COVID-19 and Victim Blaming in the U.S.

The various ways in which the United States has completely dropped the ball in terms of its response to COVID-19 continues to become painfully obvious. As a “global superpower”, many of us have high expectations for the U.S. to successfully and gracefully pull through such a situation. However, our delayed government response, lack of preparedness and reliable/honest information, legacy of colonization, and extreme emphasis on individualism (to name a few) has led to ultimate U.S. failure in dealing with the pandemic appropriately, and continues to do so. 

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic thus far, I have noticed a common thread that has remained a constant theme throughout most reports having to do with COVID-19 within the U.S. The idea of blaming the victim for their ailments, regardless of what brought them to where they are tends to ring strong within discussions of COVID-19, even in efforts to proclaim a “we’re all in this together” mentality. Ed Young touches on this in his Atlantic article, “How the Pandemic Defeated America”. Our value put on individualism in this time has effectively hindered our ability to look out for each other. While it is, no doubt, crucial for people to be putting in efforts to self-isolate, wear masks, and social distance to avoid exposure and spreading of COVID-19, it is also crucial to examine the systems in place that are making this particularly impossible in a nation that values economy over life. For example, with universities back in session, there are endless ongoing discussions about how our reckless young adult behavior is going to result in an inevitable outbreak, causing eventual shutdowns again. While, of course, this rings true in many ways, I think it is ridiculous to put all of the blame on college students when those in positions of power made the decision to bring us back, assured us of our safety, charged us full tuition, and encouraged the signing of leases, while surely fully knowing this to be unsustainable.

Additionally, and more seriously, Dr. Celine Grounder’s podcast episodes of Epidemic unpacks this same idea of victim blaming through the evaluation of the pandemics disproportionately tragic effects on Black, Indigenous, and POC communities, and the ongoing cascading events that contribute to this disproportionate impact. The Navajo Nation has been hit particularly hard, meanwhile, outsiders blame the reservations themselves for their high rates of infection without examining their personal legacies that have contributed to this (e.g. colonization, Western water projects, lack of property taxes, hundreds of years of European disease, etc.).

Continuing to place the blame on those most affected by the pandemic has also resulted in an increase of mutual aid efforts as discussed by Robert Soden in his article, Crisis Informatics and Mutual Aid during the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Research Agenda. While the shift from individualism to a more collectivist mindframe is positive, where it has stemmed from is disappointing. Lack of accountability and support by the government has brought people to take on this collective spirit with those most impacted in mind (when they may be in need themselves). Interestingly, I can see how these efforts have likely been informed in part by social media, as most people have stopped relying on news sources for any kind of useful information. Rather, people are listening to the personal stories of those impacted on platforms like Twitter and Tiktok, which have the power to reach millions of people and strike empathy in viewers – ultimately feeling much more reliable and less of an abstraction than case reports, news channel propaganda, and White House contradictions. In a time where our leaders have mostly failed us, these efforts have been the most effective measure for reaching the most vulnerable, understanding the needs of those around us, and conceptualizing the situation at hand.

Sources: 

Ed Yong. “How the Pandemic Defeated America” September 2020, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/toc/2020/09/

Stephanie Russo Carroll, Desir Rodriguez-Lonebear, Randall Akee, Annita Lucchesi, andJennifer Rai Richards. “Indigenous Data in the Covid-19 Pandemic: Straddling Erasure, Terrorism, and Sovereignty. ITEMS, Social Science Research Council. June 11, 2020.https://items.ssrc.org/covid-19-and-the-social-sciences/disaster-studies/indigenous-data-in-the-covid-19-pandemic-straddling-erasure-terrorism-and-sovereignty/

PODCAST: EPIDEMIC (30 min), June 5 2020. S1E26 /Indigenous Peoples / Rebecca Nagle, Melissa Begay, and Jamescita Peshlakai.

PODCAST: EPIDEMIC (30 min), April 3 2020. S1E8 /Unequal: Race, Status, and COVID-19 /Jeneen Interlandi and Greg Asbed.

Soden, Robert. “Crisis Informatics and Mutual Aid during the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Research Agenda.” ITEMS, Social Science Research Council. July 2, 2020.https://items.ssrc.org/covid-19-and-the-social-sciences/disaster-studies/crisis-informatics-and-mutual-aid-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-a-research-agenda/

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