I admit, as a book person, and as a huge nonfiction book person, when the pandemic first hit, I thought, ‘Man, the books about this time period are going to be fascinating.’ And they’ve started to roll in, and they are indeed fascinating, along with being utterly devastating. The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide by Steven W. Thrasher (Celadon Books, 2022) is one of those books, and it’ll pull you in and squeeze your heart with both hands.
Dr. Steven Thrasher is both Black and gay; both of these are markers for experiencing more adverse health outcomes. HIV/AIDS hits both these groups at a higher rate than white people, or straight people. There are groups that experience adverse outcomes in much higher rates than others, and Dr. Thrasher examines these, using the AIDS epidemic, the COVID pandemic, and various other viruses throughout history. This isn’t stodgy academic writing; he delves deeply into his own life, his experiences and those of his friends and colleagues, his communities, to drive the point that we have created a society where illness spreads more easily and more surely along class and racial lines. It doesn’t have to be like this…but try telling that to the people at the top of this hierarchy and see how fast they riot when there’s no one from those lower classes to serve them at Applebee’s. We’ve seen this type of behavior all throughout the pandemic. Members of the viral underclass are more likely to have public-facing jobs and cannot isolate or work from home, and we as a society demand they get back there as soon as possible. And thus, they die at much higher rates, and we as a society see this, shrug, and await their replacements.
This is a sobering book, and it needs to be read by everyone. I can’t vouch for other countries, since I’ve only ever lived in the US, but here, we’re all so disconnected from each other. We stick to our circles and don’t engage with people outside of them, and thus, we don’t understand the devastation caused by this stratification of society, outside of, “Huh, wonder where that one guy that worked at the gas station went. Haven’t seen him in months. Anyway…” Dr. Thrasher has really written an eye-opening account of how blasé we are a society of throwing away people who aren’t like us. It’s a major wake-up call, one I’m not hopeful that the majority of us will hear.
Visit Dr. Steven Thrasher’s page at Celadon books here.