As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Americans have retreated from shared spaces, spreading out and sheltering to protect themselves and their families. We are staying away from one another at the recommendation of medical and public health experts and the emergency mandate of some of our public officials — those more concerned with the health and safety of their citizens than with political poll numbers and their own approval ratings, at least. The new normal is keeping us apart from our neighbors, our extended families and loved ones, our co-workers, our congregations and our communities.
In many ways and for so many of us, however, this doesn’t feel particularly new. Our society has actually been built upon and defined by social distancing for many years. It’s called systemic and institutional racism. Our own cultural and political apartheid is as American as apple pie, from redlining to gated communities; white flight to gentrification; poll taxes to voter purges; segregation in schools to insurmountable college debt; expanding mass incarceration to contracting mass transit. We have been kept apart from one another for decades, if not centuries.