As the nation tackles the economic and social realities of the coronavirus pandemic, a familiar strain of Xenophobia can be observed across multiple societal spectrums. PRRI’s Robert P. Jones‘ new op-ed in Sojourners examines this, and what lessons can be learned from history on how to flatten the curve:
From April to November 1919, mobs of angry whites attacked African Americans in an unprecedented wave of violence that rolled across the country. Large-scale attacks were recorded in nearly 40 cities, including Chicago and Washington, D.C., and in smaller rural towns like Elaine, Ark. Once the spark of violence erupted, white mobs often indiscriminately attacked and killed black men, women, and even children and set fire to black businesses, churches, and homes. Although there are no precise records, conservatively, hundreds of African Americans were killed, thousands were injured, and tens of thousands more were displaced.
The strain of World War I, the jolt of returning black soldiers expecting more from their country after risking their lives abroad, an economic recession, and hysteria about a rising Communist threat infiltrating the U.S. were certainly major factors that made America vulnerable to an outbreak of violence. But another event that decimated America’s social fabric just ahead of what James Weldon Johnson, field secretary of the NAACP, dubbed “the Red Summer” was the 1919 influenza epidemic. Beginning in March 2018, three waves of a deadly form of influenza swept through the U.S., killing an astonishing 675,000 Americans. That infection curve was just declining in the winter of 1919 as the white supremacist violence curve began to rise.
It’s easy to think a wave of post-virus racial violence like this couldn’t occur today. We’re not coming out of a major world war. And the modern civil rights movement, which traces its roots to actions of resistance during Red Summer, has secured more equal rights and protections for racial minorities. But we are facing official unemployment levels of nearly 20 percent, levels not seen since the Great Depression. Our civic ties have been fraying over the last few decades. And President Trump’s victory in the 2016 campaign laid bare the reality that our greatest divisions are marked not by policy disagreements but by the deeper fault lines of partisan, racial, and religious identity. Even before the pandemic, white supremacy and racial resentment resurfaced as visible features of our culture, religions, and politics…