COVID Made Canada Care About George Floyd
Back in 1992, Los Angeles rioted over police brutality against Rodney King. At the time there were a few solidarity marches—500 students at MIT plus a hundred from Harvard is about all I can find. When the police murdered George Floyd in 2020, protests sprung up everywhere—all across the United States, and even in most Canadian provinces.
At first it sounds so very Canadian for us to protest racist murder-cops in the United States when we have plenty of racist murder-cops of our own, but I think there’s a more interesting reason as to why we got so involved in our southern neighbour’s business: COVID-19.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts food, water, and shelter as people’s base priorities, with personal security and employment just above. When the pandemic started, many people in the United States lost employment, and thus food, water and shelter. Others, who had essential jobs, lost personal security each time they had to face the invisible threat of infection. Those two groups—which statistically are poorer and far more likely to be black, indigenous, or people of colour—were under a huge amount of stress from all sides. Of course seeing something as terrible as the death of George Floyd made them snap all across the States. And of course the protests stretched on for so long, considering how the American government decided to speedrun the plague.
But for us in Canada, we were doing decently. Nothing to boast about, but well enough. A significant amount of people could get by without work, since the CERB covered basic necessities and provided personal security by replacing employment. That opened a lot of Canadians up to pursuing the next rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy—friendship, intimacy, and a sense of connection. Usually this takes emotional labour, which is hard to maintain or develop when most of our energy goes towards wage labour. But take away jobs, and suddenly we’re able to care about a topic we’ve been ignoring ever since the police were created. Who woulda thunk?
I think when we say to focus on material conditions, a lot of us go straight for the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and forget to look at the higher rungs as well. Because the reality of the mainstream Canadian is that while one’s very basic physical needs are met, their emotional needs are not. Whether or not they realize it, most Canadians are too tired to make friends and build communities. But if we build that social infrastructure around them, and invite them in, we will make it far easier for mainstream Canadians to care about those they’d otherwise be too tired to help.
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