The fortieth anniversary of Sartre’s death, on April 15 of this year, found much of the world in lockdown in response to a new virus, Covid-19, which has changed humanity’s situation on this planet in ways we will be struggling to elucidate for years to come. In these unprecedented circumstances, Sartre’s thought has been an obvious resource to help us understand the impact and ramifications of this pandemic. The virus has been an unsparing indicator in itself of social injustice, unmasking the pious platitudes of our advanced, modern democracies. In the United States in particular, the reality is truly ugly. Covid-19 has shed pitiless light on the disparity between affluent white communities, able to “shelter in place” and avoid putting their members at risk of infection, and less affluent black and brown districts, where workers on subsistence salaries, often without health-care benefits, have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, with terrible consequences for them and their families. Living in the “richest” country on earth, we can imagine only too easily Sartre’s vitriolic assessment of America in its present crisis. And it is just as easy to imagine the fervor with which he would have embraced the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted all over the world, provoked by the 8 minute 46 second video clip that showed the matter-of-fact murder by asphyxiation of George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis.
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