Yesterday, my friend’s uncle died from Ebola. Her family is left picking up the pieces of his life after this tragic death. To them, the seriousness of this illness cannot be overstated. Ebola has taken and continues to take the lives of many in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Nearly 5,000 West Africans have died from this outbreak and another 13,000 people have been infected.
Given the grief and mourning that accompany this disease, many still find it easy to treat Ebola flippantly. On Halloween night, I stumbled upon a drunken junior boy with a simple label across his chest: Ebola. My friends and I stood in awe, perplexed at how someone could make light of such a grave issue. Unfortunately, this is not the only incident of insensitivity I have seen at Yale. Further outrage, specifically amongst the Yale African students community, was sparked by a recent and highly misinformed Yale Daily News op-ed “Stem the Tide of Ebola”. The author makes a clear stance on how to treat Ebola in this country: “What we need is a travel ban…we imposed a travel and immigration ban on foreigners with HIV for more than 20 year–it just ended in 2010, having ruled the skies since Ronald Reagan. So why can’t we implement a travel ban for commercial airlines to West Africa?” The author fails to recognize that this travel ban was indisputably driven by racism and homophobia. The op-ed continues by framing Ebola as a disease of the Other: disease brought into our country by foreigners.
From such articles, it is clear that in America, the African narrative is still that of a primitive and disease-ridden world that is far removed from the American one. There are no qualms about tweeting Ebola “jokes” and selling Ebola Halloween costumes. Collectively, these actions mask the fear that drives the American view of this disease.
In this world, the suffering of the foreign body, the black body, is irrelevant. It is something that needs to be observed, with a combination of suspicion, sympathy, and fear, from afar. The suffering of hundreds, if not thousands of West Africans is undermined as the American media continues to fuel an irrational fear of an Ebola outbreak.
So, how does one combat this view of Ebola and the bodies it has found a home in? We do so in solidarity; by showcasing the talent and beauty that is all of Africa. This is exactly what the Yale Ebola Task Force did on November 8th in Yale’s Battell Chapel. The event, In Solidarity: A Benefit Concert for Ebola Crisis Relief, featured the Shades of Yale, Asempa(!), and the Yale Symphony Orchestra, among other a-cappella and performance groups. I sat in the Chapel with over 150 other Yale students gathered to reshape the campus view of Ebola as not something we should fear but rather a righteous cause we can champion together. There was beauty in every song sung by Shades and in every note played by the Orchestra. There was understanding in every testament given. The Task Force continues this week by raising funds in the dining halls and hopes to raise $15,000 from all its efforts.
Events like these are a testament to the power of understanding. It is only by informing ourselves and others about both the gravity and the nature of this disease that we can be assured that for every insensitive comment and article written about Ebola, there are more sensible students ready to combat it with genuine thought and knowledge.
There are no more diagnosed cases of Ebola in the U.S. The media panic is now over and Americans have since forgotten about this disease as it was never a viable threat. Countries like Sierra Leone, however, have not and cannot forget. They are still reeling from a crisis that took far too many lives. Google searches for Ebola in the news shows that the government of Sierra Leone has preemptively banned Christmas and New Year celebrations due to the crisis. Ebola is not a news fad or public health panic but a harsh reality in these countries.Officials are still worried about this disease. So we must remain in solidarity with the countries that continue to fight – for my friend’s uncle and for the thousands who seek treatment everyday.