October 2022

Because I haven’t published a full blog in over 2 years, when I finished the essay for the current issue’s Call, Rap & RealTalk, I revisited the last essay for this section. I wanted to refamiliarize myself with those thoughts. I wrote a series of vignettes, on varying topics from Philadelphia’s opioid epidemic to my childhood visits to Chattanooga, Tennessee.   


Reading those stand-alone paragraphs, I remembered that we were beginning our journey into Covid-19. It was some days after Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney and Health Commissioner Dr. Farley announced stay-at-home orders, beginning on March 23, 2020 at 8 a.m. Like other North American cities, Philly grappled with distinguishing between essential and non-essential workers. Grocery stores, some of whom never offered home delivery, found themselves, suddenly, swamped with orders. Philadelphia’s business as usual, along with business in all cities in the country, came to a screeching halt.


Public transportation was curtailed and expressways, normally bumper to bumper during rush hour traffic, were eerily quiet. Philadelphians, at home and working online, used pandemic downtime to acquaint themselves with nature. They bought binoculars and took to their windows, Fairmount Park and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Bird watching became a viable option for venturing outdoors. It was a seasoned New York birder, Christian Cooper, who alerted us to the presence of the “Karens,” a.k.a. white, privileged women, strutting amongst the pigeons in New York’s Central Park. This initial spotting prompted a summer of advisories, mostly from African Americans, of Karens who could be spotted in cities across the country, at hotels, Air B&B’s, and private family barbeques. 


Christian Cooper


In late April, as a gardener preparing for the upcoming season, I’m routinely online ordering plants. An online nursery that I’ve relied on for nearly 10 years was out of stock on every herb that I normally plant. “Out of Stock” was the resounding message from U.S. and Canada’s online suppliers. In desperation, I went to Target, thinking I could buy a few herb seeds and direct sow. Ominous was the missing display rack of seeds. Apparently, Target had sold out of flower, herb and vegetable seeds in the previous 3 weeks. They had sold out of gardening tools and gardening soil too. Confined at home, I suppose, people had decided to get into some dirt.  


The idea that we should grow more of our own food, move away from the industrial, colonized diets that we’ve become welded to allayed some of my frustrations with not being able to plant that spring. 


Then, in May, my daughter-in-law and I were in the grocery store. Leaving me in the produce section to go and grab some flour for her sister, she returned disappointed and dismayed: the shelves were bare of flour. The absence attested to how people were spending their free time. With restaurants and delicatessens shuttered, some indefinitely, the lost art of bread-making had made a comeback. As of April 28, 2020, the hashtag #quarantinecooking garnered 200,000 tags on Instagram. Jet Tita, author and chef, said that they gained over 20,000 followers during the first 4 weeks of the pandemic as they shared delicious, easy recipes for those confined indoors.  


As the pandemic-spring unfurled, so too did the debate over mask-mandates. In Wisconsin an anti-mask group claimed that mandates were nothing more than a scare tactic and organized an “Unmasking Tyranny Wisconsin” rally. During spring break, college students, unmasked and unmoved by the mandates, flocked to America’s beaches, to party and, as it was discovered a month later, to spread Covid-19. California and Florida agreed first to curtail visitors, but then eventually to close beaches for the time being. However, a popular spring-break destination, Mexico, with its tourist based-economy, only required a Covid-19 test upon entry, but was hesitant, understandably, to close the beaches. Finally, on April 20, 2020, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada agreed to limit travel, between their borders, to essential workers.


TOPSHOT - People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020. - Gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlors had a green light to reopen in the US state of Georgia on Friday as the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic soared past 50,000 in the US. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Unmasking Wisconsin Rally


Then around the middle of May, before any official declaration that the coast was clear, the quarantined began to venture outside for longer periods of time. Some folks had just decided they had had enough and declared their liberation. Some restaurants set-up outdoor seating, even as the “to mask or not to mask” debate continued to gain ground. Some groups took the mandates before State Supreme Courts. This was during the days when rumors abounded about masks, vaccines, Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates. Both men, rumored to be reptilians, became the subject of protests and the brunt of memes. These two, die hard, testosterone-waning cis men, as the accusations go, were hell-bent on a crusade, rivaling, in duplicity and brutality, that of the European Christian Crusades. 


Theirs would be the Great Reduction Crusade, clandestine, a project to reduce the population of Black and Brown bodies. The reduction would amount to some number that would put White bodies at ease, calming their fears of the consequences of their declining birth rates. Now Gates, with no medical or scientific background, would accomplish this plan by rallying for the people in question, and of threat, to get doses of his specially formulated vaccine. Fauci would champion the vaccine with solid, scientific data, all the while concealing that it would render overly fecund Black and Brown bodies sterile.


Depopulation Project Conspiracy Meme
Depopulation Project Conspiracy Meme


I remember clearly that I wrote that essay nearly 2 months before the world, well except for the Ukraine, erupted into decades of pent-up, full-on, frustration and fury. The murder of George Floyd by Minnesota cop Derek Chauvin provided the catalyst for one of summer 2020’s most redemptive and memorable features: challenging white supremacy, white patriarchy, imperialist hegemony first by demoting and dethroning their most obvious symbols. Statues of slave traders, invaders, colonizers, defenders and champions of whiteness were paint-splashed (red was the preferred color), defaced, burned, and sledge-hammered. Some, like the statue of Columbus in Baltimore, Md., were hurled into the nearest river. It was a hot summer for white supremacy. Meanwhile, Ukraine held a “Free Derek Chauvin” and “support the police” rally at the Ukrainian Cup semi-final match in June 2020.  


Robert E. Lee statue, Richmond, Virginia
Robert E. Lee statue, Richmond, Virginia


Now Chauvin had narrowly finished chewing the last morsel of his dinner on the evening of May 25, 2020 when it was decided that he would stand trial for Floyd’s murder. It would be a brief trial, a brevity unknown in U.S. history of a white cop on trial for the murder of an African American. As protests were pummeling and bulls-eyeing white supremacy, the political establishment had to make an appeasement move, and that move would require the sacrifice of a cop, Chauvin and a few thereafter.  


On Capitol Hill, between the protests against world-wide white supremacy and the arrest and arraignment of Derek Chauvin, Congressional Democratic lawmakers unveiled an ostensible sweeping police reform bill.  Not wanting to be eclipsed by 2020’s drama, the lawmakers staged a performance before the bill’s announcement. It was a slap-stick production where the publicity seekers took an 8-minute and 46-second “knee” in honor of George Floyd, while donning Ghanaian kente cloth. The performance did not elicit any comment from Colin Kaepernick but drew a few scolding remarks from some of Ghana’s Akon, the traditional weavers of kente cloth. 


Congressional Democrats taking a knee
Congressional Democrats taking a knee


Yes. I remember. We were nearing the end of the days of the clear waters at the canals of Venice, the end of pumas freely roaming the streets of Santiago, end of a worldwide decline of CO2 emissions, the end of clear, blue, quiet skies. It was about this time that U.S. airline companies slowly attempted to resume their pre-Covid-19 contributions to world travel, and greenhouse gas productions. They announced that they would once again take to the friendly skies. 


Cultural institutions, especially America’s museums, promised to do better. They would consciously include the contributions and achievements of the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, asexual, ally). Those promises were the result of the U.S.’s American Museums’ lily-white curators and boards of directors finding themselves in the hot seat as their history of racism and deliberate exclusion came to the fore. 


So here I am, over two years later, returning to this section of the blog. What’s changed?


Well first, as a result of a court order, CDC’s mask guidelines on public transportation and at transportation hubs is no longer in effect.  As of August 2022, most states do not have mask mandates for K-12 and because of numerous lawsuits, most states now establish their own mandates, per their discretion.  American Airlines, along with other carriers, advises passengers to make their own decisions about masking. 


Second, Amy Cooper, a.k.a. Central Park Karen, was fired by Franklin Templeton, her employer, for being racist. The ex-portfolio manager for the New York Investment firm lost her lawsuit against Franklin Templeton. She alleged that her employer used social media, Twitter in this case, to broadcast uncovered details about her racism that was not evidenced in the video. The tweet received over 200,000 likes along with a host of condemnatory comments. On September 22, 2022, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams rejected Central Park Karen’s defamation claim. 


Third.  Dr. Fauci, fully vaccinated and twice-boosted, contracted Covid19 in June 2022. At 81, he was prescribed Paxlovid. Fauci also announced that he would be resigning, as of December 2022, as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Republicans have vowed to investigate Fauci, regardless of his resignation, for “being a federal bureaucrat that is unable to be held accountable by the public.” https://vandrew.house.gov/media/press-releases/congressman-van-drew-responds-dr-faucis-resignation-announcement-reminder-his


As for Fauci’s depopulation co-conspirator, he’s off, according to new theories, buying up U.S. farmland. The Land Report magazine reported that Bill and Melinda Gates have the largest portfolio, 242,000 acres, of private farmland in the U.S. Apparently a firm chaired and controlled by Gates, Cascade Investment, bought the land and is a shareholder in plant-based protein companies Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods as well as agricultural equipment, giant manufacturer John Deere. Despite Gates stating that his interest is biofuel research is to halt desertification, conspiracies abound like the one contained in this tweet from Conspiracies & Comics @ConspiraciesCo


“Bill Gates put out a creepy ass video portraying himself as the last hope for corn. He’s the largest farmland owner in the US and his #1 goal is depopulation. God only knows what this psychopath is about to put in the world’s corn supply. #arrestbillgates


Then fourth, in the largest U.S. pretrial settlement, George Floyd’s family agreed to a settlement of $27M. The family sued Minneapolis for violating Floyd’s rights and for failing to properly train its police officers. In a trial that lasted a mere 3 weeks, less than a year after Floyd’s murder, Chauvin was found guilty. Sentenced to 21 years in prison, he will spend a mandatory 15 years behind bars before being eligible for parole; and with Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s public sports events have been cancelled. Due to wartime events, many Ukrainian sports clubs are facing uncertainties and possible bankruptcies.


Mural of George Floyd in L.A.’s Melrose District. 
Mural of George Floyd in L.A.’s Melrose District.


Fifth. There’s insufficient space here to detail the number of statues that were removed in the U.S. during the 2020 uprising. Some were melted down, transferred to museums, and many were damaged so badly that they had to be disposed of or, in other words, trashed. Some statues remain. In Chicago, for example, an independent commission has recommended the removal of 3 Christopher Columbus statues. Some in Chicago are also calling for the removal of the Balbo Monument because it was a gift from the fascist government of Italy, a colonial governor of Libya and supporter of the forced annexation of Ethiopia.


Sixth. In order to address republican accusations that they are soft on crime, on September 22, 2022, knee-taking Congressional democrats helped pass legislation to increase funding to U.S. police departments. In a broad bipartisan vote, 360-64, the Invest to Protect Act would give local police departments $60,000,000 per year for five years to invest in body cameras, de-escalation training and other unspecified activities.


Seventh. In addition to charges of historical racism, museums, including the MET and The Smithsonian are being called upon to return artworks that were stolen and looted. All white male curatorial boards are under scrutiny, and the museums that they represent are scrambling to rebrand themselves. Under pressure to account for the lack of representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities in their exhibits and curatorial staffs, many museums cancelled exhibitions in 2021 in an attempt to regroup. The Philadelphia Museum of Art hired Alphonso Atkins Jr., for “developing and overseeing a comprehensive strategy to achieve the institution’s goals of becoming more inclusive and creating a more equitable workplace culture that better reflects the diversity of Philadelphia and the global communities that the museum serves.” https://press.philamuseum.org/museum-appoints-alphonso-atkins-as-deputy-director-for-deia-following-nationwide-search/


Protest at Brooklyn Museum, New York
Brooklyn Museum, New York


Eighth. The gardening boom seen during the pandemic has maintained its steam. The majority of new gardeners are millennials, and the UN reported earlier in 2022 that over 800 million people, one-tenth of the world’s population, are practitioners of urban farming. Also, urban farming did not exactly gain popularity during the pandemic. The idea of Urban Agriculture and Farming has been connected to social justice and environmental movements since the 1970’s. NYC, which started its first city farm in 1902, has over 550 community, city property gardens, and over 700 gardens at public housing developments. Legalizing urban agriculture in 2012, Detroit, known has having the first sustainable “agrihood,” boasts of having over 1500 community gardens and farms.


Now back to that last Ascension, Resurrections, Shifts and Transformations’ essay of 2020. 


In the following year, 2021, there were an estimated 1,250 deaths attributed to the opioid crisis in Philadelphia. The majority of these deaths involved fentanyl that has penetrated into, not just heroine, but cocaine and methamphetamines. The opioid crisis remains a challenge in a city where opioid deaths are higher than homicides.


Finally, on consulting with family members, no one seems to be aware of any relatives who are still living in Chattanooga. The one last family contact left Tennessee, supposedly heading north, some years ago.


~Akilah t’Zuberi