The late, late 80s was a time when I was boy crazy and music crazy and doing whatever I could to buttress myself of my family life. The best of times was Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake at the Orange County Speedway. The worst of times, going home after the shows. In between was trying to figure out a life post-high school, anchored to my dysfunctional family who “needed” me to save them. I remember Tiananmen square and the Challenger tragedy and grieving. I remember the concert in Germany, a host of galactic stars performing The Wall to commemorate the wall coming down and rejoicing for democracy.
I remember hearing about HIV/AIDS and feeling bad about it and a measure of concern but it didn’t really touch me. It was a problem that needed to be solved and it was sad, but I was too busy thinking about dating and my family and basically, whatever. One afternoon I was joined by a male crush down at the river. He said, “So hey your boy died.” I was like, “What?” He said, “Freddy Mercury.” It felt like a punch to the gut. What the hell? How could this be? And how could he be so callous? Let it be known we weren’t close after that, and it was the first time I felt like an epidemic touched me, by one enth. You see, HIV/AIDS was something I heard about and felt bad about in the most fleeting way. Sounded awful, this is a problem, but I didn’t hear or feel a call to arms to help in any way. This wasn’t an “all of us” problem, it was “one of those” problems, that I hoped someone could figure out how to fix.
I recently watched an episode of “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by John Oliver. He was passionate as always for righteous causes. But as I listened to him advocate for the dilemma of covid-19 and how it affects those in jail and prison all I could think of is “Where was this passion and demand for those suffering HIV/AIDS?” It rather caved me in. A terrible guilt came over me, one that I can only shield myself from by saying “I was too young and too involved with other things to understand,” and that’s still not good enough. Well now I am not too young and too involved with other things to understand that unless we personally are affected by injustice of any kind we rarely do anything about it whether it’s a traffic stop, five-figure hospital bills, inability to pay bail for having some marijuana in your pocket. So too the stigma of contracting novel coronavirus-19. To understand the weak excuses and swatting away of “Well, it doesn’t effect everyone the same. Well, I don’t hang around in areas where I’ll catch it. Well, even if I get it I’m healthy and it’ll be ok. Well, I don’t need a mask because herd immunity will help us. Well, this is a vast left-wing conspiracy to dominate the presidential election”
Stop you all in your tracks before it’s too late and realize the world don’t revolve around you, baby. You’re healthy and employed and educated and prayerful so you’ll never catch a virus or spread one to someone who isn’t so lucky? Oh really. Or you’re not part of a group or a state that might be carriers so you’re not worried? WEAR YOUR FUCKING MASK in public. Do all you can in your power to slow down and stop this virus for the love of people you don’t even know in states you don’t care about. Support social distancing, handwashing, respecting others who do. Support local businesses, mask on, as they work through this pandemic. Love your children and partners as you are sheltered-at-home. Reach out for help when they’re driving you crazy. There are resources to help you during this time … as there were not when our fellow Americans were struggling with the physicality and the stigma of AIDS.
All these very same things can come along with Black Lives Matter. “Oh, I can’t support that, that’s a black thing.” “Oh, I can’t watch that movie, it’s a black thing.” Time and time and over and over again I hear us saying why we can’t be a part of something because it’s not something that has to do with ourselves. Ask our neighbor if they ever read “Between The World and Me,” and they’d probably be like, “I’m not into books, ” or “That’s a black thing, not for me.” I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT GUARANTEE IT. And THAT is why the virus is someone else’s problem, and racism doesn’t exist.