OP-ED: America has survived other calamities, we can make it through coronavirus too

E.R. Shipp
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
An ambulance sits parked on the plaza outside the U.S. Capitol March 16, 2020 in Washington, D.C. After taking the weekend off, the Senate will return on Monday afternoon and will take up the House-passed coronavirus relief bill. The legislation in the House bill includes some provisions for paid emergency leave and free COVID-19 testing. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Every day in this COVID-19 time brings new urgencies, new revelations, new insights.

The most stunning for me, believe it or not, was realizing that I am one of those people all the health officials and journalists are talking about when they mention vulnerable populations. When they used the word “elderly,” I thought of old folks. Then they broke that word down and said, “people 60 and over.”

“Holy cow!” — as comic-book sidekicks and an old New York Yankees announcer were known for saying. I am a few years beyond 60. You’ve really got my attention now, COVID-19. But before the implications of that could fully sink in, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that I cannot go to the YMCA or Orangetheory for workouts and I can’t dine at Ida B’s Table until further notice. Already Morgan State University, like other Maryland institutions of higher learning, had announced that teachers like me must create virtual classrooms and impart our wisdom through various digital tools. Now K-12 kids have been sent home, as have lots of workers who have added the word “telework” to their vocabularies.

These are trying times, for sure, but think of all that our forebears endured to make it possible for us to be here. We, the living, are the result of the heartiness and resourcefulness — and, frankly, luck — that saw them through. It’s in our genes, y’all!

Black people in this hemisphere are the offspring of the survivors of the holocaust of the Middle Passage during the transatlantic slave trade, followed by the terror and deprivation of slavery and Jim Crow. The bubonic plague and later repressive regimes, the Potato Famine and innumerable pogroms brought survivors from Europe to create new life in the Americas. Wars and famines and despots also triggered Asian emigration.

Through all those upheavals families were reshaped and communities reformed, and still they had to survive the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million people across the globe, 675,000 in the U.S. Imagine those who made it through daily bombardments in Europe and Asia in wars humankind is incapable of avoiding. There are still among us people who lived through air raids in London and concentration camps in Poland in World War II or rape, pillage and napalm in Southeast Asia during that disastrous period known as the Vietnam War.

Of course, there was fear, even panic, in those times; but the curse of the digital age is that we can be overly stressed from the minute-by-minute bombardment of information — and misinformation — on television, radio and the internet. In days of yore, our forebears were not worrying so much about what was going on miles and even continents away.

In this country, we have been fortunate in the past to have statesmen who rallied our spirits as they offered reassurance that they had matters under control. But long before the coronavirus took over our lives, the current occupant of the White House had proven himself incapable of telling the truth or even consistent lies. Governors and mayors were taking emergency measures while the president of the United States was saying that COVID-19 wasn’t as serious as the flu.

So no one — not even those fans who turn out for his rallies or those members of Congress who give him carte blanche — can rely on anything he says about the source and the severity of the threat, the nation’s preparedness, or even his own health. He can be humored but, like Governor Hogan said the other day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been “the most truthful” federal official so far.

Ignore the president. Pay attention to the folks he holds in low regard — scientists. And pay attention to what they say about what you should do to protect yourself, your family and your community. If you are proudly egocentric, now’s the time for selflessness.

As annoying as the repetitious noise is that we’re getting across all media, the internet — especially social media — can be our lifelines as we physically isolate ourselves from others. Books, podcasts, classes, games, religious services, physical exercise, concerts, restaurants and friends are just keystrokes away. So are absentee ballots and the 2020 Census. Don’t forget that phones are actually useful for talking to people. I’m making my way through a mountain of old magazines and rediscovering the joy of cooking.

Let’s not succumb to madness this March, but take our cues from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and say to ourselves: ALL March Madness is canceled.

We can get through this.

— E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication.