Relative deprivation is a peculiarity of human perception and fact. The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt many people in many ways. As public health researchers study the virus and learn more about its behavior, they have learned that it attacks humans in many ways. However, it has become clear that in the US, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and other marginalized minorities get sick and die from the novel coronavirus at much greater rates than whites do.
When objectively measured, some folks experience more deprivation, relative to others. The attention turned to police violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd has highlighted the much higher rates of police killings and mass incarceration of Blacks and other people of color than of whites.
These same folks suffer from a range of deprivations inflicted on them by a society in which, for many in the dominant classes, Black lives do not matter. If “all lives matter”—an assertion meant to deny that the law, the economy, and the society do not treat Blacks fairly—then why must Black folks shout “Black Lives Matter”? Objectively measured, Black lives suffer relative deprivation in countless ways because so many treat them as if their lives do not matter.
Expectations, High and Low
The perception of deprivation is relative to expectations. I know middle-class white folks living in relatively crime-free suburban neighborhoods with low rates of COVID-19 infection who have expressed growing stress and anxiety over orders to stay in their comfortable homes. Are their lives really so boring?
In the inconvenience of their isolation from the restaurants, bars, theaters, boutiques, theme parks, gyms, and tourist destinations they had previously frequented, many affluent whites feel very deprived of the consumer pleasures to which they have felt entitled for so long.
At the same time, they feel terrified by media reports of public protests, riots, and looting, which occur in central business districts far from their suburban bubble. They feel deprived of the security to which they are accustomed. At the same time, their suburban isolation prevents them from perceiving the real deprivations suffered by people of color every day.
Nevertheless, all across the country young white people are joining the protests here and around the world against police violence, and police immunity from prosecution for killings and beatings that they commit at far greater rates than in most other nations. Most nations do not have police immunity laws. A crime is a crime whether the perpetrator is a citizen or a cop. Yet, the US culture of violence encourages public tolerance of unprovoked police violence until the media display it too graphically to deny its evil.
Community Life and Mutual Aid
Meanwhile, a growing insurgency of community-level mutual support is brewing across the land. As federal support for public health measures flounders under the damage done by political manipulation and profiteering, people in diverse locales sew cloth facemasks while others produce face shields of plastic on 3D printers. Others form groups to feed the growing numbers of new and permanent homeless alike in the wake of the economic shutdown. Mutual aid is experiencing a resurgence in the face of the abject failures of the corporate state.
Rebecca Solnit is famous for her writing about mutual support in the face of natural disasters. Crises tend to bring out both the very best human impulses, as in the mask-making for health workers and collecting and delivering desperately needed supplies to remote members of the Navaho Nation.
In the case of the peaceful protests following George Floyde’s murder by police, a few nihilists and opportunists exploited the protests by vandalizing property and looting stores. Solnit’s book, A Paradise Built in Hell detailed various cases of the rise of community altruism and generosity in the aftermath of disasters. The agitators and opportunists add up to a noisy destructive sideshow.
Petr Kropotkin demonstrated in his 1902 review of animal and human behavior through history, that mutual aid is not only an effective evolutionary tool. The mutual support once so common in village communities–before nation-states took control–is a natural tendency expressed by people everywhere. With the multiple failures of the ‘modern’ corporate state, a resurgence of self-supporting communities is underway.