If you’re a white person who posted about #Anti-racism and #BlackLivesMatter over the past two weeks, and you are currently sitting on a picnic blanket with ten other people sipping rosé from a can without a mask, you are a monster.
When more white women voted for Trump than Clinton in 2016, a lot of people were shocked and surprised, including me. The explanation that I found most convincing was that when push came to shove, white women expressed allegiance with their white husbands and brothers rather than with the interests of other women, including them. The raging misogyny of Trump was not trumped by the promises of white privilege. The absence of a policy platform that could ever possibly deliver anything to working class people was insufficient to outweigh the meager illusion of the “wages of whiteness”. As someone who is trying to “get my people,” I struggle. And today I am struggling a lot.
Today, a sunny June day in New York City, we have white people reveling in public, shirtless and midriff-baring, thousands of pasty torsos spread across picnic blankets on Sheep's Meadow in Central Park and beyond. No masks, no social distance. Just two weeks after many erupted in voyeuristic revulsion over the scenes of Memorial Day crowding at the Lake of the Ozarks, white New Yorkers have decided coronavirus is canceled. They’re picnicking and drinking in the street, catching up with friends, maskless and carefree. This is an explosion of white privilege, coming on the heels of the wake-up call delivered by the protests in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, discussions about systemic racism in publishing, academia, and media (e.g. #PublishingPaidMe, #BlackInTheIvory) and toppling of Confederate monuments. Usually, I thought, for white New Yorkers, being a New Yorker was a more powerful identity than being white. After all, one of New Yorkers’ favorite pastimes is making fun of white people in other places (especially red states). New Yorkers like to lord their superiority over everyone else. But today, white New Yorkers, like white women voters in 2016, threw their lot in with the pasty day drinkers in the pee-filled swimming pool in the Ozarks over their fellow Black and brown New Yorkers who are paying a disproportionate price in the pandemic. Nothing says privilege like not socially distancing for fun: “Last week I protested, this week I picnic." White people wrapped themselves in the silken blanket of white privilege and declared about coronavirus risk in no uncertain terms: “I’m pretty sure I’m going to be ok."