A Black man in a wheelchair holds a sign that reads Disabled Black Lives Matter

Is Racism a Pandemic?

I’ve tried to use TikTok. It is full-on the hardest thing ever to get right, so I am not sure how many videos I will actually end up producing!

However, as a conversation started for Week 1 of The Racial State, I have produced a TiTok on the question of whether it is useful to use the metaphor of a pandemic to describe racism.

@racialliteracysolidarity

Using FrantzFanon’s 1964 essay RacismandCulture, #race critical scholar #AlanaLentin argues against calling #racism a #pandemic

♬ original sound – RacialLiteracySolidarity

Here is the full script I wrote for the video and the references I used at the end. It is always important to show how we got out information. Especially on social media, there is a tendency not to use referencing, but as you can see form this video, these ideas are not original! Fanon came up with them in 1964 and he was not the only one!

Is racism a pandemic?

Since the onset of Covid-19, we often hear the slogan ‘Racism is a Pandemic’. During the Black Lives Matter protests all over the world after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, people linked Covid-19, racism and antiblackness.

But does the metaphor of disease make sense for analysing racism?It is true that Covid-19 affects Black, migrant, Indigenous and other people who are poor and negatively racialized more, this does not mean that racism works like a virus.

The great pan-Africanist anticolonial fighter, radical psychiatrist and theorist of race, Frantz Fanon wrote in his famous essay ‘Racism and Culture’ (1964), 

‘It is a common saying nowadays that racism is a plague of humanity. But we must not content ourselves with such a phrase. We must tirelessly look for the repercussions of racism at all levels of sociability.

Frantz Fanon, ‘Racism and Culture’, 1964.

This refers to what Fanon in Black Skin White Masks called the ‘sociogeny’ of racism. In other words race is socially produced’ it is not static or natural. While racism might metaphorically mimic a virus in that it constantly adapts to circumstance, it is not a phenomenon of the natural world.

Using the metaphor of disease opens the door to dismissing racism as natural. 

It is true that race works very hard to appear natural. Fanon says, ‘a colonial country is a racist country’ ‘The racist in a culture with racism is therefore normal.’

But considering ‘racism as a mental quirk, as a psychological flaw must be abandoned’, he says. There is nothing pathological about racism. It appears when ‘a country lives, draws its substance from the exploitation of other peoples, makes these peoples inferior.’

Eline Pollaert has written, calling racism a pandemic is ableist and erases the experiences of Black disabled people. She writes, ‘Focusing on the question whether racism is a mental illness or not obscures a very deadly reality: 

between a third to half of Americans killed by police violence are disabled. Police violence heavily affects Black people, who are also more likely to be disabled due to the interplay between medical apartheid, environmental racism and economic factors.’

Eline Pollaert, Racism is Not a Pandemic

Calling racism a pandemic shifts the focus to individual behaviour and leaves out structure, she goes on to say.

In sum, using biological metaphors to explain race – an idea which trades on hiding political systems with discourses of nature – is dangerous.

As Fanon said,

‘Racism is not a constant of the human spirit.’ Racism is brought into being politically and must be attacked on this basis.

Frantz Fanon, ‘Racism and Culture’, 1964.

References:

Fanon, Frantz. 1967 [1964] ‘Racism and Culture’ in Toward the African Revolution. New York: Grove Press.

Pollaert, Eline. 2020. ‘Racism is not a pandemic,’ Lilith 2 July 2020. https://www.lilithmag.nl/blog/2020/7/2/racism-is-not-a-pandemic-hate-is-not-a-disease


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