“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
New Yorkers must wear masks when leaving their homes.
A new mandate that went into effect Saturday means New Yorkers now must wear a mask when leaving their homes.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order last Wednesday stating that people in the state must wear a mask in situations where maintaining six feet of social distancing is less plausible, like going to the grocery store. Technically, this means you could still go to the park and sit alone, but masks are still ideal in order to help cease the spread of coronavirus.
It should also be emphasized that wearing face coverings doesn't replace the need for social distancing. You should still keep yourself a minimum of six feet apart from others.
Naturally, though, the mandate has been politicized by right-wingers who believe the government is infringing on their personal liberties. You know, the way they're infringing on the liberties of children of immigrant parents, or people who want to get a safe abortion.
Anyway—please stay inside, maintain social distancing, and don't forget your mask.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's mandate requires all passengers of public transportation to keep their faces covered.… https://t.co/f4Mner7meF— UpperWestSide Patch (@UpperWestSide Patch) 1587237608.0
Whether he knows it or not, that is the effect of his rhetoric
In recent days protestors have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina to call on state officials to end social distancing and shelter-at-home requirements.
It's understandable. The economy is suffering under the strain of the COVID-19 quarantine. It has decimated the stock market and resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment, and people want to get back to their lives. They want to reopen the country, and so does President Trump—whose ardent supporters have been among the most vocal and visible protestors. He's worried that if this situation continues on his watch, the economic damage may hurt his chances at re-election, as businesses small and large suffer losses that threaten their very survival. Leaving aside the fact that reopening too early will result in worse economic damage, there is another group that doesn't seem to concern him as much and whose survival actually depends on continuing the quarantine: People. Hundreds of thousands of people.
So when Donald Trump was suggesting that "large sections of the country" could re-open for Easter, it was cause for concern. But with the impact of the pandemic still far from its terrifying peak in hotspots like New York city, it seemed likely that Donald Trump would back off his overly-optimistic stance—and he did.
That's often how things work with Donald Trump. He will make a show of how tough and no-nonsense he is with some dramatic posturing that seems to fly in the face of the experts and will then be cowed by behind-the-scenes efforts to make him see reason. Unfortunately for the country, most of his followers are not similarly attended to by an entourage of people trying desperately to steer them away from catastrophic idiocy. So now that Easter has come and gone and Donald Trump is continuing to hint that he may soon reopen the country—maybe even against the wishes of governors in individual states—chaos was bound to ensue.
While some of the protesters have remained in their cars—honking their horns and blocking the passage of at least one ambulance—others crowded together to scream their rejection of science in one proud voice and one shared cloud of breath.
Chants of â��recall Whitmer,â�� â��USAâ�� and â��lock her upâ�� outside Michigan Capitol. #OperationGridlock https://t.co/7Q7niiNFUF— Malachi Barrett (@Malachi Barrett) 1586967874.0
For Donald Trump, the political effect of his latest hints and ambiguous comments about wanting to reopen the country and authorizing governors "to implement ... a very powerful reopening plan" while telling them, "You're going to call your own shots," is that he can have his cake and eat it too. While taking no direct measures to reopen the country amid continued medical advice to extend restrictions, he can still communicate to stir-crazy and cash-strapped supporters that he's doing everything he can for them and that maybe they should talk to their governors.
And that's just what they've been doing. In Michigan—where Operation Gridlock was so effective that even emergency vehicles couldn't get through—protestors directed their frustration at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with chants of "Recall Whitmer" and "Lock her up." In North Carolina, at the ReopenNC protest, more than 100 angry citizens assembled to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order and to spread conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 death toll is being inflated—though the opposite is true.
This looks like a still from a horror movie. It's not. It's yesterday outside the Ohio Statehouse. Incredible shotâ�¦ https://t.co/eaQ3n6c8fI— Shawn Mitchell (@Shawn Mitchell) 1586883247.0
In Ohio the scene was particularly disturbing, with dozens of protestors gathering at the statehouse in Columbus with Guy Fawkes masks, Trump hats, and signs reading "This is tyranny," and "Quarantine the sick not the Contitution [sic]." Eventually a group pressed close together against the locked glass doors to shout their feelings with no concern for social distancing.
What these people need is financial assistance that isn't delayed by politics or targeted at millionaires and massive corporations, as well as reassurance that the current approach is necessary and effective—that our leaders are unified in following the guidance of health experts. What they get instead, from Trump and top Conservative voices, is constant waffling and hedging about the cost to the economy and tacit endorsement of these dangerous protests.
Important to remember that #Covid-19 epidemic control measures may only delay cases, not prevent. However, this helâ�¦ https://t.co/vhIVsvMt3Q— Drew A. Harris, DPM, MPH (@Drew A. Harris, DPM, MPH) 1582868853.0
Just as he has had every opportunity to decry violence done in his name, Donald Trump could end these protests. If he were open and honest about the fragility of our hospital system and our country's best hope of getting through this crisis intact, then he could quell much of this unrest and dispel false narratives equating this virus to the flu or car accidents. Instead he feigns careful consideration while effectively encouraging defiance that will inevitably result in more infections and more death.
Stay home and stay safe.
The Trump Administration's solution to aid the 16 million Americans who are out of a job thanks to coronavirus? One big, shiny, $1,200 check.
As MarketWatch explains, "The Internal Revenue Service will send $1,200 payments to individuals with adjusted gross income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000. The government will also pay $500 per qualifying child." That plan is a little skewed—$1,200, after all, isn't even enough for one month's rent for a studio in NYC's outer boroughs. And for everyone who's receiving the check, there's someone else who, fortunately, is able to work from home and hasn't faced a huge setback due to COVID-19.
If you're one of the lucky ones, or if you're just feeling generous, here are just a few good causes that deserve your donations to help those in need.
WeCount!'s Immigrant Worker COVID-19 Fund: Florida nonprofit WeCount! is on a mission to address the gap in medical support for undocumented immigrants, emphasized by COVID-19.
Immigrant Worker Safety Net Fund: National Day Laborer Organizing Network allocates cash donations to worker leaders, organizers, and volunteers who have already contracted the COVID-19, as well as undocumented laborers who are especially vulnerable to the virus, such as those over 60 or with preexisting health concerns.
National Bailout: Prisons, jails, and detention centers have raised big health concerns in the coronavirus's wake. National Bailout is galvanizing funds to get people out, in an effort to slow the spread. The organization also already hosts an annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign to specifically help incarcerated black mothers each Mother's Day, but donations are welcome and encouraged year-round.
Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation: With restaurants limited to takeout only, many folks in the service industry are taking a major hit. RWCF's emergency relief fund collected $2.8M since its launch in late-March. Of that, half goes directly to individual restaurant workers, 25 percent to non-profits serving restaurant workers, and another 25 percent for zero-interest loans to keep restaurants running.
Coalition for the Homeless: Homeless people are predisposed to major risks year-round, but the pandemic has brought additional attention to their health care. In New York City, the Coalition for the Homeless is providing temporary safe housing to the community thanks to donations.
Today in NOLA, Easter Sunday was the strangest in memory.
COVID-19 isolation, New Orleans. It sounds like wind in old live oak trees and gunshots down the street. Tonight a storm is on its way. The sky has been gray all day and it's wicked hot. I have been alone for two months now.
I took my dog, who is battling some war of his own with his gut, out back of my apartment building. I heard a party from the third story. A man I know a little, somebody who used to likely be a pro athlete, leaned into his wide-open window, his ass on the sill. He was naked from waist up. I couldn't see below that from my vantage point. He had people over. I couldn't tell how many but could see at least three others.
He's nice enough as a neighbor. There are over forty of us now in the building. Every time I let the dog out, I touch door after door. I try to follow wise cultures who've not had easy access to running water for centuries. I have a dirty hand and a clean hand for the task of getting my dog outside to smell the small patches of grass amongst the parking spaces.
Some of my best friends live only a few blocks away, but I can't visit them on Easter Sunday. I'm making a pot of soup to feed a dozen people for my own dinner. I'll freeze the rest of it, save it for later till I move out of this place at the end of June when my lease is up. I wonder if I will have to wear a mask then. Still. I exchange food preservation small talk on the phone with my father, states and states away, and fill my apartment up with the scent of barley and thyme.
Note from the editor:
NOLA has faced impossible odds in the past, and it's always the community pulling together that gets us through. Even at a time like this, when we are all sheltering at home, physically removed from our community, it's important to remember, "Storms Never Last."
Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order suspending "non-essential" medical procedures in the wake of the coronavirus, including abortions.
Most of our country's current administration certainly won't go down in history for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The nation's top leaders long ignored warning signs of the virus, but that doesn't mean Republicans can't use COVID-19 to push their anti-abortion agenda. A number of governors, including Texas' Greg Abbott, are suspending "non-essential" medical procedures for the time being, which so conveniently includes abortions. It must be nice to live a life in which accessing a safe abortion doesn't directly affect you!
Lawmakers in favor of this have framed it as a way to minimize use of hospital resources in the wake of COVID-19. However, as we already know, cutting off access to safe and legal abortions doesn't prevent abortions from happening; patients desperate for the procedure now will now be forced to travel, which creates the possibility of further spreading COVID-19 across states. Suspending abortions isn't going to minimize the spread of coronavirus—it's only going to put more people at risk.
Nevertheless, Governor Abbott issued an executive order to "postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary" from March 22 to April 21. As Jezebel reports, "On March 30, the ban was briefly lifted when a lower court ruled it unconstitutional in response to a complaint jointly filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Lawyering Project. But just one day later, three federal judges granted a temporary stay, which means the ban will resume."
Progressives have been criticized by conservatives for weaponizing the coronavirus against Trump. But what's more disgusting: rightfully criticising the most powerful man in the world's poor handling of a pandemic, or abhorrently using the virus to further prevent Americans from getting necessary health care?
Politics is the ongoing debate over who and what gets to thrive and survive, and it is always personal.
Abortion. Gun control. Immigration. Police violence. The MeToo movement.
A dozen political issues, a dozen debates that we seem trapped in, condemned to repeat. It's been four decades since Roe v. Wade, and women's access to abortion seems as fragile as ever. Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been 2,402 mass shootings in the United States, and yet we don't feel any closer to passing common sense gun legislation than we were eight years ago. The American federal government has come to a complete standstill, but the poison runs deeper than that; at every level of human existence—political, cultural, artistic—we have lost the ability to meaningfully alter the status quo. We have the same arguments that we did eight years ago, we listen to the same types of music, and all the movies are sequels or franchises or reboots. We are a stopped culture.
It's a concept cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to as the "slow cancellation of the future," part of his broader theory of Capitalist Realism—the notion that, as neoliberal hegemony continues, the people living under it will increasingly lose the ability to imagine a future different from the present. A mood has settled over America, a sense that things simply are the way they are. Massacres are common, police brutality happens regularly, abortion is difficult and precarious, healthcare costs are insane, and the government has no power (or will) to stop any of it from happening. The whole world is telling us, consciously or not, that nothing can be done. So what does all this have to do with the modern phenomenon recognized as "grievance politics?"
Simple. When we feel our politics have lost the ability to affect our lives, the only issues that seem to matter are personal ones.
If society is stuck, if we lack the power to change it and make it the way we want it to be, the only thing we can do is own each other—on Twitter, on stage, or in the voting booth. No politician can actually pass any legislation, but if the right ones win then the people on the other side will get upset. In turn, you might feel good for a little while, and maybe even convince yourself that your interests are being represented even though they're not. In modern mainstream political discourse every issue is disguised by one question: Who is "triggering" who? The whole world is telling you that nothing will be done about mass shootings or police violence or rape culture, but you can own the "Bernie Bros," and feel like you're owning all of the people in your life that you don't like.
That's how we got Trump. Whether or not they'll admit it, very few people really believed, in the logical parts of their minds, that Trump was ever gonna build his stupid wall. How could he? That would involve something happening, and nothing ever happens. The MAGA crowd, in a real sense, have as little power to bring about their ideal world as we do (thank god), because they can't stop us from agitating about inequality or gun control or kneeling for the national anthem. But when Donald Trump wins, college kids cry. And triggering the libs is as close as they can get to a victory.
If there's one good thing about the COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping the nation, it's this: We can no longer deny that our politics have a very real, very material impact on our lives. However, and this is important to stress: Politics is the ongoing debate over who and what gets to thrive and survive, and it is always personal. The pandemic has brought it home to the most privileged and insulated among us, but if you are vulnerable, if you are poor, if you are a racial or sexual minority, if you are a victim of gun violence or assault or our rapacious healthcare system, you have felt the effect of our politics in your life every single day. It's more important than the feeling it gives you, and it's more important than who's triggering who, and that's going to become more and more clear as we continue to suffer the consequences of a civil infrastructure that has spent the past forty years being ransacked.
Mainstream politics has always operated under the delusion that nothing was ever going to really happen. It would threaten to happen, it would almost happen, but it never actually would. Well, something has happened. Maybe now something can be done about it.
Probably not, though.
Here are the facts about #hantavirus.
One of the most searched terms on the Internet right now is "hantavirus." This comes in the wake of reports out of China that a man who died on a bus Monday tested positive for something called hantavirus. Global Times, an English-language Chinese news outlet, tweeted, "He was tested positive for #hantavirus. Other 32 people on bus were tested." The tweet has now been shared more than 15,000 times.
This immediately sparked rumors of a new pandemic poised to sweep the world before we even have a chance to get the coronavirus (COVID-19) under control, and #hantavirus soon began trending on Twitter. Luckily, there is accurate information out there about hantavirus. Here's what you need to know.
What is a Hantavirus?
By this time, everyone knows that the novel coronavirus that has caused international turmoil since originating in Wuhan, China, jumped from an animal host to humans. A coronavirus is any virus that originated in animals. Similarly, hantaviruses are a family of virus that spread through rodents. But there are key differences: According to the CDC, hantaviruses spread to humans as a result of close contact with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva, and scientists and doctors have been aware of them since the 1950s. According to the CDC, "Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as 'New World' hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Other hantaviruses, known as 'Old World' hantaviruses, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS)."
The CDC goes on to specify, "The hantaviruses that cause human illness in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another." Not only that, but hantavirus infections are exceedingly rare.
What are the Symptoms of Hantavirus?
Symptoms of HPS include,"Fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms."
The CDC informational page on the virus goes on to say, "Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a '…tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face' as the lungs fill with fluid."
In contrast, HFRS is characterized by, "Symptoms [that] begin suddenly and include intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision. Individuals may have flushing of the face, inflammation or redness of the eyes, or a rash. Later symptoms can include low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure, which can cause severe fluid overload."
Is the Disease Fatal?
HFRS has a fatality rate of 5-15% while HPS has a fatality rate of 38%.
Could Hantavirus Turn Into a Pandemic Like Coronavirus?
The answer is, simply, almost definitely not. Human to human transmission of hantavirus is exceedingly rare, particularly in the United States where it is unheard of. In fact, the CDC specifies, "To date, no cases of HPS have been reported in the United States in which the virus was transmitted from one person to another." Meanwhile, it is possible for HFRS to be transmitted from person to person, but it is extremely rare and unlikely. So much so that it is essentially impossible for the virus to travel between people at such a rate as to cause a global pandemic.
How Can I Avoid Getting Hantavirus?
According to the CDC, to get infected with HFRS, one must be exposed to, "Aerosolized urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents or after exposure to dust from their nests. Transmission may also occur when infected urine or these other materials are directly introduced into broken skin or onto the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. In addition, individuals who work with live rodents can be exposed to hantaviruses through rodent bites from infected animals." Transmission of HFRS from one person to another is extremely rare.
Meanwhile, if you live in the United States, you have even less to worry about as HPS cannot be passed between humans. The majority of cases of HPS in the USA are caused by deer mice (with some cases caused by cotton rats, and rice rats in the southeastern states, and the white-footed mouse in the Northeast). The virus can be contracted through the air when fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are disturbed or otherwise stirred up, which can cause tiny droplets containing the virus to become airborne. It can also, more rarely, be contracted through rodent bites, food contaminated by rodent waste or saliva, and possibly by touching something contaminated and then touching your face. But just because you may have come in contact with a rodent nest does not mean you will contract the virus, as HPS infections are still very rare and not all rodents carry the virus.
Should I Worry About Hantavirus?
No, unless you're someone who frequently consumes or comes in contact with the kinds of rodents who may carry the virus, you have nothing to worry about. Even if you think you may have come into contact with a rodent nest recently, it is unlikely that you have contracted this virus. Additionally, HFRS (the version of the virus the man who died in China Monday likely had) rarely jumps between people, and there is no evidence that the infected man transmitted the virus to anyone else. Of course, if you have been around an infected person or rodents and have fever, deep muscle aches, and severe shortness of breath, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Don't listen to everything you read on the Internet.
There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 spreading across the Internet, and as the pandemic worsens, its more important than ever to keep yourself informed. Recently, France's Health Minister, Olivier Veran, tweeted that "taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be an aggravating factor of the infection".
While there is reportedly very little clinical evidence to support this, medical professionals said that ibuprofen is still not recommended for managing coronavirus symptoms. Of course, those already taking ibuprofen for other conditions should not stop without consulting a doctor.
The UK's National Health Service recently updated their website to say, "there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (Covid-19) worse... until we have more information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you."
So, while we wait for more information, it is best to avoid Ibuprofen for the treatment of coronavirus symptoms and to instead opt for paracetamol (also called acetaminophen). So, stock up on Tylenol and keep washing your hands, but most of all, always consult with your doctor about what's best for you.
A personal essay.
I've lived in New York City for the past year. About a week ago I moved to London to be with my long term partner. You may be thinking that international travel was a bold decision given the rapid global spread of COVID-19. Truthfully, it barely crossed my mind.
I bought my plane ticket to London about a month ago, when the novel coronavirus was still just a headline, not a reality in my life. I'm 23-years-old, don't have any health problems besides a history of Lyme's disease, and I have access to healthcare. I'm not in the demographic that needs to worry over every flu and cold for fear that it could be fatal; and besides, I've been nowhere near the places where the disease is most rampant.
So I set off from Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. to Heathrow Airport in London on March 3rd with only the vaguest fears about COVID-19. If anything, I was admittedly pleased to find my flight unexpectedly empty thanks to people's fear of the virus keeping them from traveling. As always, I wiped down my seat with antibacterial wipes as soon as I boarded, used hand sanitizer throughout the uneventful journey, and made sure to wash my hands frequently.
Upon landing at Heathrow, I was met with a bizarrely sparse customs line, something I was also exceedingly grateful for. There were no temperature checks or other indications that the virus had reached London. I got my luggage from the carousel and stacked my bags on a luggage trolley, waiting for my partner to arrive at the airport.
Flash forward a couple of days, and I find myself repeating for the second time that day that I might be coming down with a cold.
I take my temperature to find that it's about 100.5 Fahrenheit. I take nighttime cold medicine and go to bed. The next morning I find the fever has persisted, and with it has come a hacking, wet cough. Assuming it's the flu, my partner calls a doctor and lists my symptoms. They ask about international travel, and upon learning that I passed through Heathrow, they inform us that two baggage handlers at that airport have just been confirmed to have COVID-19.This means that, technically, I've been exposed to the virus. We're told to remain in the house for two weeks at the very least but certainly as long as symptoms persist, and if my illness progresses such that I need medical attention we are to call an ambulance and inform them about my exposure status, so I can be transported safely. Both my partner and I immediately start taking my symptoms a lot more seriously.
For the first several days, I had a fever on-and-off (pretty effectively suppressed with day time cold medicine and ibuprofen), a sore throat, plugged ears, nasal congestion, and a hacking cough that caused me to feel breathless if stood upright too long. From Friday, March 6th to today, March 9th, I slept essentially 24-hours-a-day, only waking up to eat (my appetite was not as impacted as I would have thought). Today, I woke up without a fever and feeling stronger than I have since arriving in London. My cough persists, but now I just feel like I have a bad cold or a mild case of bronchitis.
Whether or not I have COVID-19 is still unclear, as I have not been definitively tested, but my symptoms fit perfectly with those described on the NHS website, and I know I've been in an infected airport. For the most part, my illness has felt like the flu with a particularly bad cough. Most of all, my illness has caused me to wonder how many people have mild cases like mine and were told, when they contacted a doctor, to recover at home.
How many cases are governments across the world keeping under wraps because they're discouraging people from seeking medical help? How many people across the world are staying home from work but still going to the grocery store, waiting out what they think is a bad cough? If I am infected with COVID-19, I'm lucky that I seem to be on the path to a relatively swift recovery. I'm also lucky in that I was economically able to take the time to rest and recover. But how many people will feel the relatively common and mild symptoms I felt and still go into work out of economic necessity? How many immunocompromised people will be infected because a doctor wouldn't test some other person because their symptoms were comparatively mild? How many elderly people will die because Trump's strategy to keep American COVID-19 case numbers low is to simply not test?
If I am infected, then I can tell you that COVID-19, for me, felt very similar to the flu or any other run-of-the-mill upper respiratory infection. I can also tell you it absolutely flattened me for several days, and I'm a healthy young adult. I can't imagine how badly I would have felt if I were elderly and immunocompromised. Our governments have to come up with a better strategy for testing, even mild cases, and they have to do it soon. Because, if my experience is any indicator, it's already far more widespread than we think.
And what can be done about it?
A recent document leaked by the Chinese government has proven something that many of China's detained Uighur population and the global human rights community have known for a long time: China's central government is detaining groups of people on the basis of their religion and culture.
The new data leak contains comprehensive information on over 2,000 detainees being kept in China's detention camps, which have locked away almost a million members of ethnic minority groups, mostly Muslims, since 2014. Once again, the database proves that China's authoritarian government has been locking away people not only for religious extremism, but for activities as simple as going to a mosque.
The Chinese Communist Party has vehemently denied accusations that it's imprisoning people as a method of religious persecution, but by now it's clear that's what they're doing. What's less clear is what might be done about it—and what will happen to the nation's prisoners now that the coronavirus poses a serious threat.
Who Are the Uighurs?
The term "Uighur" has a complex history, and its definition is largely contingent on who is defining it. In general, the term refers to a group of Muslims who are indigenous to Central and East Asian nations, according to BBC. They are usually thought of as having descended from the 8th and 9th century Turkish Khaganate empire, but many migrated from present-day Mongolia to present-day Xinjiang, where they joined with an ancient indigenous population and eventually converted to Islam en masse.
According to loose consensus, the term resurfaced in the 20th century when the group—with help from the Soviet Union—declared independence from colonial China in the first half of the 20th century. They were brought under Chinese control in 1949, when the Communist party took hold and ended the Uighur's experiments with independence. Today, like Tibet, Xinjiang is considered an autonomous nation but remains under China's authoritarian control.
According to many activists and spokespeople, Beijing authorities have persecuted the Uighur population for decades, restricting their cultural and religious activities. On the other hand, according to China's central government and its diplomats, the Uighurs are waging a violent campaign for an independent state, and by detaining them, China is acting out of necessity.
What's Happening to the Uighurs?
Today, the worldwide consensus is that the Uighurs are the subject of tremendous persecution in China, a persecution that was fastidiously hidden by the Chinese government for decades.
In November of 2019, The New York Times leaked 400 pages of documents that exposed China's efforts to detain Muslims en masse in the Xinjiang region. "Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organized a ruthless and extraordinary campaign in these internal communications," wrote Austin Ramsey and Chris Buckley for The Times. "Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment. Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful."
In essence, Uighur peoples were taken in massive numbers from their homes and detained in concentration camps, and the story was kept out of the global press for years. Rumors of the existence of China's Uighur prisons began to emerge in global media when Google Earth satellite software captured pictures of massive prisons in the deserts of Xinjiang in 2018. Interviewers and investigators who pressed the matter were told by Chinese diplomats that the camps were "re-education centers," and as news of the camps grew, the Chinese government began to release propaganda about its education initiatives.
Eventually, it became clear that Uighur detainees are subject to highly illegal abuses. They are forced to praise China's ruling party, to learn Mandarin, and to renounce their sins—which might include going to a mosque. People living in the camps have said they were forced to exercise and beaten when they could not follow the proper laws and regulations set by authority officials. "There was a special room to punish those who didn't run fast enough," said 29-year-old Ablet Turson Toti, who was detained in a camp in Hotan, in the south of Xinjiang. "There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick."
Uighur communities have been destroyed by Beijing's imprisonment and conversion initiative. "Every household, every family had three or four people taken away," said Omer Kanat, executive committee chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. "In some villages, you can't see men on the streets anymore—only women and children—all the men have been sent to the camps."
The non-detained also face persecution, forced to surrender passports to CCP government officials and prohibited from practicing Islam and wearing headscarves and subjected to "anti-extremism laws." Subsequently, many Uighurs have fled the country, living as refugees in Turkey and other nations, forced to lose contact with family members.
Why Is This Happening?
Ostensibly, the ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs is an effort on China's part to unify China, and to transform and deradicalize Muslims.
"Penetration of everyday life is almost really total now...You have ethnic identity, Uighur identity in particular, being singled out as this kind of pathology," said Michael Clarke, an Australian National University professor and expert on Xinjiang.
On another level, it's all about political power. In part, a rise in Islam may have led to the CCP's fears that the Xinjiang peoples could unify and rebel against the Communist government, as they had done in the first half of the 20th century."Why are Uyghur persecuted?" writes Massimo Introvigne for the World Uyghur Congress. "Although fears of 'separatism' may play a role, basically the answer is that they are persecuted because the strong revival of Islam among them scared the regime. The CCP was, and is, afraid that the Muslim revival may expand to other non-Uyghur Muslim groups in China, and join forces with a revival of religion in general that may one day overcome the CCP's rule. The logical conclusion is that, although no persecution is ever purely religious, the Uyghurs are indeed victims of a religious persecution."
On an even deeper and more complex level, what's happened to the Uighur peoples is inextricably connected to capital and lines of profit, which cross oceans and connect major powers like the United States and China—and leave indigenous populations like the Uighurs in the dust. "The mineral wealth—in particular oil and gas—of a region almost five times the size of Germany has brought huge levels of Chinese investment, rapid economic growth and large waves of Han Chinese settlers," writes John Sudworth for BBC.
Despite the U.S.'s recent determination to denounce the Uighur government, no major power is inculpable. "In today's world, authoritarian politics and predatory commerce cooperate to exploit 'cultural differences.' Nowhere is this point clearer than in the symbiosis in recent decades between Western corporations and the Communist elite in China," argues Ai Weiwei in an op-ed for the Times.
That symbiosis reached a head during the post-9/11 era. In recent years, the United States has joined with the United Nations to denounce abuses of the Uighurs, but actually, the United States was instrumental in revving up early anti-Uighur and anti-Muslim sentiments. After 9/11, many members of the Uighur population were painted as potential allies of Al Qaeda, though little corroborative evidence has surfaced regarding these claims. Some 20 members were detained without charge and possibly tortured in Guantanamo Bay. "For years, the United States has been at the forefront of promoting an abusive counterterrorism architecture at the United Nations and has been allied with China on many of these efforts," says Letta Tayler, a Human Rights Watch expert on counterterrorism.
For their part, Muslim nations have also failed to protect the Uighurs. "Many risk looking like hypocrites over their own records of human rights abuses if they confront China—or risk imperiling lucrative partnerships," writes Joseph Zeballos-Roig for The New Republic. He identifies "deepening economic relationships, coziness with authoritarianism and the allure of a "Confucian-Islamic" alliance against the West" as "[outweighing] the political willingness of Muslim governments to act."
What Can Be Done About All This?
What can people around the world do about the ethnic cleansing occurring in China? While it's tempting to fall back on an argument that the United States and major global powers should embroil themselves in China's affairs, this impulse has been a historically unproductive and dangerous habit rooted in a white savior mentality which usually leads to further turmoil. Instead, the United States should use its economic power to pressure China and Middle Eastern allies into changing their ways on the basis of human rights violations.
Already, lawmakers in Washington are pushing the Trump Administration to place sanctions on China, many of which enjoy bipartisan support. This is on the right track, for "the most effective resistance to the treatment of Uighurs is increasing the public-relations costs for Beijing," write Daniel Bessner and Isaac Stone Fish for The Nation. "The State Department should publicize this issue in other Muslim countries, particularly influential American allies like Saudi Arabia, and among China's neighbors, especially Pakistan and Kazakhstan, with the hopes of increasing international pressure to end the ethnic cleansing."
Activist groups, they continue, should "pressure groups like the ABA to publicly criticize China while simultaneously compelling universities to embrace their commitment to free inquiry," and specifically, "the left should encourage civil-society groups to use their connections to politicians to push for programs to resettle Uighurs—and dissent-minded Chinese—who desire to move to the United States. And," they conclude, "it goes without saying that this must be done with the active participation—and indeed, leadership—of Uighurs themselves, who understand the needs and interests of their community better than any outsider."
In 2020, due to the onset of the coronavirus, presses around the world are calling for the Beijing authorities to release prisoners. "These camps, where as many as 3 million people are detained, are at risk of becoming death chambers," writes Abdul Majakbid for USA Today. "The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency this month, yet China's government, the WHO and the United Nations are apparently so far silent about the potential danger to the detained Uighurs." In fact, there are rumors that China is sending Uighur citizens to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. In light of the Uighur population's vulnerability to the virus, there are calls for the United States to levy sanctions against Chinese authorities unless they comply with global calls to inspect Uighur prisons and protect the detained from the virus.
It's important to remember that in spite of China's undeniable human rights violations, the United States is embroiled in its own human rights abuses, specifically on the U.S. border—so it may be hypocritical to fixate on China without first healing some of the crisis in this nation. Plus, much of the critiques that exist about China and coronavirus have xenophobic aspects of their own.
Still, all of these abuses are interconnected, rooted in xenophobia and racism that stems from neoliberal capitalism and a global reliance on oil.