Our nation-state and state institutions and processes of governance continue to embody, reproduce, and perpetuate the deep racial hierarchies and inequalities that have existed for over one hundred years in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic continues to test and challenge a global capitalism deeply rooted in race and class that is deeply implicated in a global coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic also calls into question the nation, the race, and the people.
I argue that the three concepts of “nation,” “race,” and “people” are too narrow measures to help us begin to understand the pandemic. My approach to these three concepts as well as the concept of “social justice” is a critical and interdisciplinary analysis that is informed by Foucault’s historical anthropology, critical race theory, disability studies, social justice, and medical anthropology. Critical race theory is useful here because it can provide the theoretical foundation in a way that can expand the analysis beyond just biological determinism. I also use Foucault’s work in sociology and ethnography to broaden the lens of analysis in such