It’s July and while friends and family back home in the UK and Europe are returning to some semblance of normality, I continue in much the same fashion as I did back in March when this pandemic first hit: at home, alone.
I’m not entirely alone. Thankfully there are a few dogs and humans knocking about, preventing me from going entirely insane. Family, friends, and colleagues, however, are perpetually out of reach. I’m not sure how much longer for, either.
It’s summer in southern Arizona, which means two things: hazy days and sweaty nights. Residents have but one choice to make: whether they’re going to be morning larks or night owls. There’s no middle ground when it’s a thousand degrees outside. We are afforded sunrise or sunset, with occasional dances in the monsoon rains. During the rest of the time, we’re bound indoors exposing ourselves to the freezer when it all gets a bit too much.
Arizona has been one of the US epicenters for COVID-19 transmission rates and it’s not difficult to see why; we’re all stuck inside, in close proximity, facing the breeding ground that is air conditioning. Businesses have been lax. Masks have only been deemed essential very recently. Plus, it’s the wild, wild west, so there are plenty of entitled, conspiritualist types who feel they are above reasonable societal constructs like empathy and compassion. It’s a real hoot, I tell you.
Tucson is a humble, “blue” pocket in an otherwise mostly-red state. It’s easy to forget that I live inside that bubble until I venture out into the mask-less chaos of ridiculously large trucks boasting bumper stickers declaring Trump adoration, religious fanaticism, or confirmed racist status. These days, thankfully, that doesn’t happen often. I keep it that way; it’s safer within the city limits where the influence of the university’s scientific community can somewhat prevail. Reason: it’s a precious commodity.
Any hope that I had for a normal-ish fall semester crumbled some time ago. I’ve not given up hope on the future altogether (don’t worry, Mum,) but I am finding it difficult to imagine any kind of normal classroom scenario or ability to socialise at a bar for many months. It’s quite depressing. And all because a vast swathe of the population would rather take a chance on continuing life as normal. After all, their president says everything is OK, therefore it must be. No matter the nonexistent scientific credentials on either end. It’s a statement that says “your life matters not if it inconveniences me” and that, my friends, is America.
I’ve seen a load of graphics floating around social media that say some variation of:
“I don’t know how to tell you that you should be kind to people.”
And it’s true.
At first, I asked what went so wrong in the childhoods of all of these people that could have made them so lacking in empathy and compassion for others. Then, I took a step back and remembered: it’s a symptom of US culture itself; the dark side of the American Dream mentality of “I’ll do what I damn well please, no matter the cost to others.”
There’s a lot of fear in this country. Fear of scarcity. Fear of being any less than the best. Fear of other people. It has intensified since 2016 – since America decided that politics and professionalism no longer mattered, instead opting for sensationalist reality TV as a decent substitute.
The US has suffered from systemic racism since it decided to take root on native land and destroy its people all those years ago. Since then, we’ve watched as the white man has succeeded with ease, while all other peoples have fought ten times as hard for one-tenth of the financial gain.
I’m a white British woman living in the US and even I have experienced xenophobia. The US is notoriously difficult to live and work in for anyone without significant money in the bank and has been for some time, but during Trump’s administration, we’ve seen the visa process be extended from 2 to 6 months. More recently, during the COVID-19 crisis, applications have terminated altogether, the Social Security Administration has closed down and a travel ban has been put in place for those traveling to the US from the UK and much of Europe. There are no signs of these things lifting anytime soon.
Then there was the ICE ruling. In case it slipped below your radar, allow me to enlighten you. US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) (a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security) passed a rule on July 6th, 2020, stating that international students studying in the US would be unable to continue this fall if their universities were exclusively offering online classes. I wrote more about it here. Thankfully the rule was rescinded after countless prominent universities filed federal lawsuits, but it begs the question: if this can slip through, what might come next?
It’s all a bit of a mess. I’m safe in the sense that I have a roof over my head and plenty to eat, but that isn’t enough. Most of life’s pleasures lie out of arm’s length and I fear the toll on mental health that this hostility and negligence will take. America continues to fall apart and it’s one of the greatest social experiments ever conducted, as we further isolate ourselves from each other while our leadership fails to acknowledge that there is even a problem in the first place.
We’re resilient, and therefore undoubtedly strong enough to bounce back. But it won’t be without a touch-and-go adjustment period. I don’t think any of us know quite what that will look like.