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Monitor Daily Podcast

June 29, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

An award for writing on deadline – with heart

Writing effectively on a tight deadline can test the most seasoned of journalists. Doing so with a sense of humanity and place is particularly demanding. So we are pleased to report that the Monitor’s Africa bureau chief, Ryan Lenora Brown, has been awarded a 2019 Sigma Delta Chi Award for deadline reporting by the Society of Professional Journalists. 

The story involved a legal challenge to a colonial-era law in Botswana that criminalized gay sex. Ryan was interested in how a small country in Africa might play a large role in a global trend of such challenges.

So on June 11, 2019, Ryan was in the courtroom in Gaborone, Botswana, to hear the ruling. She was the only foreign journalist present. She had talked the night before to the plaintiff, Letsweletse Motshidiemang, and discovered she was the only foreign journalist to contact him about his experiences growing up and his motivation for action – details that challenged some of her assumptions. After the ruling, he talked with her again, this time through tears of joy.

Ryan says coverage of the history-making case had offered little beyond basic facts. “I wanted to center it on his perspective, regardless of the outcome. That made it a story that came out on deadline but had the richness of his words,” she says. It speaks to the importance of going to places that don’t generate international headlines, she adds: “To be there and experience it made all the difference in what I was able to tell.” 

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In Sun Belt, will rising cases cause less pandemic politicking?

Americans have seen divisions deepen over handling the pandemic. Now, as cases surge, they’re finding personal beliefs and regional values pitted against what experts say is a growing imperative to take responsibility for one another.

Amelia
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Benigno Enriquez (right) elbow-bumps Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at a mask distribution event, June 26, 2020, in a COVID-19 hot spot of the Little Havana neighborhood. Florida's confirmed coronavirus cases almost doubled the previous mark set two days before.

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June’s spike in coronavirus cases has put the spotlight on states whose Republican governors ballyhooed their decisions to reopen ahead of meeting federal guidelines. They include Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida, Doug Ducey in Arizona, and Greg Abbott in Texas.

“Unfortunately when we cracked open that door, everyone took that as a sign that it was safe and everyone charged through,” says Angela Clendenin, an assistant professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health. At the same time, she adds, “It is really challenging to have to make decisions in that environment. ...”

Now, Sun Belt governors are ordering bars closed and local officials are shutting down beaches and pleading with residents to wear masks in public.

In Florida’s Nassau County, chef Ricky Pigg says he finds comfort in supporting the community, even if some restaurant patrons get mad when he wears a mask.

“I’m going to sound like an old hippie, which I’m not, but this now requires empathy and understanding, respecting each other’s decisions, helping each other, and being transparent,” says Mr. Pigg. “The only way to get through it is together.”

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1. In Sun Belt, will rising cases cause less pandemic politicking?

When Ricky Pigg, chef-owner of Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro in Fernandina Beach, Florida, emerges to talk to patrons, he wears a face covering, bandido-style.

His diligence has earned him a Nassau Safe certification from the local Chamber of Commerce, but he is also met by glares of contempt from some patrons who feel it is inappropriate for the chef to refuse to remove his mask.

“It is strange how stressful and emotional just being cautious has become,” he says.

Mr. Pigg’s experience comes amid a national reckoning as populous Sun Belt states from South Carolina to Texas see dramatic spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, causing officials to rein in reopenings and plead for residents to wear masks in crowds. On Monday, Jacksonville, Florida, mandated masks be worn indoors and in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“Unfortunately when [Texas] cracked open that door, everyone took that as a sign that it was safe and everyone charged through,” says Angela Clendenin, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Texas A&M School of Public Health. At the same time, she adds, “It is really challenging to have to make decisions in that environment, especially one where the disease you’re trying to contain and control sometimes makes a sharp left turn on you.”

The challenges in not just the South, but also the West, suggest that the United States is entering a “long slog” phase of the pandemic, pitting personal beliefs and regional values against what experts say is a growing imperative for Americans to take responsibility for one another.

“It’s a mystery to many of us what’s going on. ... You have to think about it with a great deal of humility,” says Michael Osterholm, author of “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs.”

“When we did the national lockdown, we never created an expectation of what it was going to be, other than it was a short-term type of program that would respond to the initial curve that we’re trying to shave off. When it was kept in place, people said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t know if I agreed to this,’” he adds. Summer weather and a virus that hit harder in some spots than in others also exacerbated issues. “You put those together and we were just primed to see what we are, in fact, now seeing.”

Southern states now seeing spikes in cases so far have lower death tolls than those seen in Northern states in the spring. The average age of those testing positive has declined to the mid-30s, who may experience less severe symptoms. But public health experts say deaths are a lagging indicator, and it will take two to four weeks to know whether the death toll from the current spike will truly be lower.

Mirroring trends in Arizona, Florida, and California, hospitalizations in Texas from the virus have tripled since the start of June, according to state data, with just over 5,500 COVID-19 patients as of Saturday. Last week, the Texas Medical Center in Houston reported that its intensive care units hit 100% capacity.

The percentage of tests for the virus that come back positive has been steadily climbing since May. The seven-day positivity rate in Texas last week was just over 13%, compared with 1% in New York, the previous U.S. epicenter, with hospitalizations in that state dropping below 1,000 for the first time last week.

Although only two states have seen declines in cases, the spike has put the spotlight on states whose Republican governors ballyhooed their decisions to reopen ahead of meeting federal guidelines. They include Govs. Ron DeSantis in Florida, Doug Ducey in Arizona, and Greg Abbott in Texas.

An April poll by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas at Austin found that, while 66% of Texas voters considered the coronavirus a serious crisis, 72% were “extremely” or “very” concerned about the national economy.

By rushing to reopen their economies, Governor Abbott, and perhaps other Sun Belt governors “gambled on their ability to manage this, and frankly on the fact that people would be compliant and cooperative,” says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “As of now, that’s not working out.”

The spikes mean that the virus is “becoming more real for people,” says Austin resident Larry Tu, stopping to get ice cream on Saturday with his three children.

Polls show Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a lead over President Donald Trump in Republican Sun Belt strongholds, including Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Some 55% of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the virus, while 40% approve, according to poll averages compiled by the website FiveThirtyEight.

On Friday Governors Abbott and DeSantis reversed course and closed bars just a day after Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox News, “We won’t be going back.” Mr. Abbott also banned tubing and ordered restaurants back to 50% capacity, saying the virus had taken “a dangerous turn” and for Texans to be vigilant.

Even as President Trump has pushed reopening economies, downplayed mask-wearing, and held the nation’s first large gathering to support his reelection campaign, the on-a-dime-turn in tone and policy in Texas and Florida suggests that Republican governors are willing to set politics aside in order to safeguard their publics.

“There is a price to be paid for being visibly unserious about this stuff, and these governors know that,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Adamary Carrillo (left) and Maynor Ochoa, rising seniors at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School, picnic in Mueller Lake Park in Austin, Texas. “Because we reopened everything, people probably thought that [COVID-19] went away, when in real life ...it was still here,” says Maynor.

In Mueller Lake Park on Saturday, Adamary Carillo and Maynor Ochoa, rising seniors at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School, admit that the virus may have taken a back seat in many people’s minds.

“Especially with the other problems, it took away the attention from this,” says Adamary, noting large protests against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on Memorial Day.

“Because we reopened everything, people probably thought that everything went away, when in real life ... it was still here,” adds Maynor.

In shutting down some businesses again, Mr. Abbott is doing what he said he might have to do. But his leadership has been combative and confusing at times, adds Professor Henson, and it’s fair to ask if the governor “conveyed sufficient urgency about the degree to which people had to modify their behavior for this phased opening to work.”

“The far-right forces in his party are out there and clearly casting a shadow over his every policy move,” he continues. “That’s where some of the impetus to open up quickly, and some of the reluctance to backtrack when the numbers started moving in the wrong direction, came from.”

Confusion caused by pandemic politicking has also manifested in disputes between the governor and local Democratic officials. The reopening order superseded any local orders that may conflict with it – localities, for example, couldn’t impose fines or penalties on people not wearing face coverings in public.

In mid-June, as cases continued to rise in Bexar County, home to San Antonio, county Judge Nelson Wolff mandated that local businesses require employees and customers to wear masks. The order, he said, “may be pushing the legal bounds a little bit.”

Instead of objecting, as he had done in the past, Governor Abbott a few days later said that Judge Wolff “finally figured that out.”

But sociologists who study the interplay of behavior and public health say that personal values and risk assessment carry more weight than politics in how people respond to public health crises – including, in the South, “an ideological reluctance to tell people what to do,” says Professor Jillson.

“It would be a mistake to say that messaging would cure this, or if only people had more information they would understand more,” says Jennifer Reich, author of “Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines.” “People tend to not just do what they know but do what feels true. It’s not knowledge that leads to perfect health behaviors, but values and a sense of identity and how things work for your own life.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Ricky Pigg, chef-owner of Joe's 2nd Street Bistro in Fernardina Beach, Florida, on June 28, 2020, talks about Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to close bars for a second time as the state sees a fivefold increase in coronavirus infections in the last two weeks.

 

In Florida’s Nassau County, Mr. Pigg says he finds comfort in supporting the community, even if patrons get mad when he wears a mask.

“I’m going to sound like an old hippie, which I’m not, but this now requires empathy and understanding, respecting each other’s decisions, helping each other, and being transparent,” says Mr. Pigg. “The only way to get through it is together.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

A deeper look

Will America still go out to eat? One restaurateur’s moment of truth.

A Boston restaurant’s reopening showcases the challenge of reviving the economy’s social side – and its millions of jobs – at a moment of physical distancing.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff
Host Joe Dagnello takes reservations at Porto in Back Bay on June 10, 2020, in Boston. Restaurants in Massachusetts, which were only allowed to sell takeout during pandemic restrictions, were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining on June 8.

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“It took six years to build this company,” says Jonathan Mendez. “And it took 48 hours to wind it down. It was psychologically devastating.”

Mr. Mendez is talking about the moment this spring when he and his business partners had to shut down their handful of Boston-area restaurants, laying off their staff of 350, including themselves. 

Now as Massachusetts slowly reopens from a coronavirus lockdown, Mr. Mendez and his colleagues are trying to resurrect the restaurants, which draw their culinary inspiration from coastal Greece. 

Their effort symbolizes a wider nationwide test. Emergency federal loans are helping, but at some point customers have to return, or businesses like these restaurants won’t survive. At stake are millions of jobs and also the character of communities, where eateries serve as vital anchors. 

The biggest unknown is us. Do we as consumers feel comfortable going out despite the pandemic? For Benjamin Sullivan, a health care worker enjoying an outdoor patio table, the answer is yes. “Part of the reason we moved here, to live here, is for the restaurants and other activities,” he says. “If we don't support them now, they won’t be here for us later.”

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2. Will America still go out to eat? One restaurateur’s moment of truth.

The patio tables are starting to fill up with early bird revelers as Jonathan Mendez strolls up to the greeter’s table. He’s not here to snag a table but to see how the restaurant, part of a group that he helps manage, is adapting to pandemic-era rules of dining out in a city that was a coronavirus hotspot just a month ago. 

The tables are now spaced far apart on the patio. There’s no silverware or condiments. Waiters wear masks and gloves. Shared plates are off the menu. Tables are turned over every two hours and doused in disinfectant.

It’s the second night of reopening for sit-down dining at Porto, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant in the ritzy Back Bay district.

Mr. Mendez turns to Jody Adams, his business partner and executive chef. “We need a bigger sign,” he says, pointing to the small-type note on the greeter’s table that describes the “precautionary procedures” that Porto has adopted. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Jonathan Mendez (center), a co-founder of Saloniki Greek, talks with Andrew Viglas (left), a barber from a shop across the street, as he orders lunch on the restaurant's first day of reopening for takeout on May 28, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

These procedures include face coverings for all employees. In Boston, however, the same goes for anyone out in public. Ms. Adams turns to the patio and nods at a table of 20-somethings. “They’re not wearing their masks. Some of them don’t even have a mask,” she says. 

Mr. Mendez sighs. His job is about hospitality, making people feel comfortable and happy to splurge on a nice meal in a convivial setting. Not cajoling them to wear a mask when they’re probably going out for the first time in months and want the pandemic out of mind. 

Tonight’s turnout is testament to the enduring appeal of eating out as both a social and culinary experience. Yet between the new costs of reopening and the caution many consumers feel, the near-term survival of eateries like Porto is anything but guaranteed.  

At stake are the personal dreams of people like Mr. Mendez. But it’s also more than that. With roughly 650,000 U.S. restaurants employing more than 15 million people, a wave of failures would leave long-term economic damage – and gaping holes where there were once communal anchors in city centers and small towns alike.

“The entrepreneur in me has the appetite for risk and to reopen,” Mr. Mendez told me earlier. “But when you reopen you may only get one shot at it.” 

Before the pandemic hit, Americans spent more money eating out than eating in their homes, and new restaurant openings served as barometers of economic vitality. “We are the fabric of the community,” says Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “We employ your neighbors, your daughters, your sons.” 

It’s a tough business even in the best of times – profit margins rarely exceed 5%. And as restaurants start to reopen, guidelines on social distancing are upending the way they operate, particularly in pricey cities like Boston and New York where dining tables are shoehorned into tight spaces. 

Reduced occupancy by fiat means reduced revenues, says Doug Roth, an industry consultant and third-generation restaurant owner in Chicago. “How much volume can you do to be able to cover costs and to get to a point of profitability? We just don’t know.”

Since April, when 4 in 10 restaurants had closed their doors, some have reopened, propped up by a spray of federal dollars and, in some cases, rent reprieves from landlords, but they’re not yet on a firm footing, warns Mr. Roth. “This is the eye of the hurricane.” 

For the hospitality industry, the biggest unknown is us. Do we feel comfortable going out in a pandemic? Is it enjoyable to eat at a becalmed restaurant that has to keep your contact details in case an infection is reported that night? Or do we stick with the dine-in, order-in habits acquired under lockdown, our new norm in a coronavirus world?

The survival of Mr. Mendez’s restaurants depends on it. And he’s not going down without a fight. 

Entrepreneur dreams – and flexibility

Some aspiring lawyers wait tables to pay for school. For Mr. Mendez, it was a restaurant job that delivered him from law school. After stints in arbitration courts and political consulting, Mr. Mendez was offered a job at the family-owned restaurant of a friend, Eric Papachristos, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His deferred law-school spot could wait.  

When Mr. Papachristos opened a Boston restaurant in 2011 called Trade, Mr. Mendez came along.

“What struck me when I first met him was a sense of maturity,” says Ms. Adams, who ran the kitchen. “He was starting out in a business that I’d been in for a long time. He’s got a wonderful, natural sense of hospitality.” 

He also had ideas. A foodie trip to Greece with Mr. Papachristos, who had spent much of his childhood there, left Mr. Mendez asking: Why can’t I find this food in Boston? Not the standard Greek-American dishes, but the simple flavors of everyday meals, at a reasonable price. 

The result was the opening in 2016 of Saloniki Greek, a sandwich shop that uses modern recipes that Ms. Adams vetted with Mr. Papachristos’ family in Greece. The three are partners in Saloniki Greek, which now has three restaurants in Boston and Cambridge. (Mr. Mendez isn’t a partner in Porto, the other restaurant in the group.) 

This year they had planned to open a Saloniki at Boston’s Logan International Airport and at two other locations, potentially doubling the group’s annual revenues of $19 million, according to Mr. Papachristos, the chief executive. In March, he got his board’s approval to raise money to invest in three more restaurants in 2021. “We wanted to expand. It was exciting,” he says. 

A week or so later, that timeline was toast: Mr. Papachristos laid off his entire staff of nearly 350 people, including himself, Ms. Adams, and Mr. Mendez. 

“It took six years to build this company from the idea to the business plan to the capital raised to opening the doors. And it took 48 hours to wind it down. It was psychologically devastating,” says Mr. Mendez.  

Mr. Mendez is stocky, his firm biceps a mark of a gym habit that the pandemic has snapped. He wears his brown hair slicked back, and his beard, behind a face mask, has flecks of ginger. 

By April, he was back at Saloniki’s Fenway restaurant, offering delivery and takeout at a much reduced volume. Together with Ms. Adams, he also raised $72,000 for a charity drive to feed thousands of hospital workers and supply food pantries in hard-hit migrant communities, including those of kitchen staff at Saloniki and Porto, some of whom are unauthorized.  

“It unleashed all of our collective creativity and flexibility,” he says of the pandemic. “There’s so much uncertainty and it’s the only way to deal with it.”  

The pandemic also pushed him into advocacy, as he joined the Independent Restaurant Coalition, formed in March to lobby lawmakers for relief. In June the coalition scored a victory when Congress agreed to revise the $669 billion Paycheck Protection Program for small business loans. Borrowers now have longer periods to pay back loans and aren’t required to spend it all down this summer. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Customers Ian Meyers (left) and Kion Sawney wipe their hands before picking up takeout at Saloniki Greek's Fenway location on June 1, 2020, in Boston. The state requires alcohol hand sanitizers to be available at entrances, exits, and in dining areas.

Mr. Mendez’s group obtained a loan that allowed it to rehire workers during the lockdown. Under the revamped program, loans are now forgivable if at least 60% goes to payroll; the initial minimum was set at 75%. “That’s very helpful. That’s a working line of capital,” he says. 

Despite the lifeline, loans will only go so far if customers are loath to go out and to spend in a recession, says Holly Wade, director of research and policy analysis at the National Federation of Independent Business. Some businesses may never reopen. “It’s a fine line between temporarily closed and permanently closed. We’ll know in the next few months what that looks like,” she says. 

Open and uncertain

Three days after Memorial Day, Mr. Mendez flipped the open sign on the door of Saloniki Greek in Harvard Square and circled back to his stool at the mosaic-and-marble bar. For months, this had been his private office: an espresso machine and an empty dining room. Now it was open, and though he knew it would be slow, he had rehired 10 more employees, and it felt good.

At a cluster of tables inside the door, where takeout and delivery orders are picked up, Daniela Rodriguez stood folding cardboard takeout containers. A Colombian immigrant, she chatted with customers in English and with Mr. Mendez, when he passed by, in Spanish.

“This is my first day back. I was at home almost three months,” she says, her eyes smiling above her mask. “I’m excited. I’m feeling good. I missed my co-workers. And my work.”

Harry Asimis, her Greek co-worker, has been busier. Mr. Mendez rehired him in April to work in the kitchen at Fenway, which gave him a chance to learn new skills, he explains while preparing an iced cappuccino. “The situation was super-intense for everyone. Many people lost their jobs. I mean, we could not move to see our families, especially if our families are abroad,” he says. 

He hopes his former co-workers can all eventually return. “Everyone is worried, especially in the restaurant business. We don’t know when it’s going to get back to normal,” he says. 

Before reopening, Mr. Mendez had run staff through new sanitary routines. Everyone had brought two sets of clothes so they could change before entering the kitchen. Having gone over the safety measures, each staffer was asked to sign a document that committed them to social distancing outside work hours, a mutual coronavirus-prevention pledge. 

The costs of reopening are high: retraining staff, buying protective equipment, refitting dining rooms for social distancing. According to the National Restaurant Association, 7 out of 10 U.S. restaurants are individually owned. A real risk is that, even as deeper-pocketed national chains survive, grit and customer goodwill won’t be enough to save many of these local eateries that help define a community. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Daniela Rodriguez checks her temperature as a part of new staff procedures at Saloniki Greek on May 28, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Staffers are also asked to sign a document that commits them to social distancing outside work hours, a mutual coronavirus-prevention pledge.

Pandemic meets a different brutality

As expected, Thursday lunchtime at Saloniki’s Harvard branch is slow. Six customers show up in the first hour. Still, many seem delighted to see that a local eatery has reopened. 

“The food’s good. It’s affordable,” says Andrew Viglas, who cuts hair across the street, as he waits at the door to pick up a chicken souvlaki. Unlike the restaurant, his barbershop has been “slammed” since opening a few days before, but today is calmer, he says. Asked about dining out again at a restaurant, Mr. Viglas is wary. “I’m still a little nervous, but that’s today’s world.”

On the walls inside are poster-sized black-and-white photos of waiters and customers smiling and laughing at a seaside restaurant in Thessaloniki, Greece. One shows Mr. Mendez and Mr. Papachristos during a trip they took two years ago in search of culinary inspiration. Mr. Mendez points out that everyone is elbow-to-elbow and no one is wearing a mask. 

When Mr. Papachristos flew to Greece on May 1 this year to visit his fiancée – the two had planned to marry in the U.S. this summer – he barely left the house for the first week. “It was a serious lockdown,” he says. Then Greece started to ease up, and restaurants and bars filled up again. So far, it has worked: Greece has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe. 

Mr. Papachristos began thinking that perhaps the U.S. could do the same, and that his restaurants would revive. On May 31, having postponed his wedding, he flew back to Boston. 

That night, Mr. Mendez was driving back from New York to Boston. Two days earlier, Gov. Charlie Baker had released his reopening plan for Massachusetts that put restaurants on notice of a tentative June reopening for outdoor dining that was the talk of Boston’s restaurant scene. 

But as he drove home, Mr. Mendez got a flurry of texts from friends and colleagues about something else. Turn on the news, they told him. It’s going crazy here. 

That weekend, protest marches against the killing of George Floyd had convulsed cities across the country, including Boston. On May 31, nighttime protests turned violent in downtown Boston, with vandals smashing windows and looting stores near Porto. 

Mr. Mendez drove slowly into a city of flashing police sirens and broken glass, unsure if Porto had been hit and wondering if it even made sense to reopen a patio restaurant in a city aflame. 

“It was one of those moments when you throw up your hands and you surrender to the ridiculousness of everything – 2020 has been one wave after another,” he says. 

But while looters ransacked next-door Saks Fifth Avenue, Porto was spared. 

A week later, Ms. Adams was on the phone with the landlord asking to expand their patio onto a pedestrian walkway. Waist-high concrete planters were slid into place and more tables set widely apart to prepare for the return of outdoor customers under the coronavirus guidelines. (Indoor dining resumed last week in Massachusetts, subject to distancing rules.) 

“It’s more truncated hospitality,” says Mr. Mendez of the Porto dining experience. “But everyone is cool with it because everyone is on the same page. It’s been a lot of downtime for restaurants and they need to make money.” 

His third Saloniki branch near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is still closed, as is Trade, the restaurant that serves an affluent office crowd. Nobody is sure when that crowd will be back in force, nor when Cambridge’s student population will return. 

“I envision a slow climb. Each step has to be taken very carefully,” says Ms. Adams, who is the group’s chief culinary officer (Mr. Mendez’s title is chief operating officer.)  

Ann Hermes/Staff
At Porto, Benjamin Sullivan and Jennifer Granger enjoy a meal on June 10, 2020, their first dining out meal since restaurants closed for the pandemic. The couple had talked about leaving the suburbs for years, and moved into Boston in January for the amenities of the city.

At a table at the end of the patio, Benjamin Sullivan and Jennifer Granger clinked glasses and dug into their first restaurant meal in three months. “It’s great. It feels nice just to be outside,” says Mr. Sullivan, who was dressed casually in shorts and a Red Sox polo shirt. He had been chatting to diners at the adjacent tables. “It feels like months since I said hi to anyone.”

In January, the couple swapped a condo in Boston’s suburbs for a high-rise apartment in this swanky district, thrilled by all the amenities at their doorstep. They only made it to two Celtic games before the shutdown, says Ms. Granger, a director of student activities and orientation at Lasell University. “We enjoyed our neighborhood for a hot second,” she laughs.  

It was their first time at Porto and they were loving it. “Just to be able to sit outside and smile and enjoy the view and the weather,” says Mr. Sullivan, who works in health care. 

When they found out Porto was to reopen they checked out the seating and safety precautions, then booked a table. After all, this was city living, the dream they nurtured in the suburbs. 

“Part of the reason we moved here, to live here, is for the restaurants and other activities,” Mr. Sullivan says. “If we don’t support them now they won’t be here for us later.”

Staff writer Stephen Humphries contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

One pandemic, many safety nets

In a pandemic, is a fast government check better than a larger one?

The restaurant business is also a place where another pandemic-related issue is on display: countries’ safety nets. This is Part 1 of a weeklong look at what different governments are doing.

Amelia
Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Sarah Brewer, general manager of The Mugshot Tavern in Toronto, has been given a $2,000 (Canadian; U.S.$1,470) a month emergency response benefit that has put her mind at ease about her economic security during the pandemic – for the time being.

Two ways to read the story

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As the coronavirus pandemic dogs economies around the world, prompting slowdowns and lockdowns that necessitate governments to help businesses survive, safety nets around the world are bearing untold weight. And from North America to Europe, Asia to Latin America, countries are taking distinct approaches to blunt the economic, social, and political consequences.

In North America, the approaches of the United States and Canada offer stark contrasts in governmental philosophy around aiding citizenry – both before and during times of crisis.

Canada’s support program was lauded for how quickly it created a simpler across-the-board unemployment benefit of $500 (Canadian; U.S.$370) per week for four months. More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance benefits since the pandemic started. Congress passed temporary federal pandemic legislation in March that gives jobless workers an extra $600 per week through July. Once that ends, the maximum state payouts vary from $235 in Mississippi to almost four times that in Massachusetts.

“The difference actually isn’t monetary. It’s speed,” says David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “It’s the speed with which you can get your application and get your money in your bank account and pay your rent.”

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3. In a pandemic, is a fast government check better than a larger one?

Sarah Brewer, general manager at The Mugshot Tavern in Canada’s largest metropolis, was laid off on March 16.

In America’s biggest city, Oscar Santiago was also laid off in mid-March, from his job at the Gun Hill Brewing Co. in the Bronx, in the days after global health officials declared a pandemic that caused a cascade of shutdowns worldwide.

For Ms. Brewer, being fired was followed by a fraught two weeks. “I was having really bad anxiety; I had to jump into home schooling with no income and no idea of what the future would bring,” she says. But by the end of March, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for Canadians who lost jobs, got sick, had to quarantine, or had care for children out of school. At $2,000 (Canadian; U.S.$1,470) per four-week period, it meets her former salary minus tips, or about 70% of what she used to earn.

Mr. Santiago went through a difficult two months before he saw any government money. “There’s an obvious sense of hopelessness. You don’t know what’s coming,” he says. Once the payments began, thanks to a temporary $600 per week in extra jobless benefits, he has ended up making more money off the job than he did on – a show of how the world’s largest economy can support vulnerable people when it wants. Still Mr. Santiago, like many Americans, knows this bonus will be short-lived, so he is driving less, eating in, and using grocery coupons in anticipation of navigating future uncertainty.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Safety nets around the world are bearing untold weight. And from North America to Europe, Asia to Latin America, countries are taking distinct approaches to blunt the economic, social, and political consequences. Those programs tend to reflect a country’s values and ethos around work and welfare, as the experiences of Ms. Brewer and Mr. Santiago show.

Courtesy of Rina Capicchioni
Oscar Santiago had been working at the Gun Hill Brewing Co. in the Bronx for 10 months when he was laid off in March. Mr. Santiago takes in more today with New York's unemployment benefits than he had been while employed, but that ends in August.

“There is a difference philosophically between the two safety nets. The U.S. one tends to be very flimsy in general. It is ramped up usually during the crisis like we had with the Great Recession, and nowadays with the pandemic. But generally it tends to be stingier and less supportive, especially of those who don’t work,” says Victor Chen, assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, who studies economic inequality and compared autoworkers in Canada and the United States in his book “Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy.”

And so even if Ms. Brewer is pocketing less money now and Mr. Santiago more, Ms. Brewer feels on firmer footing. “In terms of feeling safe, I’m super glad we are in Canada.”

“The difference actually isn’t monetary”

Canada’s introduction of the CERB was lauded for how quickly the country replaced its system for paying jobless benefits with a simpler payout across the board of C$500 per week for four months. (It was recently extended for two additional months and will end in early October.) It has faced various criticisms, including that it would discourage workers from returning to jobs, but the pushback was much weaker than against equivalent policies in the U.S. “I suspect the difference actually isn’t monetary. It’s speed,” says David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Ottawa. “It’s the speed with which you can get your application and get your money in your bank account and pay your rent.”

More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance benefits since the pandemic started, leaving the U.S. unemployment rate higher than at any time since the Great Depression. Applicants faced a patchwork of assistance that varies widely by state. Congress passed temporary federal pandemic legislation – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – in March that gives unemployed workers an extra $600 per week through July.

Since the state of New York offers one of the more substantial unemployment benefits, with average payouts running up to $504 every week for up to 26 weeks, Mr. Santiago takes in more today with the supplement than he was – $780 a week now (after taxes) compared with netting $600 pre-pandemic. But workers in North Carolina and Missouri would each tap out at fewer than 14 weeks’ coverage, were it not for the temporary CARES Act provisions that may extend the duration of benefits to up to 39 weeks in 2020. And the size of weekly payments also varies. With the booster from the CARES Act set to expire soon unless Congress takes fresh action, maximum weekly benefits will range from $235 in Mississippi to almost four times that in Massachusetts, according to Saving to Invest, a personal finance blog.

In a first, Congress has also provided assistance to contractors, gig workers, and the self-employed: those who have long fallen through the cracks of the 21st-century economy, says Stephen Wandner, a senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance. But he says these moves will be insufficient once the $600 top-up ends. “If Congress doesn’t act, some people will be hungry and eventually homeless,” he says.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Mr. Santiago says he doesn’t know how he’ll pay his bills come August. Without the supplement, Mr. Santiago will have to make do with $257 a month after taxes – that’s less than half his paycheck at the brewery. Rent alone runs more than $800 each month in Queens, where he lives with his girlfriend. “It’s been super tough, but at least I’m not alone in my suffering,” he says.

Ms. Brewer’s life is stressful, too. Her husband owns The Mugshot Tavern and has worked every day trying to keep the business running on takeout orders. They just opened partial service on their patio under local laws. They had invested in another restaurant a year ago whose doors remain shuttered since the shutdowns were first ordered and are now trying to build a patio in the back parking lot. And the future of hospitality worldwide is a vast unknown with strict social distancing rules required.

“Restaurants and most businesses are not made to operate at half-capacity,” she says. “We don’t know how that will affect hours and wages.”

But even before CERB, Canada’s system was much more robust than that in the U.S., especially for precarious families like single-earner households, and it includes universal health care. “If a worker in Canada loses a job [the worker] does not lose health care. That’s a huge single thing,” says Richard Johnston, a professor of comparative politics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “So you don’t have a whole other set of cascading catastrophes that just simply fall from losing a job.”

“It is a huge peace of mind,” says Ms. Brewer. “I don’t have to worry about paying if my son falls out of a tree.”

“We’re not like Sweden”

In the U.S., benefits have temporarily expanded amid the pandemic, but they’ve been on a downward trajectory since the 1980s – being paid to fewer people in smaller amounts for shorter periods. A recent paper from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore says only about one-third of America’s unemployed receive unemployment insurance payments. Many states either don’t want to pay benefits or can’t afford to. There’s little nationwide outcry for change. Some connect that to racism.

“There’s a radicalized perspective that Social Security is good because old white people are using it, but Medicaid is bad because younger, minority people are using it,” says Chris Jackson, a senior vice president and lead for the American public polling practice at Ipsos, a global market research company. “We’ve gotten here because we want to be here. It’s not that people want to have a bad social safety net. People saying, ‘I can look after myself, and other people can take a hike,’ over the course of 50 years is what has led us to this point.”

While some Americans may think Europe’s generous welfare benefits could stifle individual responsibilities, Canada offers something of a middle way in its balance to rev the economic engine but secure workers. “It’s not like Canada is a social democratic society. We’re not like Sweden. ... We do not spend the kind of money, nor do we offer [policies] in a universal way remotely to the extent that a Scandinavian country does, or even like lots of not-so-universalistic countries like Germany,” says Dr. Johnston. “But we do deliver cash in ways that are quite powerfully redistributive. So the ability of taxes and transfers, for example, to offset market income inequalities in Canada is quite a bit more robust than in the U.S. ... It’s just less ragged here.”

Ms. Brewer and Mr. Santiago are both eager to get back to full-time employment. But one might have an easier path forward, says Dr. Chen.

American workers “are going to see more stigma. ... The kind of self-blame on the U.S. side, and the blame [toward] people who are unemployed, it tends to be quite intense,” he says. “I would be more secure in Canada because of that past history of support. There is more of a sense of a longer-term commitment to making sure folks ride out the storm. In America, our generosity is very short-lived.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The Explainer

Why are bad cops so hard to bring to justice? Three questions.

The doctrine of “qualified immunity” is meant to allow government officials to do their jobs free from lawsuits. But many say it has become a major obstacle to holding police accountable for excessive force.

Amelia

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Police officers patrolling the United States carry a legal shield intended to protect them as they perform a dangerous job in a heavily armed country. The “qualified immunity” doctrine is meant to allow government officials to do their job without fear of frivolous lawsuits. According to U.S. courts, it gives immunity to “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

But to many critics of the justice system, the doctrine has tipped the balance of power too far. They say it invites abuse by allowing officers to violate the law to enforce the law.

About 1,000 Americans are killed by police officers each year. Many shootings result from officers being in legitimate fear of their lives, but critics point out that only 1% of such deaths result in an officer being charged with a crime. And while civilians can sue, a declining number of those cases are successful as the qualified immunity doctrine has grown stronger.

Those developments suggest a “risk that too strong a qualified immunity doctrine could lead some police officers to believe they are above the law,” attorney Paul Hughes told the National Law Journal.

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4. Why are bad cops so hard to bring to justice? Three questions.

Police officers patrolling the U.S. carry a legal shield intended to protect them as they perform a dangerous job in a heavily-armed country.

The “qualified immunity” doctrine is meant to allow government officials to do their job without fear of frivolous lawsuits. The doctrine, according to U.S. courts, gives immunity to “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

But to many critics of the justice system, the doctrine has tipped the balance of power too far. They say it invites abuse by allowing officers to violate the law to enforce the law.

What is qualified immunity?

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 explicitly states that officials can be held liable for their actions in office.

In 1967, the Supreme Court introduced a doctrine where “good faith” efforts by police could not be punished, even when excessive force leads to death.

There are two tests a civil lawsuit has to meet to supersede qualified immunity: Did the officer violate the Fourth Amendment? And did the officer knowingly violate “clearly established law”?

Although the doctrine is described as “good faith” immunity, “it now has nothing to do with an officer’s subjective good faith,” says Joanna Schwartz, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, and co-author of “Civil Procedure,” a foundational textbook for first-year law students. That’s in part, she says, because courts require immunity be granted unless there’s a prior case in which virtually identical conduct was held unconstitutional by a federal court.

The Supreme Court also allowed courts to rule in favor of immunity even without ruling on the constitutionality of the claim. “Ending qualified immunity is not a silver bullet, but it is among the most important first steps that the Supreme Court or Congress can take to improve police accountability,” says Professor Schwartz in an email.

How does it work today?

In some ways, qualified immunity acknowledged the difficulties of policing in America, in which police are expected to solve a host of social problems, such as mental illness, for which they may or may not have training.

But the doctrine has run headlong into shifts in policing. The increasing use of military gear by domestic policing agencies has reinforced an “us versus them” mindset. About 1,000 Americans are killed by police officers each year.

Many shootings result from officers being in legitimate fear of their lives, but critics point out that only 1% of such deaths result in an officer being charged with a crime. And while civilians can sue, a declining number of those cases are successful as the qualified immunity doctrine has grown stronger.

Between 2015 and 2017, courts favored police in 57% of immunity cases, up from 44% a decade earlier, according to a Reuters investigation.

Those developments suggest a “risk that too strong a qualified immunity doctrine could lead some police officers to believe they are above the law, hopefully not too many,” attorney Paul Hughes told the National Law Journal earlier this month.

In a 2018 dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that such immunity “tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

What is happening now?

Many Americans, including President Donald Trump, have called for more law and order as police and protesters have clashed in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

But polls show Americans shifting dramatically in favor of reforms to protect constitutional rights of citizens, especially Black ones. A June Associated Press-NORC poll found that 29% think the criminal justice system needs “a complete overhaul,” and 40% say it needs “major changes.” Just 5% of respondents said no changes were needed.

Over 250 reform bills have been introduced in states across the U.S., at least some addressing the imbalances of qualified immunity. This month, Colorado eliminated the doctrine for state and local officials, becoming the first state to do so.

Democrats in Congress are demanding that qualified immunity be modified under a new police reform bill. The White House has called that a “nonstarter.”

Some police proponents say the push to change qualified immunity has little to do with the deaths of Mr. Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, given that criminal investigations were opened into those cases. Those now looking at "qualified immunity are kind of cynically taking advantage of a horrific situation to change the law in a different area that ... does not apply at all," Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Associations, told The New York Times.

This month, the Supreme Court declined to take several qualified immunity cases, even as Justice Clarence Thomas registered “strong doubts” about the doctrine’s constitutionality.

Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, overturned a qualified immunity ruling in the case of a homeless man who was shot and killed by police after a struggle where the man, Wayne Jones, was rendered unconscious by a chokehold and could no longer comply with officers’ commands.

Judges recognized the split-second nature of police work, but noted that to side with the officers in the case “would signal absolute immunity for fear-based use of deadly force, which we cannot accept.”

Citing the Floyd case, the federal court concluded: “This has to stop.”

As told to

A magician’s guide to making racism disappear

As a magician, Eric Anderson knows how to get people to believe things that aren’t real. As a Black American, he sees a powerful connection between the illusions that inform his work and the racism he’s experienced: false assumptions.

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Many assume that Eric Anderson’s success as a magician, author, and speaker has somehow insulated him from the realities of racism in American society. “They are dead wrong,” he says. “The incidents are far too frequent to count.”

“As I reflect on the unrest unfolding now in the country in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and other victims of police brutality and systemic racism ... I’ve had to turn to magic, my trade, my passion and something I love, for insight and understanding.”

“You see, magic in so many ways is built upon the power of assumptions – false assumptions,” he says. “Racism is also built upon false assumptions that Black people are inferior, criminals, deceptive, unintelligent, guilty, and unworthy of compassion or humane treatment.”

“If America is to ever overcome the perennial pandemic of racism, its citizens ... must make it a priority to begin obliterating those bogus assumptions and the dehumanizing false narratives about Black people that have been ingrained in most of us from day one. When we commit to doing that, then – and then only – can we hope to see racism finally begin to disappear from our society.”

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5. A magician’s guide to making racism disappear

As a magician, Eric Anderson has made a career out of embracing illusions. But as a Black American, one particularly unwelcome illusion has followed him as he has traveled the United States and the world: the false assumption that Black people are inferior and unworthy of humanity (or humane treatment). This is his story, as told to Chandra Thomas Whitfield.

I remember it like yesterday, even though it was 16 years ago. I’d just taken my last bow at my performance at a private corporate event in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As I stepped off the stage, audience members collectively jumped to their feet, a clear show of support for my inspirational “Magic of Attitude” presentations that I regularly deliver across the globe. After all, I am known as “the magician with a message.”

A crowd quickly formed around me. As I shook hands and answered questions, a white guy, about my age, casually handed me back one of the props I’d used in the show. Even with everything going on, I noticed he’d eventually begun standing off to the side; a smirk spread across his face. I remembered thinking to myself that he’d seemed to be waiting for something, but I was too busy at the time to think about it or care.

It would be 30 minutes later, once back at my hotel room, that everything would finally make sense. A chill shot down my spine as I unpacked my show bag and realized that the smug man had taken the rope I’d used in my show and tied it into a hangman’s noose. It was clear he’d hoped I’d discovered his obvious act of intimidation in his presence; I was glad I hadn’t delivered any of the satisfaction he’d craved. Still, it freaked me out enough to pack up my things and spend the night at the airport instead. Better safe than sorry. 

That’s one of many instances of overt racism that I’ve experienced traveling the United States and the world delivering my messages of empowerment mixed with magic performances. I had no idea back then that my life’s work, being a master illusionist, would ultimately endow me with some invaluable insight into the roots of America’s perpetual problems with race and racism. My craft, interestingly, has also inspired my ideas about a practical first step to begin addressing the issue as well.

Many people assume that being an accomplished author, speaker, and performer who has shared the stage with everyone from Hank Aaron and Jeff Foxworthy to former first lady Laura Bush and former President Jimmy Carter somehow insulates me from the realities of racism in American society; they are dead wrong.

Courtesy of Eric Anderson
Eric Anderson (2nd from right) poses with former President Jimmy Carter, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (right), and Mr. Barnes' wife, Marie Dobbs Barnes, during the 2001 Legislative Appreciation Dinner held at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta.

The incidents are far too frequent to count. There was the time when I asked two men in a convenience store parking lot for directions to a country club where I was performing and one leaned to the other and said without hesitation, “I didn’t know they let ‘n-words’ in there.” And the time a wealthy white client nearly snatched a check out of my hand after learning that I was not just an employee, but the owner of the agency he had hired. 

What I see today is not much different from what I experienced growing up in Southern California, to many a so-called bastion of white liberalism. As a teenager growing up in San Diego, it was not uncommon for me to be stopped by the police, harassed, handcuffed, and slammed to the ground for absolutely no reason.

Once after high school, while working as a janitor a producer from a local television station approached out of the blue, asking me to play “the suspect” in a reenactment of a crime they were recording for a news segment. I politely declined and was furious to learn the next day that he knew – and had always known – that the perpetrator was a white man. 

These crazy times we’re facing lately in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hand of rogue Minneapolis cops, have stirred up old feelings of regret about a conversation I had with a Black friend during my time in the U.S. Air Force. He’d tearfully confided that someone had called him the n-word for the first time. My response: “What’s the big deal, man? Do you know how many times that has happened to me?” I wish I’d been more compassionate. 

I realized much later that I’d become so numb to discriminatory treatment, that I’d completely detached myself from all of the anguish that it imposes, including how I felt the first time – and every time since – I’d been called that vile word, starting as a young child.  

It wasn’t until 1993 when I purchased a one-way bus ticket to what would become my permanent home of Atlanta, aka “the Black Mecca,” to pursue my magic career full time that I realized all of the anger and shame I had been suppressing inside. It was eye-opening and awe-inspiring to see so many Black folks in leadership and doing well for themselves. Seeing that helped me begin the process of dismantling the negative feelings I’d internalized about myself as a Black man and my fellow Black people in general.

So, as I reflect on the unrest unfolding now in the country in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and other victims of police brutality and systemic racism, I find myself angry and stunned that this keeps happening. I’ve had to turn to magic – my trade, my passion, and something I love – for insight and understanding. The parallels, interestingly, are more obvious than most realize. 

You see, magic in so many ways is built upon the power of assumptions – false assumptions. If I, as a performer can get the audience to make an incorrect assumption about what is actually happening right before their eyes, it becomes that much easier for me to pull off my illusion. 

Similarly, racism is also built upon false assumptions that Black people are inferior, criminals, deceptive, unintelligent, guilty, and unworthy of compassion or humane treatment. And those who say they don’t see how that line of thinking plays out in our society, don’t because they simply don’t want to. They are committed to holding on to those false assumptions. Yes, holding on to another type of illusion.

If America is to ever overcome the perennial pandemic of racism, its citizens – everyone from everyday people to the powers that be – must make it a priority to begin obliterating those bogus assumptions and the dehumanizing false narratives about Black people that have been ingrained in most of us from day one. When we commit to doing that, then – and then only – can we hope to see racism finally begin to disappear from our society.  

Chandra Thomas Whitfield is an award-winning multimedia journalist and a 2019-20 fellow with the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. She is the host and producer of “In The Gap,” a forthcoming podcast for In These Times Magazine about how the gender pay gap adversely impacts the lives of Black women in the American workforce. 

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The world eyes an offramp from racism

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Sometime this week Mississippi will officially mark the end of its use of a state flag incorporating in its design the Confederate battle emblem 155 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. Around the world symbols, language, and tropes of racism continue to fall. Germany and France are engaging in difficult debates about their colonial pasts. Australia is grappling anew with its treatment of Indigenous peoples and refugees. The European Union’s commissioner for equality has urged member states to end discrimination against their Muslim communities.

The overlapping crises of COVID-19, with its disproportionate impact on minority communities, and police brutality against Black and Hispanic people have stirred an overdue reassessment of the assumptions that have shaped the way Western governments and societies have viewed the rest of the world. Finding the courage to address past wrongs requires humility and with it a new receptiveness.

The test of this global shift lies first in its sincerity. Speaking of the historic moment in Mississippi when the Legislature voted to change the flag, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said, “This vote came from the heart. That makes it so much more important.”

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The world eyes an offramp from racism

Sometime this week Mississippi will officially mark the end of its use of a state flag incorporating in its design the Confederate battle emblem 155 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. It is the last state to abandon the symbol of racist secession.

Around the world symbols, language, and tropes of racism continue to fall. Germany and France are engaging in difficult debates about their colonial pasts. Australia is grappling anew with its treatment of Indigenous peoples and refugees. The European Union’s commissioner for equality has urged member states to find new approaches to ending discrimination against their Muslim communities. Even the country music trio The Dixie Chicks dropped “Dixie” – an old term of endearment for the Confederate South – from its name.

During the nearly 75 years since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the West has promoted good governance and tied aid to democracy and the fair treatment of people in Africa and other less-industrialized countries. Yet during most of those years, many Western nations clung to colonial rule, coddled dictators, waged proxy wars, and made only halting progress toward equality within their own societies. The peoples of Africa and elsewhere endured the consequences and bristled at the contradiction.

A great reckoning with that legacy may now be underway. The overlapping crises of COVID-19, with its disproportionate impact on minority communities, and police brutality against Black and Hispanic people have stirred an overdue reassessment of the assumptions that have shaped the way Western governments and societies have viewed the rest of the world.

Just as the East/West division of geopolitics faded after the Cold War, classifying nations as either “developed” or “developing” is now losing currency. And just as the fall of the Berlin Wall and dismantling of apartheid in South Africa ushered in a new spirit of democratization across the globe, historians may one day look back to this moment as a decisive turn toward celebrating what different cultures share with each and welcoming a higher expectation of justice and equality.

Finding the courage to address past wrongs requires humility and with it a new receptiveness. As the conversation about race breaks open with fresh possibility, the West can be grateful for what other peoples and cultures have brought to ever-changing concepts of humanity. White people in the United States and Europe can be grateful for the invaluable contributions of nonwhite cultures. Music and art are richer for this diversity, sports more dazzling, intellectual and technological achievements more excellent, and notions of justice and human dignity deepened.

However imperfectly, the world is approaching a universality of good. The present stirring in Western societies to face the past illustrates the quiet power of the biblical injunction to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The test of this global shift lies first in its sincerity. Speaking of the historic moment in Mississippi when the Legislature voted to change the flag, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said, “This vote came from the heart. That makes it so much more important.”

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Experiencing less of the evil that is racism

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If we’re feeling that hatred is an unstoppable force, it’s worth considering the idea that everyone is inherently capable of feeling and expressing God’s powerful, healing love.

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1. Experiencing less of the evil that is racism

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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In many circumstances throughout my life as a person with a darker shade of skin color, I have tried to recognize the spiritual qualities active in everyone, whether I look like them or not. When I do this, I feel comfortable enough to act or respond with genuine sincerity.

In thinking about recent events, I have realized that many “isms,” including racism, stem from what the Bible calls the “carnal mind.” This “mind” is the counterfeit of the one divine Mind, God, that created us all. An aspect of this carnal mind is the notion that God’s creation can be unloved or unloving.

But it’s not true. Of course, much of what we’ve seen on the news tells us something markedly different. But that doesn’t invalidate the spiritual reality of God’s goodness and everyone’s innate ability to express that goodness. And to experience real healing, we have to move toward seeing more spiritually.

How do you treat someone or think about someone when you know them to be a creation of God?

Would you fear them? Want to punish them? Wouldn’t you be more ready to forgive them, and be ready to help, or just think more kindly about them?

I’ve learned that as I strive to know others as God made them, they begin to act more like God’s creation and start to know me correctly, too. This spiritual knowing results from the operation of the Christ, God’s restorative power, and it brings situations more in line with what is divinely true.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry. His origin is not, like that of mortals, in brute instinct, nor does he pass through material conditions prior to reaching intelligence. Spirit is his primitive and ultimate source of being; God is his Father, and Life is the law of his being” (p. 63).

As we actively practice knowing others as Spirit’s offspring, capable of feeling and expressing God’s pure love, we’ll start experiencing more of the beautiful and good, and less of the evil that is racism.

Adapted from the June 3, 2020, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Lunch break

Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
Farmers take a break for lunch while celebrating Asar Pandra, or National Paddy Day, which marks the commencement of rice crop planting in paddy fields as monsoon season arrives, in Kathmandu, Nepal, June 29, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Please join us tomorrow, when we’ll delve into Monday’s major Supreme Court decision striking down a Louisiana law on abortion clinic restrictions. And if you’d like a bonus, lighter read tonight, please check out our Home Forum essay on “Zumba in lockdown.”

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