By Raphael Gersowsky
As I sit on the balcony I’m blessed enough to have, yet sparingly enjoy, I ponder the vexing question of what the USA might look like when the wind-borne dust of many fires and the misty particulate of a great many more COVID-19 coughs finally settle.
Fortuitously, I spot a big bird soaring in the middle distance and think, “It couldn’t be! An eagle!?” A few loops later and as she cleared landing permission from the transformer-shaped control tower and touched down on her high-voltage pylon runway, I nodded in half-earnestness as she turned out to be none other than a very large crow. There’s probably a pun in all this about my sight being far from eagle-eyed, but I’ll leave that to you to work out.
And as with all things fortuitous when pondering life’s great (and good) questions, the buckets, whittled twigs, and dominoes all lined up in my cranial playscape in Rube Goldberg fashion as the words came tumbling out of my mouth, albeit to myself in a whisper, “This is the USA. Divided we stand. The reaction is swift, but change? That comes slow.”
Satisfied with my lapse into momentary and profound clarity, I decided to memorialize my neural bon mot and whatever might flow forth thence.
In 1996, the USA took on a pack of refugees in my family and me. Just another troop of white folks, we went about life mostly unnoticed; and maybe because we were unnoticed, we also were mostly unnoticing.
The first few years weren’t without their obstacles, but relative to the “others” who escaped our gaze, we stayed in our lane, kept up with traffic, noses down, and plowed on quietly.
The American eagle of our expectations soared.
Then, 9/11. The reaction was swift. America went into lockdown. America went to war. Jingoes ate brown babies.
The news filled the laypeople’s feed troughs with terror and dread and Americans gorged to the point of collective PTSD. The Bible of Nationalism was dusted off anew and services resumed to boisterous pulpits and mesmerized pews. Shock and awe took out our spiritual bird. Our intrepid eagle was sniped out of the heavens that day and crashed down in the dirt where it still lies. The eagle is dead. Long live the big crow.
Nigh on two decades since, the USA is as divided as it ever was. The struggles for sovereignty, for dignity and respect, fought and died for by Indigenous people who have been here for 12,000 years, relegated to a passing thought save for a day a year.
Black African Americans brought here as slaves have built—bricks and mortar—so many civilizing institutions this country is blessed with. Having turned out brilliant orators, sportspeople, diplomats, scientists and artists, leaders in every nook and facet, African Americans long ago proved white supremacy to be utter garbage.
Yet here we are—it is 2020 and once again Black Americans have to come out in droves to justify their co-existence with the “moral” majority. There are sympathy and empathy—some real, some tokenized, some co-opted by corporations and other enterprising types hoping to cash-in on a movement inherently good.
The big crow soars. And then, it wanes.
How will the U.S. look after COVID-19? If the past is anything to go by, we will react by putting on our masks and social distancing, by working and schooling from home and using enlightened common sense. That is if we have learned anything from history and experts who know more than we do.
The rest of us will be reactionary and refuse to wear masks, we will throw COVID parties and spread the love (and death) around. We will want the kids back in school and the blue collared back in the salt mines and cubicles if we have learned nothing at all.
The USA post-COVID-19, therefore, I am resigned to forecast will look much as it did pre-COVID. Some will move forward with care and concern for being better. Others won’t.
But to be American is ever to live in hope. Somewhere up high, there’s a nest with an egg in it, incubating an embryonic eagle, slowly and mysteriously taking formidable shape. For us, as the crow flies, change is slow.