Understandably, “virus” is being used as a metaphor to help us understand complex issues, such as racism. “Racism is a virus.” I get it, because of the ubiquity and deadliness of COVID-19. I get it. Yes, the metaphor works on some levels, but the nature of metaphor means that it also does not work on other levels.

On the intrinsic / extrinsic level, I think “virus” as a metaphor for racism does not work well. Racism as a virus gets us off the hook too easily. “I caught the virus … but then I got over it and built up immunity.” Is that how racism works? Is racism an external invader? An impersonal, not-even-alive irritant? Can we become “immune” to racism?

Perhaps a different, health-related metaphor of racism as “atherosclerosis of the heart” is better on this level of intrinsic / extrinsic. It’s a mouthful, I admit, but this is what racism is, a build-up of sinful blockage of the arteries of our spiritual hearts.

How do you treat atherosclerosis? Well, hopefully you prevent it in the first place through a good lifestyle: healthy eating, exercise, regular check-ups, etc. Ditto for preventing racism: healthy intake of messages and worldviews, practicing empathy and compassion, being accountable within a community, etc.

Sometimes, however, the blockage has to be bypassed through invasive and consequential surgery.

America, you’ve been anesthetized by sheltering-in-place for months, and you’re deep under the anesthesia, undergoing open heart surgery to bypass your racism. When you regain consciousness, assuming you do and recover from the surgery, you have a decision to make: go back to Twinkies, Netflix binging on the couch for hours and hours, and never going back to the doctor … or … eat your fruits and veggies, exercise regularly, and visit the doctor.

Metaphor mixed … but hopefully not muted.

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