I think it was the third mass text about the Stafford Act that broke me. You know the text I’m talking about: something about a friend of a friend who works in FEMA who said Donald Trump was preparing the country for a nationwide quarantine in reaction to the coronavirus. Troops would be in place and everything from grocery stores to banks would be closed; in short, the army would have its guns trained on any civilian that dares leave the house for the next two weeks. Each time I got the text, I tried to tell the person that it was a hoax. But they insisted: “[insert friend’s name] said it came from a friend.”
That’s usually the part where my eye twitches and I toss my phone.
The Stafford Act text is just one of the many hoaxes in a hailstorm of misinformation and fake news that’s plaguing the country along with the pandemic itself. One of the virus’ biggest allies, in fact, has been misinformation — but that misinformation seems to be split along racial lines. Trump-supporting White disbelievers are taking their cues from the president, arguing that the pandemic is nothing more than a flu or that more people die from car crashes or that *squints at teleprompter* old people should just die so that the CEO of Spirit Airlines can get a 2% raise or whatever. Polls back this up. Republicans, who, of course, are overwhelmingly White, simply aren’t worried about the coronavirus like anyone else is. This is clearly dangerous.
Black people aren’t off the hook here as we have also been skeptics about the virus. First, there were widespread beliefs that Black people were somehow immune to the virus. There was even a widely shared “CDC source” post about how melanin was somehow a Covid-19 repellent. This was “backed up” by the maps that showed so few cases in Africa. Then Idris Elba announced he had contracted the virus and ended that idea — of course, that was followed by accusations that he was faking the diagnosis to make Black people believe we could catch it. (Since then, of course, everyone from Slim Thug to Scarface has joined the club, putting an end to that particular crackpot take.)
We are the same people who lived through government-funded Tuskegee experiments, CIA-sponsored espionage against our leaders, and a current administration that is the least trustworthy establishment in American history. How many conspiracies have to be proven right before you start to believe everything is a lie?
There’s also the miscellaneous conspiracy theories of this all being a government test gone wrong. Or that this was all a Bill Gates plot from years ago. Or that this has something to do with the Illuminati. (No, I haven’t seen the Illuminati thing, but there’s always an Illuminati thing.) There are even rumblings of computer chips being put into our brains when we get tested for the coronavirus. Seriously. Most dangerously, there was a video going around that suggested that drinking or inhaling a bleach solution would kill the coronavirus.
My first inclination is to call these conspiracy theories stupid and reckless. Don’t worry, I’ll do a lot of that in a bit. But first, it’s important to understand where these theories are coming from. In short, they come from the fact Black people don’t trust anything we’re told by anyone remotely connected to any government entity.
And really, who can blame us?
We are the same people who lived through government-funded Tuskegee experiments, CIA-sponsored espionage against our leaders, and a current administration that is the least trustworthy establishment in American history. How many conspiracies have to be proven right before you start to believe everything is a lie? To be Black is to be gaslit. Like when we just knew that the government was involved with putting drugs in our communities — the thought was dismissed as militant paranoia, only to be proven true in recent years. Unlike the Trumpers who are licking church pews or whatever to prove their own beliefs, Black distrust is couched in real history. And we have a whole-ass foreign power hellbent on corrupting our social media feeds (and our gullible friends) with as much bad information as possible.
With that said, though: We have to do better, especially now. We already know that this pandemic is going to disproportionately affect Black people more than anyone else in the country. Why? Because that’s how this country works. But also because a disease that attacks the immunocompromised, the uninsured, those with complicating conditions like asthma and diabetes, those most likely to be neglected under a doctor’s care is a disease that is tailor-made to impact Black folks. A subsequent financial crisis that impedes one’s ability to pay rent without the social safety net is another crisis that will leave Black folks the most vulnerable. So it’s our job to be as informed as humanly possible so we can get through this thing.
We have to be the ones who double-check information from valid sources, picking through every headline and paragraph — because nobody will do it for us. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of us who have either the media literacy or the internet know-how to spot the jig. That’s why I’m so disappointed by the people who should know better — who already understand the invisible hands stirring up fear and distrust. Watching these people share articles from ThisNewsIsFakeDotCom is the truly infuriating and inexcusable new development to come out of all of this.
We are the ones who have an obligation to be the gatekeepers of truth. We have a moral imperative to be true. We have to protect our grandparents, Facebook friends, and barbershop bullshitters from themselves (as well as from Russia and Umar Johnson). Information is life or death for us, especially now. Falsehoods can kill and the truth can save lives.
The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can get back to our barbershops and talk about who was really an Illuminati blood sacrifice.