A friend texted to say it’s irresponsible to protest during a pandemic. All those people
crowded together become vectors for the virus, which doesn’t care about race. I hadn’t
thought of Covid-19 as post-racial, the enlightened bug. My friend fears a second
wave of infections. Like millions, he’s been quarantined at home. Like me, he’s a Jew;
our family histories include Gulag and Ghetto. I muse, what if protestors wear masks
to protect against infection, and tear gas, and surveillance; practice social distancing,
even in jail; cover their mouths when they cough, even if at that moment they have
their hands in the air—relax, officer, relax? He says that’s impossible, and he may be right.
As Jews we lament the complicity of the German people, the silence of Vichy France.
This is America, and this is a public health crisis, my friend replies. He means I’m overdoing
the Nazi analogy. He means it’s reasonable to decry police brutality and also expect
its victims to observe stay-at-home orders. I’m tempted to ask what if George Floyd were
Jewish. There is nothing more American than not understanding what doesn’t directly affect us.
And yet, many will get sick; some will die. I imagine them buried amidst a continent of gravestones
—slaveowners and slaves and the descendants of both, war heroes, war criminals, victims and
perpetrators, bystanders and protestors: America. And I strain to hear their eulogies over the
awful din of the unaffected, who murmur in unison It’s complicated…It’s complicated…