The ‘Reopen’ Protests Echo America’s Racist History

There’s a lot more going on here than just wanting to get back to work

Aaron Gell
GEN
Published in
6 min readApr 24, 2020

--

Photo sources: Karen Ducey, Spencer Platt, Joe Raedle, Irfan Khan/Getty Images

On Monday evening, as Georgia residents began speculating about the motivations behind Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to begin lifting restrictions on gyms, hair salons, massage parlors, and bowling alleys, among other businesses — even before the state had met federal benchmarks for easing up on social distancing rules — one of his constituents offered a theory.

In a Facebook post that quickly went viral, George Chidi, a former council member in the metro Atlanta area who now works in public policy, suggested Kemp was simply motivated by a desire to save money. If businesses reopen, state labor policies will prevent workers from claiming unemployment — forcing them to either risk their lives by returning to work or forego financial assistance. “This isn’t a decision being driven by epidemiology,” Chidi wrote. “It’s the rawest and most lethal of political decisions, and it will kill people.”

On Friday, Georgia begins easing social distancing restrictions — with South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas expected to follow in the coming days — as the media’s focus has shifted from eerie images of empty streets and refrigerated trucks full of bodies to the emergence of a protest movement loudly demanding an immediate return to normal life, Dr. Fauci be damned. And for many, the push to simply move on as if nothing’s amiss, and the apparent willingness among conservative politicians and business owners to sacrifice human lives for financial gain, echoes a racist history in which black people were considered expendable. “It has deepened cynicism about government in general and the intentions of white people in power in particular,” Chidi said in an interview.

A glance at the agitators reveals a common trait: They are overwhelmingly white. Many carried signs expressing support for Donald Trump. And although the president insists the demonstrators are “very responsible people,” the protests have in…

--

--

Aaron Gell
GEN
Writer for

Medium editor-at-large, with bylines in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and numerous other publications. ¶ aarongell.com