A Covid-19 Diagnosis is Just One Threat to Black People During This Pandemic
In addition to having our worlds suddenly turned upside down from a pandemic, black people in America and around the world are dying at double rates from coronavirus and reminded that racism doesn’t stop during a global health crisis.
I was working on this piece at the peak of the coronavirus cases in the Northeast when a lot of stories started to really break my heart. I could not believe that during a global pandemic, when the world needs to come together, that people had so much hate in their heart to continue treating black people terribly even though black people are the ones making up the majority of workers on the frontline. I pitched this story to numerous outlets and of course when I researched the editors I was quick to find out that most of them were white who worked on the race and culture desks. So instead I chose to publish the story myself on the anniversary of Juneteenth.
The beginning of March was only three months ago, but it often feels like years since we had some sense of normalcy in our everyday lives. For those of us in the Northeast it seemed like the second week of March took a 180 with the rapid closing of schools, mandatory work from home orders and restaurants offering only delivery and take out. On March 11, the last day I was in my New York City office, I ended up getting dinner with two friends who happen to be black women I went to high school with. We laughed at the jokes we came across on Twitter about black people not being able to get coronavirus, unknowing of the deadly disease that would soon threaten many black communities in the country. At that time there were no confirmed cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and the only people the news mentioned of having coronavirus were white celebrities like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.
It wasn’t until it was confirmed that Rudy Gobert and Idris Elba tested positive for coronavirus that Black Twitter realized maybe we weren’t so lucky to be spared the wrath of Ms. Corona. Not only were we not immune, but reality would hit in the next couple of weeks that almost like anything else in society, we would be receiving the short end of the stick.
In times like these, the least advantaged is the most harmed, which universally almost always means black people. According to APM Research Lab, Black Americans across the entire country are dying of COVID-19 at a rate of more than twice their population share. “Collectively, they represent 13% of the population in states releasing data, but have suffered 28% of deaths. For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective group), about 26 Blacks have died from COVID-19, a mortality rate of more than double that of Latinos (11), Asians (10) and Whites (9).” Not only are black people not immune, we are dying at rates doubled than every other ethnicity in this country. This isn’t because black people are lacking some type of immunity that fights off the virus. All the reasons Black Americans are dying at absurd rates can almost entirely be linked to the decades of health and socio-economic disparities in America that this country refuses to address.
Some of the underlying health conditions that put us at risk for the coronavirus are serious heart conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are common in African Americans. You might think this is just heredity but it links to food deserts in black neighborhoods, black people not having as much access to healthcare and a history and continuation of doctors’ poor relationships with black people (see Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Experiment). A 2014 National Institutes of Health study found that hospitals in predominantly black neighborhoods are more likely to close down than those in predominantly white neighborhoods, meaning Black Americans have a harder time getting healthcare close to where they live. When it comes to predominantly Black neighborhoods, these areas have poor environmental protections such as air pollution, leading to higher rates of asthma and respiratory diseases, more underlying condition making the minority group more at risk for COVID-19. These neighborhoods are densely populated cities thanks to decades of segregation and racist housing policies that make social distancing almost impossible. Not to mention 60 percent of public transportation is taken by African Americans, another way of life making it hard to social distance to protect from the virus. The majority of Black people living in America cannot escape to fancy houses and suburban neighborhoods for the pandemic.
Unfortunately, Black and Hispanic workers make up a larger percentage of lower-paid, consumer-facing service jobs that cannot be performed remotely, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2017 to 2018, 29.9% of white workers and 37% of Asian workers surveyed said they could work from home, compared to 19.7% of Black workers and 16.2% of Latino workers. Who exactly are the “essential workers” that are at the frontline of the coronavirus crisis? In addition to working in grocery stores and having transit and trucking jobs, Black people also contribute to a large percentage of healthcare workers. According to NYC’s comptroller’s office, more than 75% of all frontline workers in the COVID crisis are people of color in the epicenter of the pandemic. So in addition to being the most at risk for coronavirus, Black people are risking their lives on the frontline to save a country who wouldn’t lift a finger to protect them in return.
White Americans showed their privilege and selfishness last month in Michigan where they stormed the state capitol with guns and shouted in the faces of police to express how they disagreed with the emergency stay at home orders. Doctors and nurses around the country have been standing face to face to counter-protest the anti-quarantine protesters who demanded that the economy be reopened. Economist Stephen Moore, who is on President Trump’s council tasked with reopening the country, called the anti-quarantine protesters “modern-day Rosa Parks” in The Washington Post.
If you are black, every day you are reminded that hating black people is universal. This might be from a news story, the passive aggressive comments from coworkers, a fetishizing comment received on a dating app, a judgmental glare in the coffee shop, etc. This part of your everyday life does not pause during a pandemic. If anything, the pandemic has shined a brighter light to white Americans on what we have been saying for years. First was 25 year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot and killed by two armed white residents in Georgia after they lured Arbery to their pickup truck during his run. Then 21 year-old Dreasjon Reed (also known as Sean Reed) who was shot and killed while running from a police officer after a car chase with his death streamed to Facebook Live. Next, we heard the news of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, who was murdered sleeping in HER home after the police shot her eight times while conducting a search warrant at the wrong place. But the story that seemed to start the modern day change we are currently witnessing was the video that captured the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man whose last words were “I can’t breath” as white police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
I’m not sure why this was the video that made some white people start to realize that the police and American’s systems are unjust and cruel. George Floyd’s story is similar to too many Americans, but I will take any positive change I can get. As much as I am happy that the riots, protests and applied pressure are causing serious change, we still have Breonna Taylor’s killers walking free as well as a number of lynchings and killing of innocent black people just in the month of June. Many of these victims are black women and black trans women including Dominique Rem’mie Fells, Riah Milton and Oluwatoyin Salau whose loved ones are still trying to seek justice.
These are just a handful of news stories that black people have digested in addition to comprehending the stats of their culture dying twice as fast from Covid-19 while making up most of the frontline workers. This is all on top of adjusting to the overall life shake up from the pandemic.
The amount of destruction the coronavirus has caused to the United States has been unimaginable for a first world country. I can’t help but to be concerned for those of us who are not as fortunate to have first world benefits. We don’t know what the impact of Covid-19 will do to many countries, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa who share the same underlying conditions as African Americans, which makes them even more vulnerable to collapse when an outbreak hits. In addition to these conditions, Africa’s healthcare systems are already underfunded and poorly equipped on top of taking into account the high levels of poverty and self employment. The average poverty rate for Sub-Saharan Africa is around 41 percent, with 27 out of the world’s 28 poorest countries located in Sub-Saharan Africa, all with a poverty rate above 30 percent. 74 percent of citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa are self employed with their businesses soon to see a dramatic downfall due to the virus.
According to the New York Times, Western powerhouses like the United States and Europe are buying majority of the needed supplies to stop the spread of the virus simply on the fact that they can outbid developing countries in Latin America and Africa. These countries find themselves in a position of not being able to receive the necessary materials to test for coronavirus. The simultaneous global demand for testing has suffocated supply chains with scientists in Africa and Latin America being told that orders for critical testing kits cannot be filled for months. Because testing is the first line of the defense against the virus, every country will encounter abrupt price hikes from testing kits to masks, leaving poorer countries last on the list for any materials and necessities.
Unlike many things during this pandemic, racism doesn’t just come to a halt. If anything we are seeing more of the world’s inequalities and the ideology that places black people on the lowest level of society. When the topic of human testing for a vaccine for the virus was brought up during an interview, Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris said, “If I could be provocative, shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment, or intensive care, a little bit like we did in certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes? “We tried things on prostitutes because they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.” Besides Antarctica, Africa is the continent least affected by COVID-19. Even a month after Jean-Paul’s comments hit the press, Africa had under 53,000 confirmed cases versus America having just under 1,194,000. There was no factual evidence to pitch the idea to have the testing be done in Africa. The only reason is that this doctor believes that Africans and prostitutes are equivalent to lab animals, not humans.
Almost everyone at this point is aware that Covid-19 can be traced to originating in Wuhan, China and studies show that the first outbreak in New York originated in Europe. But for some reason, many Africans are finding themselves being blamed for the spread of the virus in certain areas in China. So much so that the Human Rights Watch put out a statement that the Chinese government should end the discriminatory treatment of Africans related to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Authorities should also protect Africans and people of African descent throughout China from discrimination in employment, housing, and other realms,” the organization said. China is already ranked high on the list for worst countries for black people to travel to and the United States also issued their own warning for African Americans and people of African descent traveling to China recently. In early April 2020, Chinese authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou, home to China’s largest African community, began a campaign to forcibly test Africans for the coronavirus and ordered them to self-isolate in designated hotels. Other immigrant groups so far have not seen the same level of treatment. After online rumors circulated that the coronavirus was spreading among African people, landlords started to evict African residents, forcing many to sleep on the street. Additionally, hotels, shops, and restaurants have refused African customers. The mistreatment has been documented in videos circulating online including one with a woman holding a sign from McDonald’s that bans black people from entering the restaurant, which McDonald’s later apologized for and closed the store. In another video, a white woman is asking Chinese security guards why she can enter a shopping center but a black woman beside her was denied entry. An African citizen recorded a video of a Chinese worker stating, “If you come from Africa country you cannot come in,” where he later explains to her that he has been living in China for 20 years. Another Twitter user of African descent captured two Chinese women moving tables away from him as he was seated to eat dinner at a restaurant.
In addition to just trying to survive during the coronavirus pandemic, black people around the world are finding themselves battling racism when it comes to both their health and place in society. In the long run, this mistreatment will affect all of us. More black people dying and becoming ill from Covid-19 makes our first line of defense smaller and weaker since this group makes up the majority of “essential workers.” This is a time where not just America, but the entire world needs to be united to stop the spread of the coronavirus. China is violating basic human rights, and the country is not stopping at making a presence in Africa.
Since we can detect that the coronavirus’ first outbreak was in China, it is imperative for China to report accurate stats and all information they have on the virus so other countries can know necessary steps and facts to stop the spread and lower an unnecessary high death rate. When Dr. Li Wenliang tried to send a message to his fellow medics about the coronavirus outbreak first detected at the end of December, he was met by the police three days later who threatened him to stop. He returned to work, catching the virus from a patient and later died from the virus he tried to warn China about after spending his last few weeks in the hospital. It wasn’t until the outbreak became so big that it was hard for China to deny the impact from the media. But even as China has reported low numbers on the virus months after the first outbreak, the U.S. intelligence community later reported to the White House that China covered up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths.
China is blocking Americans from gaining information on accurate statistics about the coronavirus as well as any news updates on the topic in the country. China expelled American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and Chinese media outlets have been told by the government to focus on only the country’s positive efforts on the virus and have removed articles discussing the government’s shortcomings due to their response. Not only is China trying to control the narrative of the virus in their country, but also in America. According to the New York Times, United States intelligence agencies have determined that Chinese agents helped spread misinformation during the pandemic to make Americans panic not only on social media platforms but also directly as text messages on their phones. When China tries to limit our information on the virus, it only delays any chance we have of getting past this pandemic. And when we continue not to look out for black people worldwide, we are diminishing the strength of our first line of defense for a better future.