This is not just about police reform. It is about pain. All pain. The pain and fear and anxiety of the worldwide pandemic has been a catalyst for massive social change. It is a backdrop and at the same time a foreground that helps highlight decades of structural inequality and racism.
During the first phase of the pandemic, so many people expressed the sentiment that "we are all in this together" to defeat the coronavirus. As the pandemic has dragged on, people are taking a step back and realizing more sharply that we are not all in this together, since some bear the pain of institutional inequality and racism much more than others.
For example, those folks on the front lines of the pandemic — medical workers, delivery drivers, sanitation workers, those in emergency services, and others — are also the very same people more likely to fall victim to the pain inflicted by systemic social and economic inequalities. Most of them do not have the luxury to work from home and isolate themselves from the virus. Most of them depend on a paycheck, and they do not have the resources that many others have.
The reason social changes are happening more rapidly now is that the average person typically not in pain is in pain due to the pandemic. These "average" people now realize how much they owe their existence to the hard work of others. More than ever before, people are realizing how interconnected and interdependent we are on each other. The pandemic has laid bare our commonality as vulnerable human beings.
It also has exposed the clear oppression that some face more than others.
Additionally, the pandemic threw so many social norms into chaos. With so many unemployed and uprooted from their "normal" daily routines, we have collectively seen the possibility and necessity of new social norms. We are starting to dare to dream and reimagine our social and economic world.
This new movement against social inequality and racism will be more long lasting than previous movements since the virus shook, and will continue to shake, the very foundations of our social world. It is sadly ironic that such a devastating pandemic was needed for "average" people to wake up about oppression and racism and to actually unite to do something to achieve more social justice.
My hope is that, over the next few years and decades, we can come together to not only defeat the coronavirus (and other future viruses) but also to be better prepared to defeat institutional racism and social and economic injustice.
If one thing is more clear than ever, we are indeed all in this together.
Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor at Inver Hills Community College. He wrote this for the News Tribune.