Unprecedented

un·prec·e·dent·ed

/ˌənˈpresədən(t)əd/

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adjective

never done or known before.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

— Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride, on Vizzini’s use of the word “inconceivable”.

I honestly have half a mind to post the above without any further explanation. But in case any is needed, allow me to give some context to my thought process. In the past few months I have noticed increasing use, or rather misuse, of the word unprecedented to describe the state of the world right now. While I would agree 2020 has been stressful, filled with loss and ignited in many a fire for justice and change, none of those things, or the events leading to them are exactly unprecedented. 

Take the global pandemic, no seriously someone take it away. Pandemics, and many other sicknesses, are cyclical in nature. There have been several occurrences throughout history of illness running roughshod over mankind, similar to the way COVID-19 has ravaged communities across the globe. The death tolls then were also astronomical and nothing resembling herd immunity occurred until well after the number of deaths had climbed and when possible a vaccine was developed.

My point being, as horrible as this has been to witness, as devastating as the continued loss of life is, history told us this was possible. Some countries heeded that warning better than others. Regardless it is not so much unprecedented as a devastating matter of course. 

Another, no less devastating occurrence has been the fires, earlier this year in Australia and then, as happens fairly regularly on the west coast of the United States. At least in regards to the fires out west they are not unprepared. Evacuation plans and emergency planning remain in place to some degree. But always the damage seems to be far greater than anticipated. Fire and rescue struggle for weeks to maintain and mitigate the damage. Then communities are left with rebuilding. 

On top of the more nature based hardships this year, there has been a marked increase in protests against another that is purely man-made. Black Lives Matter protests have been nearly ongoing since the beginning of summer in response to the growing number of Black people routinely killed by police. This push back against the blatant racism and violence experienced by the Black community in America has seen support all around the world, though at home changes are slow to be made and the need for justice remains unmet. 

I don’t mean to in any way trivialize any of these issues. Each are devastating and life ending, but apart they are not unprecedented. Disease has existed as long as man, fire longer than that. Racism and hatred are purely man-made, but no less deadly. 

What I would say is unprecedented, something that all of the examples I’ve listed have in common, is their increased affect on disabled people. Evacuation plans rarely take disabled people into account. Shelters are rarely accessible or capable of serving medically fragile people. Because of this we are easily the most at risk during natural disasters. 

When cases of COVID-19 first started being reported experts said it was likely to only adversely affect the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. Public officials and news organizations clung to that. Even now with the death toll surpassing 200 thousand people are saying they’re not worried because they’re healthy, not realizing the sheer number of people they are essentially condemning to death. 

As far as police brutality is concerned, Black disabled people are disproportionately involved in altercations with police resulting in injury or death. In the case of injury, lasting effects often become disabling so regardless of any preexisting disability, people become disabled through police brutality. 

Full disclosure, even I have misused unprecedented here. Because Ableism is far from unprecedented. It has roots back to the birth of white supremacy and has maintained just as long.

So here’s a question: if disease, destruction, and white supremacy aren’t unprecedented, what’s stopping us from guarding better against or getting rid of them completely? In regards to COVID, social distancing, wearing a mask et cetera. Putting real actionable plans in place to protect everyone during a natural disaster. Work to dismantle the societal systems allowing white supremacy and Ableism to thrive. The work has already been started, let’s make sure it continues.

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