One side effect of the COVID-19 outbreak so far has been an increase in xenophobic behavior nationally and globally. When President Donald Trump refers to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” it provokes hostility towards the Asian population, thus invoking fear inside the minds of Asian citizens.
The virus is also exploiting the racial inequalities present in United States society. Black people are contracting and dying at a higher rate from the virus than any other group in the country, according to an article from the New York Times, and the fact that black people are more likely to be uninsured than any other group, based on a study conducted by The Century Foundation in 2019, only makes matters worse.
Much of this is still flying under the radar, but local groups such as Dryden-Groton Belonging are doing their best to bring these issues to light. Dryden-Groton Belonging was founded about three years ago by Freeville resident Anne Rhodes and Dryden resident Mike Bishop.
Rhodes said the group was started because there were not enough anti-racist efforts taking place outside the City of Ithaca.
“We felt the need for some of this anti-racist work do be going on in the rural areas, and not just downtown in Ithaca,” Rhodes said.
The group consists of roughly 20 people from all over the county. The group mainly focuses on educating white residents on what is an is not anti-racist behavior, though there are people of color who attend the meetings. Rhodes said the group is certainly open to people of color, despite the group’s focus.
“Partly it’s all of us examining our own attitudes and each of us offering any kind of resources that we come across that might be useful to each other,” Rhodes said what takes place at group gatherings. “Like articles that we’ve read or books that we’ve read or people we’ve talked to. People start to share that kind of information. It’s not educational in the sense that Mike and I come prepared with a curriculum and people are passive and students and we’re the teachers. It’s not like that at all. It’s much more equal and people share ideas and thoughts.”
“Sometimes there’s disagreement and people don’t realize the impact – the racist impact – of something that they’ve said, something that they thought. So we have to deal with that. People do correct each other and say, ‘Have you thought about the impact of that if you said it like that?’”
Eric Kurtz, a Dryden resident and a member of the group, said he has been pleased to find people who share the same views on the topic of racism and that he feels more confident that he and the rest of the group can make changes for the better.
“It showed me that there are people in the area who have reached an admission to themselves, and ourselves as a society, as having this problem and needing to fix it,” Kurtz said. “Recently, there have been several people of color who attended [a meeting]. Just made me feel like I’m engaging with the right people – people who have lived with it, whose families have lived with it for literally centuries.”
The group tries to bring awareness to individuals’ behaviors and actions and allow members to question their impacts.
“For example, someone said that she was working with young people – I don’t remember where it was – and trying to get them to understand that even though we look different on the outside – the color of our skin or what our hair looks like – inside we’re all the same,” Rhodes said. “Once we talked about that for a while, we realized that was really not accurate in the sense that black and brown people have very different life experiences on the inside than white people do. And if white people just assume, ‘Oh, you’re just like me and your life is just like my life, and your experiences are just like my experiences,’ then that erases racism and the impact of racism among people’s lives.”
The group also takes actions, like talking with local superintendents and talking about the ways in which racism is presenting itself in the schools. Currently, members of the group have been tackling some of the issues present during the COVID-19 epidemic.
“One of things that’s happening is that there are a number of national and regional issues that are coming up at this time, partly because of the anti-Asian feelings,” Rhodes said. “Partly because the situations in jails where people are crowded together and COVID is spreading rapidly in jails, and there are a lot of people in jail who are there because they couldn’t pay bail, which is ridiculous to put their lives in danger because they didn’t have enough money to pay bail. Those people should get released. There are a lot of people in jails and prisons who have nonviolent offenses, who could be put on parole and monitored in order to decrease the prison population so COVID doesn’t have such a breeding ground.”
Rhodes said members of the group have been researching the Tompkins County Jail, specifically on its current population, how crowded it is and if people are being released to reduce the population.
“What we’ve found out is that they already did move some people out,” Rhodes said. “There are only about 22 people in the Tompkins County jail right now, and they are pretty spread out and the jail is taking precautions to protect them.”
Kurtz encourages anyone interested to join, but for white individuals interested in joining, he said they need to be prepared and comfortable with assessing one’s behaviors and actions.
“If they’re interested they got to be ready to have done or do a little self-examination and realize and accept we’re all part of the problem,” he said. “And we’re pretty open and frank about that in our talks.”