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Lifting the veil: understanding the clarity this moment offers

I’m terrified to go outside.
I don’t know what people see when they look at me.

Do they see a strong, resilient, educated woman?
Do they see someone who is their ancestors’ wildest dreams?
Do they see a woman who has friends and family they love?

I’m terrified to go outside.
I don’t know what people see when they look at me.

Do you only see my skin color?
Do you only see the stereotypes others created for me?
Do you only see your fear?

I’m terrified to go outside.
I don’t know what people see when they look at me.

My brothers and sisters are villainized for asking questions.
My brothers and sisters are detained for walking on a public street.
My brothers and sisters are killed for existing.

I’m terrified to go outside.
I don’t know what people see when they look at me.

I wonder when I will be harassed for existing.
I wonder when the police will be called to my door.
I wonder when I will be the one mourned.

I’m terrified to go outside.

– Laura Cañate, MBA ’18

The last few weeks and months have been a time of jarring contrasts. Community members donating masks sewn by hand to protect essential workers, while mask-free revelers flout distancing mandates at pools and beaches. Groups of armed white demonstrators march against stay-at-home orders at state capitols with impunity, while for Black Americans the simple act of walking down the street, jogging or birdwatching can be fraught with danger, and even end in death. Too many are left to wonder, as does UW MBA alumna Laura Cañate, ‘18, “when I will be the one mourned.”

Many of us have seen those compelling “before and after” pandemic pictures of cityscapes around the world. The before pictures show buildings shrouded by pollution while the after pictures reveal majestic mountains or vast stretches of squalid, overcrowded houses in the background. It’s like a veil has been lifted allowing us to see more clearly what was there all along.

Periods of upheaval and crisis both test and reveal our character, as individuals, communities and nations. Over the last few weeks and months, I’ve written about the courage and creativity of so many in our community. I’ve never been prouder of our faculty, students and staff and I am confident that we can and will continue to learn and grow together, building toward a healthier future for all.

But first, we must seize the clarity this moment offers. Painful though it may be, we must face up to the inequities this pandemic has laid bare, and the ugliness that it has revealed. We ARE all in this together, I wear a mask not to protect me, but to protect you. And it is also unquestionably true, that we are not all on equal footing. There are class and race differences not only in who can work from home, and who must venture out, but in who has kept their job and who hasn’t. While low-income and communities of color are more apt to work at jobs that require them to be there in person, these same jobs are less likely to come with health care or sick leave. These communities are more apt to be in neighborhoods characterized by overcrowding and with less access to healthy food choices and recreational activities, conditions that no doubt play a role in the fact that people of color are more apt to suffer complications and even death from COVID-19.

These structural inequities, and the institutional racism that they reflect, create and amplify the conditions that led to the appalling ugliness that we’ve seen in the last few days and weeks — laid bare once again by ubiquity of cellphone cameras. The post-pandemic goal should not be to go back to the way it was. We must do better. As we enter into a period where a new vigilance around hygiene and closeness will become habitual, and where we measure the consequences of our individual actions not just by their effect on our own health, but on how they might affect our family and friends, let’s create a “new normal” where attention to issues of equity becomes habitual as well. In this community, in our community, we can and we will continue our work to address issues of equity, racism and bias. The veil has been lifted. We cannot give up – or go back.

Laura, I see you, I hear you. I know the smart, strong, sensitive woman that you are. I know your pain. My brother has been murdered next to yours, leaving a hole in my heart and life that can never be filled. And to you and all Black students, faculty and staff, while I can only imagine what it’s like to walk in your shoes because my light skin protects me from your terror, I can and will walk with you.

George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor — say their names, see their faces, hear their cries. Weep, then act.