At one time in our American history we were referred to as the melting pot, a country so full of diversity that we all blended together in what my then child-like mind imagined to be the most delicious soup this side of the Mississippi. What I did not imagine, yet indicative of the melting pot analogy, was the temperature, the heat. Since the recent broadcast of two murders by state- sanctioned officers, a global pandemic, protests and riots, some serious quarantining, and a very public positive coronavirus case, it seems the world is on fire and we are all feeling the heat.
Are we still that melting pot, simmering to perfection amid diverse, scrumptious ingredients? Or are we burnt to a crisp, heated by the coals of our own fire?
Last Saturday our city went wild over a controversial photo of the Peacemaker Festival. It showed what appeared to be a lack of mask-wearing and social distancing. Then, wouldn’t you know it, another piece of information began to splatter around a plethora of posts on the internet.
A woman who received a positive coronavirus test result posted on her own social media page, asking for people who had been around her to get tested. Despite never stating or confirming that she attended the festival, rumors circulated that she had, which is all people needed to sentence her to social chastisement. What ensued next was nothing short of a travesty.
Queue the metaphorical pitchforks, Facebook posts, and stone throwers; the debacle was in full swing. This one test result turned up the heat, and with it everybody was boiling with opinions.
"The festival organizers should have enforced public health mandates better." "It’s people’s freedom to go to the festival." "The girl should be charged." As a community, we were severely divided and shame seemed to be the ingredient of choice.
Since public health has become politicized over the last few months, it’s no wonder people were separated into political factions as it pertained this specific instance. While more liberal-leaning individuals tend to favor mask mandates, the more conservative-leaning prioritize individual freedom. With the test result heard ‘round the city, one side came out attacking. Then the other side came out defending and attacking. Then came more attacking, shaming, and blaming. It was not our finest hour. And honestly, once any boil is in full swing, can you really tell which side is which?
Attending a public event like the Peacemaker Festival before receiving covid-19 results is a poor decision for anybody to make, yet far from needing to be shamed. She isn’t the only person spreading the virus. She isn’t the only reason we are in a global pandemic. She is simply the only name people have to attack an already prevalent behavior in our community. If it is public health we are concerned about then we must focus on constructive methods to adjusting macrobehavior in order to promote public health, not ridiculing a single person. Shame has always divided and will continue to divide. Not only does shaming behaviors drive them away from the very direction we hope to see them go to promote public health, but it also undermines the very notion of diversity and inclusivity that the same people who participated in last weekend’s shaming pride themselves on.
Jennifer Burchett holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and works as the communications director for St. Scholastica Monastery and publicist for State Representative Jay Richardson. She is publishing the Fort Smith 2020 Yearbook, which is scheduled to be out next spring.