Decentering wellness

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about a seemingly obvious fact: the pandemic is not over. 

Despite the fact that many of my vaccinated friends and I are tentatively stepping into one another’s homes and reveling in the simple joy of sitting at one another’s kitchen tables, despite the fact that I took my first hike without a mask on in over a year, despite the fact that my kids’ school says it will be fully open and in person in the fall--the pandemic is not over. 

In the wider world, it is very much raging on

I was reminded of this as I was standing around a playground on Sunday and got a WhatsApp message from a friend, someone with relatives in India. She wrote, in part: 

My elderly aunt is battling covid. She was taking care of a dying husband and a disabled son. Now my uncle is dead and the government came and took his body away. My other cousin went to the crematorium alone. No last rites, expect my uncle who lives on the block, broke the rules and snuck outside to just watch the body being taken away. There is no point to this story beyond my grief and my rage and the unshakable pain that this is how it unfolds. 

My grief and my rage and the unshakable pain that this is how it unfolds.

This is not where I encourage you to feel ashamed at reveling in the simple joy of sitting at your friend’s kitchen table. But it is where I ask: how can we hold these two realities—the joy of small, safe reconnection and the unshakable pain of my friend and her family? 

We can do it. I know we can. But we have to be expansive. 

We have to remember that our joy is profoundly relative and propped up by a thousand unearned privileges. Relationships are a universal foundation—a richness that survives in every corner of the globe no matter the structural constraints. My friend’s uncle snuck outside, despite the danger. This is what we humans do.

But our ability to revel in and honor our friends and family are often influenced by economics and nationality and gender and race and so much else. In other words, we are profoundly connected by our need for relationships and profoundly severed by our differential capacity to nurture those relationships in this moment. To be healthy. To be healed. To be safe. 

In progressive circles, we might call this “decentering whiteness.” What I think we really mean is this: your reality is not everyone’s reality. It’s something that people of color don’t have the choice of not knowing, or forgetting once they know it; if they want to navigate a White supremacist world, they have to study the reality—the norms, the expectations, the language—of White people. White people, especially White men, are rarely structurally forced to consider that their reality isn’t everyone’s reality.

Likewise, we must decenter wellness right now. It’s easy, if you are vaccinated, and in good health and spirits, to feel like the whole world is enjoying a moment of reopening, reconnection, restoration. They aren’t. Even folks within our own country—those suffering from long covid, those who haven’t had access to vaccines, or don’t trust them for various reasons, are still far more precarious.

We are in a moment of transitions—all the way from the most intimate to the most global. Let us treasure our joy, our small, safe re-openings and reconnections, all the while holding the truth that so many are still in acute danger and pain.

To take action in solidarity with those who are in danger right now, to those who are seeing their relationships severed, not reunited:

  • Follow I-MAK to learn more about vaccine nationalism, and how you can advocate against it.

  • Donate to support covid relief in India.

  • Figure out which grassroots health clinic in your own community is serving Black and Brown folks best and donate or do some volunteer hours there. Here in Oakland, we love Roots Community Health Center and The East Oakland Collective.