People were anxious during the pandemic lockdowns largely because of the unknown questions that everyone was unable to answer. Would they get sick? Would they die because they got sick? Would they be able to feed themselves and/or their families? What would happen? So many people were anxious to “get back to normal” because they failed the test of the pandemic, which was mainly this: how can we create a different world other than one so selfish that we are spawning new diseases? This question can only be answered when we consider how the dominant narrative behaves in public. Within our homes–no, not private space, which is generally just segregation–there is a variety of dynamics that require evolution to remain healthy; in public spaces, too many people rationalize maintaining obsolete ideas about how the world should work.
For Black people, the dominant narrative is one of surveillance. Whatever we are doing is scanned for extract, and if people are unable to extract from our behavior, we are deemed as “lazy,” “unprofessional,” and/or “criminal.” Rest and relaxation are always tempered by the understanding that people will chastise us for joy that is “too loud” or “blighting” a place simply by our existence. If we respond to the surveillance by demanding that people leave us alone, we are seen as “violent,” “unruly,” or “angry.” Therefore, the dominant narrative not only demands that we submit to surveillance, but that we say nothing about being stalked on a regular basis. This is why it is frustrating when certain whistleblowers are praised for pointing out surveillance, but we are imprisoned just for not being “nice” about it. Then again, perhaps that was a tacit admission that the government was being shamed for stalking the wrong targets.
Another element of the public space ideology is that everyone knows who has rights, and who deserves to be punished. If a fight breaks out between two upperclass students at a segregated high school, that is a kitschy plot for a teen movie. If a fight breaks out between the children of service workers at a segregated high school, the prison system celebrates the arrival of two new employees. (For those claiming that this is a “class” example, please note that both schools were segregated, hence the racialization of the space.) Some people can spread their legs naked at a protest, while others cannot even have too much exposed by a swimsuit designed without them in mind–after all, the pools have historically been segregated. This “common knowledge” about who has rights has been passed down through generations, and those of us in marginalized cultures have developed the practice of stalking each other to make sure that we are not “stepping out of line.”
Most importantly, the dominant narrative demands the right to maintain control. When someone can cross state lines to murder people and be canonized, that is a sign of definite control; other people who try that are killed by the state. Being able to go to public spaces and reclaim the agendas fuels the idea that Black people and others are required to submit to a narrative that places them beneath everyone else on the societal hierarchy. There has been a wave of emotional terrorism that has been quaintly termed as “Karens”, and their only aim has been to assure themselves that they can still murder people and take out a zip code if they feel so moved. Until we release the premise that some have the right to control others, we will never be able to address the selfishness of society.
Being honest, one of the reasons that the pandemic illness spread across the globe is because certain people felt entitled to eat whatever they wanted, travel whenever they felt the urge, and to taut lies about “freedom,” knowing that such behavior would only be tolerated in their favor. Dismantling such a society will take efforts which unfortunately includes those people, many of whom have demonstrated their incapability to change. However, for the rest of the enablers, we will be required to stop upholding the rules of the dominant narrative because selfish, entitled people only have power because we allow it.
* Image taken by Nicola Shanks, originally published in the Denver Post.