The COVID-19 Pandemic Shows That We Still Bear Strange Fruit

Apr 27, 2020

Strange Fruit was written by a Jewish schoolteacher after seeing a disturbing picture of a black man, lynched in the South. But what does this song have to do with the Coronavirus pandemic?

CORONAVIRUS CHRONICLES

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit . . . “ -Strange Fruit

A colleague, quoting from the Writer’s Almanac, reminded me that April 20 was the 81st anniversary of the day in 1939 the Great jazz singer, Billie Holiday, recorded the song Strange Fruit. It is among the most searing recordings in history. It was written by a Jewish schoolteacher named Abel Meeropol (pseudonym: Lewis Allen) because he was disturbed by a picture of a lynched black man in the South.

But what does this song have to do with the Coronavirus pandemic? We no longer have lynchings, but do have a significantly disproportionate number of deaths of Black-Americans from the virus. Racism still kills Black-Americans. Maybe we need not only an updated song like Strange Fruit, but the help of psychiatry.

Though there were attempts to include racism in our DSMs, that so far has failed to be approved. Regardless, psychiatry still has a role to play in reducing it through our understanding of scapegoating and prejudice. Perhaps we just need courageous partnerships like that illustrated by Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol to do so.

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