I don’t know about you, but I am so fucking mad.
I’m tired of finding out that another innocent Black human being has been viciously killed by those who took an oath to protect and serve. I’m tired of reading about the racial wealth gap wreaking havoc on Black families, employees, and business owners. I’m tired of watching the news and seeing another headline reminding me that Black Americans will likely never feel as safe as I do to drive or walk down the street. And now, I’m so damn tired to learn that COVID-19 has been disproportionately devastating Black communities across our country.
But as tired as I am, I’m also well aware of the cushy white privilege I easily live with on a daily basis. My weariness pales in comparison to the levels of sheer exhaustion, grief, and pain Black Americans have experienced from being catastrophically impacted by our global pandemic.
“We’re dying in disproportionate numbers,” explains shea martin, a Boston-based educator and community organizer whose work is rooted in antiracist pedagogy and intersectional coalition-building. “In cities and towns where we make up 5-6% of the population, we account for 30-40% of the deaths. In reality, what we’ve seen with COVID-19 is a magnification of decades-old health inequities affecting BIPOC communities, particularly the Black community.”
According to martin, the pandemic’s negative impact on Black Americans is not only an extension of the health inequities they’ve been experiencing for generations, but is also rooted in economic disparity and systemic racism that directly contributes to their lack of well-being.
“You can’t talk about COVID-19 without talking about the forced enslavement of Africans and the centuries of oppression that have gotten us to this point in 2020,” martin tells Scary Mommy. “There’s a history of systemic injustice that has prevented economic progress, access to adequate healthcare, and the ability to exist without barriers in this country. The impact of COVID-19 on our community is just another manifestation of that.”
Beyond their health challenges, Black Americans are facing overwhelming job losses due to COVID-19, specifically the vast majority who make up the lowest tier of our nation’s earners. The National Bureau of Economic Research just released their findings from a study that set out to determine how millions of American workers have been faring between early March and mid-April. The results showed that for the bottom fifth of American earners, which is largely comprised of Black employees, about 35% lost their jobs, while only 9% of top earners encountered job loss.
“The students I’ve taught live in some of the hardest-hit communities,” martin says. “At this point in my life, I am a person who has the privilege of social distancing, of ordering grocery delivery, of being safe. Not all my students and their families have that privilege. Their family members are dying. Their family members are out of work. My students are the ones who are bagging your groceries and working forty hours a week, while also trying to get that remote schoolwork done.”
The devastating effect of our current pandemic on Black Americans is nothing new, and the chances of overcoming such hardships is low when the odds are already stacked against them from the literal start. Another recent study from the International Monetary Fund reviewed the impact that widespread viruses like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola have on a country and found that inequality was exacerbated across the board for the most economically-vulnerable groups once a pandemic hits. This unfair and damaging imbalance has not only been keeping many Black Americans from easily acquiring quality education, higher paying jobs, and overall wealth on a regular basis, but it also keeps them from being able to withstand the overwhelming economic disaster that COVID-19 has created.
Not surprisingly, racism can be easily found at the heart of health ailments, fatalities, and financial struggles Black families are facing right now, which means that discrimination and oppression should be considered pre-existing conditions for the sweeping toll this pandemic has taken on Black lives in particular.
“Economic problems, housing and food insecurity, healthcare disparities, access to quality and equitable education, policing, mass incarceration, immigration — it’s still there, and COVID-19 has worsened it,” martin shares. “I think about the fact that systemic racism and policing has overpopulated our prisons with Black and Brown folx. I think about the density of urban communities populated by Black and Brown folx. I think about their access to grocery stores and necessities. For some folx, COVID-19 is a scary inconvenience. For a lot of us in the Black community, it’s more than that. And people need to recognize that.”
Since the coronavirus is merely exacerbating the already-mounting challenges that Black Americans have been facing for centuries, we are more than overdue for a reality check. And that begins with lobbying for change in our governmental policies, especially the ones that directly harm Black citizens. “I’d like to see the government take responsibility for what has happened to our community,” martin says. “I’d like to see investment in closing gaps of inequities. I’d like to see antiracist policies enacted in government policy. To do so would be to challenge a centuries-old white supremacist institution. Is America ready to do that? I’m not sure.”
I wish I could say that our country is ready for that necessary change, but that feels heartbreakingly far from our reality at the moment. We currently have a president in charge who is more concerned with publicly referring to Black Americans as “thugs” than he is about easing the unjust burdens these citizens have been shouldering for over four hundred years. The media saturates us with news of needless and hate-filled violence towards Black human beings, and yet innocent Black lives are still lost without true justice being served. White protesters who wanted to re-open our economy a few weeks ago received zero repercussions for donning signs that compared their self-quarantine experience to slavery, while peaceful Black protestors fighting for justice in the George Floyd case were immediately tear gassed by police.
No matter how much we think we’ve progressed as a nation, our country has more than proven itself to still be greatly divided. The very tangible effects of white supremacy are debilitating and killing Black Americans now more than ever before. The rest of us only make things worse when we remain complacent or silent while witnessing these grave injustices. And it really makes me wonder: How many more jobs have to be lost and how many more Black Americans need to die for the rest of our nation to decide it’s time to change?
COVID-19 has shown us the dangerous potential of irreparably damaging the livelihood of Black communities, but I’d be wrong to place all of the blame on this pandemic. White people have been harmful enough all on our own.